Riding the Wave: Sally Fitzgibbons brings a rising tide of popularity to women’s surfing
What’s your first memory of being on a surfboard?
My earliest memories were down at my local beach, Seven Mile Beach, with my Dad and three older brothers. When I was three, I would ride my boogie board watch my brothers out the back of the lineup surfing, and I wanted to join them so bad. One day, they decided I was old enough to have a go at standing up. Some of my fondest surfing memories are of my brothers and Dad pushing me on waves when I was 6 years old.
You were only 14 when you won your first ASP Pro Junior event. Do you feel like an elder statesman in women’s surfing?
I’m really enjoying where I am at this point in my career. I’ve had some defining moments with some memorable victories (8 WCT Wins) in my time on the World Tour and some World Title races that have earned me invaluable experience. Being one of the most experienced surfers on the Tour is a definite advantage and I feel if I keep pushing my boundaries and have that hunger to want to improve every time I put that competition jersey on then I can match the next generation that will be pushing through very soon.
Surfing has taken you to places all over the world. Is there one place that you never thought you would see that remains special to you?
The Fiji Women’s Pro was taken off the World Tour schedule when I was still a Junior coming through and striving to make the elite level. I thought it would be a long shot that the Women’s Tour would ever get this event back. Last year when the WSL decided to put it back on the schedule, I was so happy! I was able to compete there for the very first time in solid swell, which was super special. I went on to win the event, and it is one of the most memorable victories in my career.
Is there any place you haven’t been yet that is on your bucket list?
I have been to some epic and unusual surf locations like Nova Scotia, Abu Dhabi Wave pool to film my Red Bull documentary Sally: Behind The Smile, Morocco, Mentawais, Maldives, Peru… but I would love to travel to Japan one day. There is an amazing surf culture and they show a lot passion and have a lot of fun with everything they do in life.
What is the most difficult situation you’ve found yourself in while surfing?
I have found myself in some really crazy situations while in the surf. Washed up on rocks, breaking boards when surfing outer reefs and having to swim in. I’ve broken my nose, my wrist, my thumb and had many stitches. I’d say one of the sketchiest situations I’ve been in would have been in the Fiji Women’s Pro Quarter Finals. I got caught inside after taking a wave and turned around to see an eight wave set of 10-foot waves rolling toward me. It was so shallow, I was standing in ankle deep water on razor sharp reef, with walls of white water charging towards me. A jet ski came in to rescue me but we got stuck on dry reef because it was so shallow. We took off as hard as we could—reef was crunching and spitting out behind the ski and I was bleeding everywhere. I eventually got to safety but it was a frightening situation.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Legendary tennis player Martina Navratilova once told me that champions adjust. Champions find a way to bring out their strongest performance no matter what the obstacles. That piece of advice serves me well.
How long do you have to be away from the ocean before you miss it?
Just a day out of the ocean will make me miss it. Since I start most days on the beach before sunrise, it feels as though something is missing in my day and it isn’t complete until I jump in the water.
What has it been like personally for you to be an inspiration to a new generation of women surfers?
It is a really special feeling to think that I have inspired a new generation of surfers. I want to continue to strive and work hard towards my ultimate dream of becoming World Champion, and I hope I can continue to inspire more people to chase after their dreams and never give up. If nothing else, I hope I have shown young Groms that they may not reach your goals straight away, but rather than give up, they should work harder and make adjustments to their efforts.