Stephanie Gilmore Discusses Her Season of Freesurfing and If She's Really Coming Back Next Year

The Queen has been having a helluva good time during her sabbatical. Pierre Tostee//World Surf League

The Inertia

In January 2024, Stephanie Gilmore announced she was taking a year-long sabbatical from competition. Having made her debut on the Championship Tour in 2007, and winning eight world titles over the next 17 years, she said she was “planning to take this time as a refresh for myself physically, mentally, and enjoy following swells and freesurfing in new places.” A month later it was announced she had signed with Rip Curl, and would use the year off competition to embark on “the Search.”

Halfway through that search and stopping off in Biarritz for a glitzy launch with her sponsor Breitling en route to J-Bay for the World Surf League’s speciality event, we caught up with Steph to see how her gap year has been so far. 

Well, first question, how much are you missing tour life?

Well, I’ve been missing the actual events, but not all the bits in between. I’ve watched all the webcasts and been jealous of the crew hanging out at the stops. I’ve also missed the competition side of it, but so much time and effort goes into being ready for those events, and I’m not missing that aspect of being totally focused on winning and competing.

What have you thought of the level of surfing?

The girls have blown my mind. The level of surfing at Pipe, and then at Teahupo’o, has been out of control. I was down at Bells too and saw it firsthand. You’ve seen the next generation come through and just really, step up. It’s been incredible to watch, especially as I don’t have to surf against them (laughs).

This brings me to my next, inevitable, question; do you think you’ll definitely come back next year and compete?

Well, having watched Caity and Molly and all the young guns I’m not sure I actually do (laughs). They’d all towel me up! But I’ve always given the same answer. I said I was taking a year-long sabbatical from competition and I still have hopes and dreams on that side of things, so the plan is to come back in 2025 and see where I’m at. 

So what have you been up to with all this time on your hands?

Well, we had a run of swell at home, then I came to France and spent a stint in Paris, probably just a few days too many. And then we’ve had this Breitling launch and a few days in Biarritz. There haven’t been many waves, but it was an epic time hanging with a diverse crew and eating incredible food. And then the next stop is J-Bay for the speciality event. 

Still ripping.  Photo: Pierre Tostee//World Surf League

It sounds a little more fun than doing heat drills?

Ha, yeah, it’s been pretty epic to have that freedom and to discover new parts of the world. On tour in between events, you could always kind of sneak away and get a little trip in and enjoy it, but you couldn’t commit totally. There wasn’t a whole lot of flexibility, be it with your boards or extending your trips for upcoming swells, so having the time for the first time in 17 years, has been pretty special. 

And how is the Search going?

Yeah, it’s going great. I mean I’ve been doing trips with Mason Ho and Tom Curren. That’s the ultimate dream team right there. I could just keep going on and doing that, well, forever. It’s been awesome to surf new waves and watch the lines those guys draw. They are magicians so I’ve been just trying to soak the magic up. 

And has your surfing changed since taking a break from the hothouse of competition?

It’s hard to say. As a grom, and then obviously when competing, I just wanted to surf amazing. Pushing the performance aspect was the only goal. But as I got to the later stages of my career, being older, and having had some success, I think I just really started to enjoy that spirit of adventure more and more. That included riding different types of boards and riding waves a little differently than what gets you points in heats. I’ve been traveling the world and surfing new waves, meeting other surfers and hearing their stories which I’ve loved. So I’m not sure of of my level, but I’ve been enjoying my surfing more, and right now that’s all that matters.  


Only the best. We promise.


Join our community of contributors.