The surfing world owes Stephanie Gilmore an apology

She deserved it. And we forgot it. Photo: Thiago Diz//World Surfing League

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”, writes bad boy Billy Shakespeare. Or in the case of Stephanie Gilmore, some are quietly getting GOAT status while no one is watching. Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of Gilmore’s eighth world title was that no one gave him a chance to make history.

In a massive failure of surfing groupthink, it’s hard, in hindsight, to justify how most surfing fans and so-called experts underestimated and ignored the greatest female surfer of all time. . How did a seven-time world champion, one of the most stylish humans to ever ride a surfboard, and with a competitive track record only bettered by Kelly Slater, get written off ahead of the WSL final?

It was an incredible lack of foresight, matched only by the lack of respect I was a part of. And yes, I can pathetically list all of my reasons for disbarring Gilmore. After all, she must have surfed six, maybe seven rounds at Trestles, the last two or three against Carissa Moore, by far the best surfer of the past five years. The WSL Finals format was set up to reward performance throughout the calendar year, and Gilmore had been handed a severe handicap based on a largely unremarkable 2022.

Having missed Pipeline due to COVID, in the next five events she made it to only one semi-final. At first, there was talk not of world titles and impending greatness, but of relegation and retirement under the brutal new cup system. After Margaret River, Gilmore snuck in as the sixth surfer in the 10, keeping her name in the race, even though she was far down the pack, and boxed against the rails.

A victory in El Salvador was the first sign that she had the competitive desire to shake Moore’s cage. Yet even it was a brief surge that quickly faded. She limped to the WSL final with a ninth-place finish in Brazil, a third in J-Bay and a fifth in Tahiti. Her average heat total for the year was under 11.00 and she trailed Moore by 10,000 ranking points at the end.

The surfing world owes Steph Gilmore an apology

Always this one. Photo: Pat Nolan // World Surfing League

Yet, as they say, form is temporary and class is permanent. However, Gilmore went to Trestles when he was 34. The class can also age. She had last truly dominated the sport in 2010 when she won her fourth consecutive title. Her sixth world title came in 2014, and in the eight years since on the CT, she had only added one to equal Layne Beachley’s record. The world title tap that had once erupted with its relentless energy, style and charisma, had dwindled to a slow drip of periodic standout performances only when the location, the waves and her mindset wore off. lined up.

And we ungrateful fools lapped it all up. The surfing world had moved on, and we foolishly thought that one of the greatest surfers of all time was just doing numbers. Coming into Trestles, it looked like even if she could beat Hennessy, Defay and Weston-Webb, it would lead to Moore. It seemed impossible that a fresh and dominant reigning world champion, surfing so well at any stage of her career, could be bested by anyone, let alone a weary Gilmore in earth trestles of three feet.

We also remembered last year, when she was on the same stage, on the cusp of the same greatness, and she caved in the first game. This year, in the first 20 minutes against Hennessy, history seemed to repeat itself. Same simple mistakes, same nerves. Oh Steph, it was painful to watch but oddly reassuring. We called it. We know our shit.

But we didn’t know anything. We didn’t know how hard she had trained. We didn’t even think to think that it was this type of thinking that made her incredibly angry and determined. Little did we know she had new fins in her DHD that were tighter and gave her more speed, control and release. We didn’t understand how much that meant to her. Indeed, we failed to remember all the reasons that made it great in the first place. The talent, the dynamism, the desire to compete, the style and the will to win were always there. We just ignored them.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that “being yourself in a world that is constantly trying to change you is the greatest achievement”. In one day and six rounds, Stephanie Gilmore simply did the kind of surfing that only Stephanie Gilmore can do. It earned him an eighth world title and GOAT status. We should all be sorry we didn’t see it coming. We should all be grateful that he did.

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