Now the dust has settled, it’s clear Steph Gilmore’s record 8th World Title truly tore up the rulebook and tossed it in the bonfire…
34 year old Australian, Stephanie Gilmore, had already well-cemented her status in the pantheons of the world’s greatest, with her already packed and stacked trophy cabinet of World Titles. But with an incredible win against 5 time World Champion Carissa Moore (who had been storming through an excellent tour season of her own) at California’s Lower Trestles, Steph has historically usurped fellow countrywoman and long-time inspiration, Layne Beachley’s awe-inspiring previous record of 7 World Title wins.
In a gladiatorial showdown showcasing the WSL’s new finals format, a single-day surf-off between the top five surfers on the Championship Tour which pushed the athletes to their limits (Steph surfed 5 heats that day and had clearly had her Cheerios that morning), Gilmore’s achievement cements her status as competitive surfing’s best ever female athlete. It was hard not to be moved when a visibly emotional Gilmore heard the final bell toll, her head low, tears of emotion rolling down her face into the ocean with the gargantuan efforts and incredible achievement clearly hitting home.
Starting finals as the 5th ranked seed meant that Gilmore had to win every single matchup for a chance at the title, and her victory supposedly came from nowhere. With inconsistent results throughout the tour year, a win at El Salvador showed a flash of that fire we know and love from the champion. But that, my friends, was a myopic blunder for anyone who fobbed off Gilmore’s chances at a World Title this year. You don’t dominate women’s pro-surfing and count 7 World Titles in the bag already, without being a superhuman talent, without being a fierce competitor who had clearly been training with Rocky Vs Ivan Drago levels of preparation and laser focus.
Though anyone who had discounted Gilmore throughout the year was clearly misjudged. Facing off against a street fighter-esque mix of the world’s hungriest chargers. A dangerous mix of an ever-hungry and powerful Tatiana Weston-Webb, who’s win at J-Bay was a clear throwing down of the gauntlet if ever seen; a strong Johanne Defay who’s consistent work has seen the Frenchwoman steadily rise through the ranks and a stellar win at a re-introduced G-Land showing just what a threat she is; young Costa Rican charger, Brisa Hennessy, who is patently on her own path to greatness (and 11 years younger than Gilmore), and of course, the aforementioned 5 time World Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist, Carissa Moore. Battling her way through her heats, a show-down for the books lined up between Moore and Gilmore, and in a best of 3 final, Gilmore’s 15.23 scorecard Vs 11.97, plus opening heat of 15:00 to 10.90 meant the title was hers.
Where Gilmore is most dangerous, is tapping into that seamless flow of power and determination, where her jedi-esque surfing skills meet competitive dominance. Her mantle as surfing’s ‘style queen’ is no illusion, and where so many of Gilmore’s fans reside is in appreciating her wholly unique and often classic style of surfing. Her knock-kneed steeze ripping a twin fin has been worshiped by many at the Church of Style, and bringing this flair and panache into her competitive surfing makes her a triple threat like no other. Now, the undisputed champion, in a win in which she cited post event as her “greatest ever”, a humble Carissa Moore digitally doffed her cap to Steph in a post-event Instagram which perfectly summarised her superhuman feat:
‘The GREATEST of all time! An honor to surf against you always. Congratulations on your 8th title! Wow! 8X!!! Holy moly. Five X 35 min heats in one day with all the pressure and win or die situations… it’s all yours undoubtedly 👏🏼 inspiration for us all’.
In response, Gilmore fan-girled right back, telling Moore it was ‘always an honour to surf with you Carissa! Congrats on your stellar year. You’ve achieved so much and continue to get better, there’s really no limit to what you can achieve! Thank you for inspiring me all year to get stronger and surf better in all waves. Thanks for always raising the bar! Big love’.
With the dust settling 2 weeks post-final, to see the extraordinary power, talent and strength Gilmore summoned to take the title is all the more clear, and it would truly take all-time G.O.A.T levels of brilliance to execute a victory like that. “Is Steph kind of, like, gone for this year?”, uttered by a commentator earlier in the season seems like a laughingly redundant statement now. Let’s hope Steph keeps ripping up the rulebook.