One year after Stephanie Gilmore suffered her first major surf-related injury here in Margaret River, the six-time World Champ is busy confronting some unexpected challenges in 2016. Despite some landmark performances, she's been relegated to the unfamiliar realm of Round Two in three straight events. It's forced her to dig deep just to muster quarterfinal finishes at Snapper and Bells, which is something she's not used to. After Round Three at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro Steph let us in on what she believes the problem is, and the mental steps she's taking to respond to the challenge.
WSL: It's been a tough season to start, you've found yourself in Round Two of every event so far. Is that tough for you?
Stephanie Gilmore: Of course, the biggest thing is most of my career I'd win Round 1 and win Round 3, the loser rounds were always a day off. So to be in them all the time now is interesting. I think I'm putting a lot of pressure and expectation on myself to really come out and be winning everything still and it's not falling in place as much as I'd like it to. But it's good it's making me work hard, it's making me really push it outside of surfing you have to put in 110% cross training so you can bring it back and do even better. I tend to rely heavily on natural talent and it doesn't really cut it anymore. I'm still learning.
WSL: Is it hard to bounce back to the competitive mindset following your first real break from the Tour in nine years?
Gilmore: Maybe what I didn't realize is how much of a holiday it'd turned into. I enjoyed it so much, not being so consumed by the Tour. Even though it was still on my mind, I was so withdrawn from it that it's taken me a bit to get back in that groove. I expected it would just fall into place so easily, but I'm really having to find that focus again, find the emotions and those focus points that get me in the zone when I want to win heats. It's interesting, but I think I just expected it to happen a bit more easily after the injury. My body feels great, everything feels great, it's just a matter of the mind.
WSL: You've had some incredible performances in the midst of having to surf elimination rounds early on. Is it tougher knowing you have those performances in you?
Gilmore: It's been really hot and cold. To know that those performances are there, is handy and it helps the confidence. Piecing together that consistency is what I'm working on. I'm seeing Carissa, Courtney, Sally, Tyler and they're just consistently throwing 8s every heat. I've been throwing like an 8 and 1.00, there's some kind of block going on there and I'm trying to figure that out. I've got a whole year to do it, but sooner rather than later would be nice (laughs).
WSL: There was a lot of debate around your heat with Malia at Bells, what were you feeling after all that?
Gilmore: Walking up the beach after that heat I was confident that I'd won. I didn't see Malia's waves, I was pissed off at myself because I'd sat for too long, but it brought that fight out in me which I was proud of. Walking up the beach, I thought it was good that I brought the battle and didn't give up and then when I got home and watched the heats on demand. Her first 7 was definitely a great wave, and then her 8, I had priority and I let her have it. When she took off she was a little cruisy on the start and then got busy at the end. I think in my head, which is why I was so patient, I saw that wave to be slow at the start and didn't think it would be that good at the end. In my head from the beginning I want to take off and drive straight into three big turns because I think the judges are going to love it. And so I waited and waited. Watching her 8 being a little slow at the start and then my 8 felt stronger and faster. It was nothing fancy, good-solid surfing, but a different style. A lot of the comments I read were pro Malia and couple talked about me being stronger. I've seen a lot of close heats like that lately, where you just don't know how it goes here. I actually texted Malia after that heat because I felt bad and told her she was surfing so good and I hope it doesn't bum her out too bad. She probably thinks I'm a weirdo.
WSL: What was the best part about being away?
Gilmore: I've never had forced time off like that before. I had time off from surfing at the start of 2011, but I came back in time for the Tour. To actually be away from the Tour was weird. I felt like I was not being productive and missing things a lot, but at the same time I just kind of enjoyed it. I did a lot of traveling to places that don't involve surfing. It was really fun.
WSL: What's the best part about being back?
Gilmore: Best part about being back is the challenge. It's cool to be on holidays. But I can't imagine being just a free surfer. I need the challenge. I love paddling out and surfing my heart out and being delegated to Round Two! I feel like an underdog.
WSL: Have you ever felt like that before?
Gilmore: I've definitely felt it before when Carissa has been defending a Title. But this time I really feel like I'm right down the rankings now. It's new territory.