It’s that time of year when the world best surfers are descending on the Gold Coast ahead of the world title opener next month; this year is set to be a massive year for the WSL with the announcement of prize money parity across the tours.
We were lucky enough to catch up with one of the best, Sally Fitzgibbons ahead of the upcoming season to talk all things surfing, inspiration and new beginnings and the business of surfing.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. We’re going to kick things off and go back to when you were growing up. For someone like me who was reasonably average at most sports through school, I’d love to know what it’s like being good at just about everything you do? In particular Surfing and Athletics.
Haha, I reckon you have some skills stored deep in your brain. It was all about the environment I was fortunate enough to grow up in.
My parents gave me opportunities to explore and learn. Try thing, try again and again and again haha because that’s what it takes to learn a skill.
My small headland surrounded by water that I grew up on allowed my imagination to go wild and play before school and after school and in-between.
You learn how to be in your own space and do what feels right with your time, and that involved a lot of ocean time and running to and from school and to get from A to B.
I just loved getting to places on foot. It turns out after all those years I get to do it full time, and that was my intention as a grom. I wanted to be the best in the World at it, and that’s how I have journeyed along to this point.
Towards the end of your schooling I’m sure you had many paths or people pulling you in many directions, how did you decide to go head first into surfing?
There was an underground wave deep inside that I just surfed through all of my decision making. I wasn’t sure how it was all going to pan out.
After every track meet, soccer game, academy training I went straight to the ocean for recovery, to absorb the day, understand what I just learnt. The Ocean was my space.
So to look back now, I’d say I was already committed to a life as a surfer well before I said it out loud.
You’ve been on tour for roughly a decade now and maintained an exceptional level of consistency finishing somewhere in the top 6 every year, is there something you’ve taken note of that has helped with this or are you focussed on something you can improve to take your performance to the next level
I love everything it takes, finding and using everything in your being to reach the pinnacle of my sport. Those mental and physical barriers that you face are next level, you have created this dream to be there, and so it becomes so meaningful, and therefore it is such a challenge to find peace and calm in your pursuit.
Everything seems incredibly larger than life. I am now at the stage of my career where I am in harmonious pursuit of my goal. It takes a lot of chapters in the book to get to that stage but it is a process that I love so much, and I have a lot of fun doing. I am very curious to see what my best could look like and I’m going to keep showing up to find out.
So it’s not long now from the kick off of the 2019 tour, how have your preparations for the season opener gone so far, and has anything changed from your training of previous years?
A lot has changed which feels really fresh and exciting for the new season, I fractured my shoulder in the last event of the 2018 season, so it was an amazing puzzle to work through and rebuild other parts of my body also.
I have a fantastic team around me and got to spend a lot of my time rehabbing at the Surfing Australia High-Performance Centre on the Goldy, Working on creating and rebuilding just what I need to. Making sure I’m heading into Snapper at 100%.
What does an average day look like for you in the leadup to the first round at Snapper?
The fun part of surfing is that there really isn’t a typical day. We rely on so many variables for where we will surf each day and even what part of the coastline. My surf sessions take the driver’s seat, and my land based training for body and mind come along for the ride, but they all fit in between sun up and sun down, and I just go with the flow of it.
When you’re not competing and just out catching a wave, do you get approached all the time? If so how do you deal with that ? or is it a welcome distraction?
Surfing has so many different meanings to people, It is a community first and foremost, and when you speak the language of surfing, you are really opening yourself up to something quite extraordinary.
It’s layers on a cake, they still taste alright separately, but when they all mix together it is the ultimate flavour haha even on the elite level you surf with those that are just starting their surf journey, and I see everyone on a board the same, and we are all out there for that feeling of riding waves.
So every day there’s convos in the carparks, on the sand, in the water, at the coffee shops and that too me is super cool and fulfilling just to be a part of the community.
This year also marks the first season that the WSL is set to award equal prize money across the tours, how was this announcement been received, And are you excited to see how this shapes the future of Women’s surfing?
Wow, this announcement was amazing. I didn’t believe I would experience something like this in my career snapshot but woahhh it felt special. It is an exciting time in Women’s surfing.
I want to show my gratitude and thanks to the Women that have paved the way for my generation and those who will continue the path after, so stoked. Thanks to the WSL owners for having the vision to be leaders in women’s sport.
Speaking of new beginnings, it’s just been announced that you will be the latest Boost Mobile brand ambassador, Great News can you tell us a little about this?
It’s actually a bit of a reunion in some sense. I was fortunate enough to have a contract with Boost Mobile as a grom rider and now coming back into the fold after ten years on the World Tour it really feels like a familiar place to come back and share my journey to date.
I love the energy in the brand, and the excitement is just bubbling over of what we can achieve and experience in our time together. It feels new and fresh but coming from a place of certainty, and that’s when I think you can create your most authentic chapter.
We’re sure you get a lot of brands, sponsors asking you to work with them, is it hard picking and choosing which brands to associate your name with?
For me, a huge part of what I do is storytelling and sharing my unbelievable experiences. I stay true to my path and the brands that intersect with that and believe in my values and intention naturally come into the fold and add to my vision. I believe a lot in the timing and “it’s meant to be” and I’m super stoked that Brands I have collaborated with allowed me to share in their dream just as much as they did in mine.
So far in your career, you’ve done a lot of media work with the likes of The Footy Show and WWOS, how do you find juggling that with trying to win a world title at the same time?
I have a huge passion for sport as you know and it sure has an appetite, haha I’ve been so grateful to have shared the air with some of my idols, amazing sporting journalists and learnt from the greats first hand.
A lot of the work I’ve done in the media space requires the same mental attributes and fears that you have to overcome and for me to use another interest to train those reactions and instincts was so awesome.
Being in an environment of people who love what they’re doing and sharing is so infectious, great energy to feed off.
Reflecting on your career so far, is there something you know now that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Haha If I’d known ‘ it’s all going to be just fine little Sal’, then all the fun of freaking out over the smallest things in your teenage years and early twenties wouldn’t have existed. I feel like those heightened emotions assist in the learning process. So I don’t think I would want to know anything earlier than I worked it out.
Now that you’ve been on tour for a while, are you slowly sick of the travel or still loving it?
It never gets old. You leave home with a different feeling and perspective each and every trip, so that means your time away and travelling is seen from a new angle, so so cool. I love it!
I think it’s one of the more remarkable aspects of surfing on the world tour would be the ability to travel the world all the time
It is soooo crazy and special every time I do a lap around. The people, the cultures, the perspective, the growth and understanding of self, it all comes with leaving your comfort zone.
Have you got any good tour stories? Something funny or unique that we should know?
Haha after nearly 15 years of travelling on both Tours there are definitely some funny stories. An epic one from when I was younger, I was doing a trip with my idol Kelly Slater in Mexico and the surf was pumping so we stayed out as long as we could on the final day.
We thought we could make to the airport with enough time but the car breaks down, we wave down a small taxi. But we had no board straps and had to use a piece of string and hang out the window holding boards to the roof.
The plane was starting up to back away from the airport; we drive onto the tarmac wave the flight down (smallish plane), we’re running over in bikini and boardies still with sand on feet, throw boards in cargo and hop on the plane to fly back to LA. Pretty standard surf trip experience back in the day haha
You’ve also just announced that you’re going to be judging the Boost Mobile Australia Mobile Pro which is Wildcard Competition for the upcoming Gold Coast round, How good is it to see the talent of these up and comers? And how important are initiatives like this to identifying talent?
Wow, this is such a fresh opportunity. Just thinking back to when I was the age of some of the emerging groms and how huge something like this would have been to my world. It’s super cool that Boost Mobile has given me a hand in picking a winner, but I’m most excited to be able to watch all the amazing performances get laid down and be inspired to go out and do my own best surfing. It is a very niche Tour with only 17 full-time World Surf League spots, so it is incredibly important for grassroots to have these unique opportunities to peer into the world they want to be in and be inspired to work up the rankings to get their spot.