It all started with a 6 year old girl, a surfboard and the dream of becoming an elite athlete. Now, after five years on the ASP tour, a world number three title and the release of her own biopic, it’s fair to say that Sally Fitzgibbons has achieved a great deal in her 23 years. She is not only up there amongst the world’s fiercest competitors, but has become one of Australia’s most influential female athletes. With the world surfing championships approaching and a relentless fire burning within her, a world title is in her reach.
We caught up with Sally to talk life, her career and her journey to scale the heights of world surfing.
As a kid, did you always want to be a professional athlete?
I always dreamed of being an elite athlete when I was a kid. I just didn’t know what sport I would make it in, so I tried every sport I could. I played all different sports growing up and then focused on just surfing when I was 16 years old.
What is your favourite thing about your career?
Every day I wake up and go down to my office and I have a whole new set of challenges waiting for me to conquer. My favourite thing is that there is always something new to work on and improve on.
What is the most challenging thing you face?
One of the most challenging things about the sport of surfing is its unpredictability. You can be the fittest and strongest and still get pipped by your opponent who was in the right place at the right time for that better wave. It’s what keeps the fire in the belly though and keeps you coming back for more. There is nothing more exciting than chasing that winning feeling.
When you’re not surfing, what are you doing in your free time?
I am a sports fanatic. So in my spare time you’ll find me cheering on my favourite teams and watching every single sport there is out there. Watching amazing athletes at the top of their game inspires me to go out and create my own memorable moments.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The first time I rang the Bell for my first World Tour win. I had so many near misses with 5 runner up positions in previous events, so it was a bit of a journey to get to this win. All the planets just aligned with it being the 50th Anniversary of the Bells Beach event, which made it extra special as plenty of the past greats were there to watch, the surf was pumping and I just gained this momentum and felt unstoppable. I surfed a lot of heats that day in the freezing cold. I was exhausted but at the same time I was so elated I cried. I was so happy.
What has been your most embarrassing moment in your career?
My most embarrassing moment was at Bells Beach at my first event win on the World Tour. When it came time to hoist the Bell and ring it I could barely find the energy after surfing so many heats in the cold and I nearly fell off the stage when I tried to hoist the heavy trophy above my head. I can still hear the Bell ringing.
Is there any particular event which you look forward to more than others?
The new ASP has brought some great additions to the schedule of Fiji, Trestles (USA) and Maui (Hawaii) which are all awesome events to look forward to and challenge the surfers. I think of all the events I will look forward to Bells and Fiji the most as both places have such great memories for me to return to.
What is your average day like while you’re on the ASP tour?
I never really have a typical day which makes what I do really exciting. Every day is so different, from what I’m doing at training, to where I’m surfing and what other exciting events, functions and sponsor commitments I may be attending. Most days involve a training session before sunrise so that I am ready for a surf at dawn, back for a good breakfast (my main meal for the day) and a short nap followed by two more surf sessions and another light training session.
What is one item you can’t live without and always take with you when you’re on tour?
I always have my Fit ball and roller to stretch out on and train with every day. I never go anywhere without my runners as well. I love going on long adventure runs at each location I travel to. I use my training to sight see and check out the beautiful landscapes of the area.
You have the next world champion event in your sights, what are you doing to prepare for it?
My blue print for competing and preparation leading into events puts me in a great mind set leading into the event. I have a routine and just monitor how my body is feeling and weigh up what surf conditions we are expecting and go from there. You have to be flexible around events and adapt really quickly to changes or surf conditions that pop up. My preparation involves surf sessions at all different times of the day to get used to the break we will be competing at, run sessions, pool recovery, loads of stretching and mobility work and yoga to get in great mind frame after busy days.
What is your ultimate dream?
My Ultimate dream is to be World Champion and become the best surfer and athlete I can possibly can.
Your movie, ‘Behind the Smile’ has just been released. It showcases the good, the bad and the journey of professional surfing. How was putting together such a project…?
It was an incredible project to be involved with and all credit goes to the crew at Red Bull media House for being such flies on the wall the whole time, especially in those real intense roller coaster moments which were really hard to show to the public in the film. It was a really therapeutic project in the end, looking back on all the ups and downs of the year and actually attaching to those emotions and being able to move forward from them. Normally everything goes by so fast, you never get to fully attach to what you are feeling and going through, and you just have to move onto the next event.
You’re a role model for young athletes and women across the globe. Do you feel any pressure with this label?
It is a real honour to be considered a role model for the youth coming through. I just try and lead by example and hopefully the positives and good decisions I’ve made rubs off onto them. I try and promote how important it is to live a balanced lifestyle with school, sport, friends and family. While you’re young enjoy playing a heap of different team and individual sports before knuckling down and focusing solely on one.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring surfers out there, what would it be?
Champions adapt to anything thrown their way!! Enjoy all the challenges and curve balls the sport of surfing has to throw at you and give every surf no matter how bad or good the waves are, a hundred percent effort.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself with 10 World Titles and still having absolute ball with everything I have a go at.