When it's all about holding the line.
Last year, during the Corona JBay Open, Steph Gilmore came and surfed my local break. The same beach where there is a significant land dispute happening right now, with surfers claiming back their beach.
The waves were ordinary, but Steph came and hung with the locals and stoked out all the groms – boys and girls. The way she interacted and showed interest in the groms proved her to be such an incredible role model and ambassador for the sport. One of the young girls had taken a fin to the head, and Steph fussed over her so much that the girl said she was 'just so stoked,' despite the blood pouring out of her noggin. Everybody loves Steph. More so in fact than many of the male CT surfers present the same day, some of whom barely greeted many of the local surfers and groms.
Steph has always done things a bit differently. The fact that she knows how to draw an alternate line, and can chuck in a little bit of soul arching jive and drawn out turns when needed shows that she has an appreciation for the bigger picture of surfing. All this came to the fore on one glorious wave at Keramas in 2019. Remember that event? Firing surf throughout the contest pretty much, and a frenzied Kanoa Igarashi edged out Jeremy Flores in the men's final with some crazy inspired surfing on the most fun waves on tour.
The women's final was between Sally Fitzgibbons and Gilmore. Fitzgibbons is fit and healthy, focused on moves, power, and getting as much spray in the air to impress those pesky judges. Steph is more relaxed and understated, focused on finding the speed-line, staying in the pocket, and effortlessly harnessing wave energy to find flow. A complete contrast of styles, both deserving of praise, and both excellent surfers.
The tide was moving in, the waves were perfect, but they were definitely barreling less by the time the final headed out. Sally was looking for the barrels, and they were harder to find. Steph took off on a bomb.
After an initial down-carve (with a bit of a wobble) Steph sensed the wave was going to do something special.
She jammed tightly under the lip and stood in anticipation of being tubed. Then it was a calm, but very technical kick stall into the tube that saw her disappear in the Indonesian barrel long enough for a 10-point ride. Steph literally shot out of the tube like a rocket. With all her speed, she launched into the lip for a very solid and satisfying closeout re-entry.
It was an excellent 10-point ride. The crowd was ecstatic, and Steph won the event in the process. "I couldn't see anything," said Steph of the first section in the barrel. I just closed my eyes and held my line. When I came out, I said, ok, I've got to hit this end section. This is so cool."
Her relaxed, understated surfing does not go unnoticed. There was a time when people said that Parko surfed so smoothly that the judges were misreading the degree of difficulty in his turns. The judges are better than this. They recognize the economy of movement. They look at the tapes, and they see the degree of difficulty. They awarded Parko with a world title, they acknowledged Steph several such titles, and they gave her victory at this event… for holding her line.
Sometimes all you need to do is just that, hold your line.