Back in 2010, things were going well for pro surfer Stephanie Gilmore. She’d just won her fourth ASP world title and signed with Quiksilver, one of the biggest surf sponsors in the world.
Then one evening in December, Gilmore was walking back to her apartment in Tweeds Head, Australia when a homeless man attacked her with an iron bar. He broke her wrist and caused lacerations to her head. It put her out of surfing for six weeks – and completely turned her world upside down.
Last week, we attended the UK premiere of five times world surf champion Stephanie Gilmore’s new film, Stephanie In The Water at the London Surf/Film Festival.
“A lot of women now come up to me and tell me how they were mugged or sexually assaulted”
It not only charts the unstoppable Australian’s rise to fame but also delves into the deeper, more intimate side of this earth-shattering attack, which ultimately resulted in her losing out on a fifth consecutive world title win the following season.
Yet the Aussie nicknamed ‘Happy Gilmore’ remained ever positive. “I could have sat around, moped and been sad about [the attack], but that doesn’t change anything,” says Gilmore. “You can’t rewind time. You just have to move forward.
“A lot of women now come up to me and tell me how they were mugged or sexually assaulted. It’s helped keep things in perspective. It could’ve been much worse.”
Does it still affect her today? “It’s definitely emotional when I think about it, but I’ve been able to let go. I’ve learnt from it and accepted it and moved on.”
One thing that stands out is how unapologetic Gilmore is throughout the film. She isn’t afraid to let the world know that she is determined to win and will do anything to make it happen.
At the 2011 ASP World Championship awards ceremony, Gilmore handed over the trophy to Carissa Moore (her first title defeat in four years) with the parting words, “I’ll let you borrow it.” The audience laugh, but beneath her smile you know Gilmore truly means it.
“It’s not like that fake reality TV stuff…”
But Stephanie in the Water also captures the raw, emotional side to the Aussie. Quiet moments when she’s alone playing her guitar, tearful scenes after the attack and pondering where she acquired this unrelenting drive for success.
“It’s not like that fake reality TV stuff,” explains Gilmore. “There were definitely moments in the film that I didn’t want to be in there, because I thought it was embarrassing. But at the end of the day, it was done in a really tasteful way and it’s a beautiful piece of work. I just really fell in love with it.”
When they began filming back in 2009, Stephanie had never met director Ava Warbrick. It was in fact Warbrick’s dad Doug, founder of Rip Curl, that introduced them. So began the five year process, documenting Gilmore’s life.
“I trusted Ava from the very beginning. We just got along really well. Working with her, she opened my eyes to the world outside of surfing. It allowed me to get away from the beach and really see the world, which was special.”
Was she at all fazed by the cameras? “Ummm not really,” says Gilmore. “It’s just like another friend in the room. It was a period of my life where I didn’t really think about whether I looked glamorous or pretty. I was still very much a tomboy.”
Back in the present day, Gilmore has demonstrably moved past the ordeal, at least in terms of her surfing. Just a couple of weeks ago, she came first in the Cascais Billabong Pro in Portugal and is currently ranked first in the world.
But it’s going to be a close race for the title this year with Sally Fitzgibbons, Tyler Wright and Carissa Moore also in with a strong chance of securing the trophy.
I ask Steph how she feels about being one step away from claiming her sixth world title. “It feels about ten steps away!” laughs Gilmore. “Tyler and Sally are both surfing really well, so [Hawaii] is going to be very exciting. I just want good waves and I’d love to have the trophy in the end.”
We have to say, we hope she does too.
Watch the trailer below or buy the film here