Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

From party animals to professionals: 'Happy' Gilmore defies surfing cliches

By Chris Murphy and Brooke Bowman, CNN
April 18, 2013 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
HIDE CAPTION
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
Surfing's golden girl
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Australian Stephanie Gilmore is a five-time women's surfing world champion
  • The 25-year-old says surfing today is more about professionalism than partying
  • Gilmore laughs at comparison with famous surfing film of the 1990s, Point Break
  • She says traveling the globe to compete in surfing events is her dream job

CNN's Human to Hero series screens every week on World Sport. Click here for show times, videos and features.

(CNN) -- Forget Point Break's party animals, modern surfing is more about professionalism.

That's the mantra of reigning women's world champion Stephanie Gilmore, who raises an eyebrow at the mention of the famous film that became a seismic signpost for surfing in the early 1990s.

The 25-year-old Australian says the seaside sphere she inhabits is a world away from the society showcased by Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, stuffed with wavy-haired folk who all referred to each other as "dudes."

"The biggest misconception about surfers is they all talk the surf lingo," she told CNN's Human to Hero series.

Gilmore: Surfing can be feminine
From refugee to Afghan cricket captain
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion

"Not everybody does and I think Hollywood portrays a pretty scary image of how surfers go about their language. Not all of us talk like that.

Read: The Taliban's favorite sport: Afghan cricket's battle

"It's probably been 30 years now that it has been a professional sport and it hasn't grown too much. But now it's really turned into this phase where it's about treating the surfers as professional athletes and not just party animals.

"The industry boomed for so long, then it finally plateaued and crashed and right now it's in a phase of rebuilding itself, trying to get back to its core and really find that market again that everybody loves so much -- the surfing brands, the industry."

If the world of professional surfing seems impossibly glamorous and cool, that's probably because the reality matches.

Gilmore has struck upon a career that embraces her passion for boarding, traveling the globe and riding waves in some spectacular locations.

Her emergence into the world of surfing was pretty spectacular too, as she clinched the ASP Women's World Championship title in her rookie year back in 2007.

She went on to defend her crown for the next three years, regaining it in 2012 after missing out in 2011.

Read: Wonder of Yu: Fencer's power of positivity

Gilmore is fifth in the 2013 standings after four events, in Australia and New Zealand, with meets in Brazil, France and California still to come.

Hollywood portrays a pretty scary image of how surfers go about their language. Not all of us talk like that
Stephanie Gilmore

"This is a dream life," she beams. "I am not going to lie, and most professional surfers will tell you that to imagine being paid to travel the world and do something that you absolutely love every day is better than anything.

"I always say that to someone, they always say, 'Why are you so happy all the time?' Well, if you had my job you'd be pretty happy too."

While her prowess has driven her to the very top of the sport, she's not a fan of the daredevil form of her art, exemplified by the likes of Garret McNamara, who recently surfed a wave reported to be 100 feet in height.

"My biggest fear would have to be giant waves," she revealed. "It's probably not the best fear to have in my work! A giant wave is big like 30-40 foot.

"It's scary but it's something that, hopefully, I'll push myself to get into one day but right now I am just enjoying high-performance surfing in smaller waves."

It hasn't all been plain sailing for the New South Wales native, who cut her surfing teeth on Australia's glorious Gold Coast, where she still lives and trains today.

Lorenzo: Motorcycling is like dancing
The girl with the dancing horse

Read: Motorbike champion dances with danger

Gilmore and her fellow female professionals have had to swim against the tide for long periods in what has traditionally been a male-dominated sporting environment.

But with standards improving and competition at the very top intensifying, she thinks they have a product which can grow the sport internationally and attract even more women into the water, board in hand.

"Growing up a female surfer in a very male-dominated industry I think has been hard," she explained. "Female surfers in the very beginning really struggled to fight for their respect and the positions they deserved.

"I think the last five to 10 years, the women have really blossomed and shown they are not here to compete against the men, they are not here to take anything away from the men.

"We're just here to surf alongside them and show that we're learning as much as they are and we're growing female surfing.

"Every single day I paddle out there's a lot more girls out there and you see that the market is growing. To watch a girl ride a wave is just a beautiful thing.

Judo champion towers over opponents
Blind runner with need for speed

"Female surfing in a professional sense, all the girls on tour -- they're fresh faced, they speak well, it's a beautiful product -- and I feel like these next few years are going to be about harnessing that product and then showing it to the world in the right way."

Though they are fiercely competitive on the ocean waves, Gilmore says the current crop of females on the ASP tour have formed a close bond away from the beach.

"On the women's tour there are only 17 of us, so in a sense we're a family traveling the world," she said.

"We're all young girls that love to be girls and we're really good friends but at the same time we have to paddle out and try and be assertive and really focus to beat each other.

"Whatever happens in the water happens in the water and then we bring it back to land and we can celebrate together and enjoy it."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0935 GMT (1735 HKT)
Much may have changed in post-Communist Romania, but its production line of gymnasts continues to generate champions.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 HKT)
Romania's rising star of gymnastics, Larisa Iordache is inspired by one of her sport's all-time greats, Nadia Comaneci.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Taking time out to eat a homemade chocolate cake is hardly the conventional way to win a mountain race, but don't tell Emelie Forsberg.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
He grew up in a surfing party town on the U.S. "space coast" and has conquered waves in the world's most exotic locales.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Christian Taylor knows all about putting his best foot forward -- but the Olympic triple-jump champion has had to rewire his muscle memory.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0142 GMT (0942 HKT)
It's a surfer's paradise -- but Diah Rahayu is out on her own when it comes to professional women's wave-riding in her native Bali.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1316 GMT (2116 HKT)
His friends said he was crazy, but a regime involving trash cans and coconuts has helped Vinicius Font become a beach tennis star.
September 3, 2014 -- Updated 1725 GMT (0125 HKT)
When a young girl called Australian sports star Adam Goodes "an ape," the Aboriginal AFL legend took the chance to make a public stand.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
"Sorry -- the sun is shining so I've gone to sleep on a hill." When adventurer Alastair Humphreys leaves an "out of office" message, it's for real.
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1318 GMT (2118 HKT)
Kurt Fearnley has defied the odds to become one of Australia's most successful athletes, conquering challenges on land and sea.
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 1323 GMT (2123 HKT)
A remarkable journey that started in Africa ends in the Scottish city of Glasgow -- and Rio de Janeiro is next up for Ghana's new inspiration.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT)
Her surname means "fighter" or "warrior" -- and Christine Ohuruogu has done her best to fulfill that prophecy throughout a stellar running career.
ADVERTISEMENT