Sally Fitzgibbons is Changing Her Game

Daniel Jenks

Sally's new style.
After shaking her first-ever Round Two loss, Fitzgibbons went on a tear at Bells, with her new approach on display.

For athletes, changing techniques is never an easy thing. Whether it's a quarterback learning a new system, baseball players adjusting their swing, or golfers (like Tiger Woods) changing their grip, adjustments can't ever be taken lightly. But they're often necessary to smash through the next barrier.

Sally Fitzgibbons is well aware of this dilemma. During the second half of last year she began reviewing aspects of her approach that needed refreshing, including physical aspects of her style and her equipment. The process is ongoing, and at times uneasy (she suffered her first-ever Round Two loss at Snapper to open the season), but there are clear signs it's working. At Bells, her surfing looked more crisp, powerful, and authoritative than ever as she ripped her way into the Final. We caught up with Fitzgibbons to see what motivated her changes, and how they're going.

Sally Fitzgibbons stretching before her Round 2 heat. Same game-face warmup, whole new attitude. - WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

WSL: People are noticing some added fluidity and power in your approach this season. What can you tell us about that?
Sally Fitzgibbons: I guess what you're seeing out in the last few events is what I call six or eight months of fine-tuning a few things. I did want to make a few adjustments to my style. I wanted to give it more length in my lines and approach my waves a lot more relaxed and graceful. That's my personality and I wanted to apply that to my surfing.

On a technical front, I'm on boards that I've worked on with JS. I want to be on parts of the wave that I haven't been able to be on before on a different board. I want to have power all the way through my turns. It's been cool to get a bit of feedback from outside sources that reassures you that you're on the right track. It's getting to be a lot closer to what I visualize in my head as the kind of surfing that I want to do.

Sally Fitzgibbons winning her Semifinal heat at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. Sally Fitzgibbons has been adding flair and lengthening her turns. The new style worked out well for the Tour vet at Bells Beach. - WSL / Ed Sloane

WSL: You're back to riding PU (polyurethane foam) too. How's that working out?
Fitzgibbons: It was a big change going back to PU construction. I wanted to revive what was under my feet and to be inspired to go try new boards. It felt like it was my first year on Tour again. It was tough coming into each event on fresh profiles, and not knowing exactly what the board was going to feel like on the wave. It's a good challenge though. I'm enjoying the pressures of what boards to pack and what to use when and what boards to save, all these things are new again after being on a construction that doesn't really change too much or deteriorate.

WSL: Your surfing looked amazing at Bells, but you had a rough start on the Goldy. How do you bounce back from a loss like that?
Fitzgibbons: Looking at the season, it's been a bit of a roller coaster just two events in. I felt like I was firing on all cylinders after the QS win at Newcastle. I came into the Gold Coast ready to really display what I've been working on in the offseason, and that event ended really quickly.

Sally Fitzgibbons loves her fans, and they love her back. Sally Fitzgibbons, aka 'The Smiling Assassin. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

Bouncing back is belief and confidence that that day didn't work out. We drive to both events and I was driving home on the highway and had a long time to contemplate. As a natural-born competitor it never feels nice to fall well short of your goal in an event. It comes down to the experience and knowing that it's not a true display of what I can do. I thought, let's go to Bells where I love to compete, I enjoy the surroundings and it does feel a lot like home after all these years.

I had a really rocky first round there, I battled off a virus at the start of the week. It was interesting to run out through the crowd from the emergency room at the hospital at the start of the week all the way to the podium. And for the team all around me, to get back in the water and find that strength again. It was invigorating just to make the podium and I think I'm on the right track.

The Australian powerhouse took on Bells expertly, surfing to a Round 1 win. The longer lines Sally's incorporating equate to higher speeds and bigger moves. - WSL / Ed Sloane

WSL: During your heat against Carissa, one of the commentators called you the 'Smiling Assassin' after the entire beach saw you smile on your way back to the lineup. Were you trying to get into her head with that confidence?
Fitzgibbons: You do, you look for those little things. It's like a chess match. Carissa and I have competed against each other now for five or six years and we know our games pretty well. Carissa's probably going to put a bit more banter in the water and I'm a little quieter and just stick to my heat and what I want to do on the wave.

Every time I take off on a wave I don't really realize that I'm smiling until I watch it back on the replay at home. I just look up and see everyone there and I love to perform, I love putting on the jersey. And it's like I've done all this hard work and enjoy performing under the pressure. Enjoy your opponent bantering and calling you into waves. It surprises you sometimes. It made me laugh. And I came back in and she was like, "That was a great one." And they called the score and it was the 9 and it just put a smile on my face. I love everything about competing.

Sally Fitzgibbons finished runner-up after an intense battle in the Final against Courtney Conlogue. Sally Fitzgibbons' visualization, turned into reality. - WSL / Ed Sloane

How are you feeling heading into Margaret River?
Fitzgibbons: Margarets is similar to Bells in the types of maneuvers. It's a bit more raw, you have to be ready for anything. I feel like I've got the boards for that now. In previous years, I feel like I've had some holes in my equipment and had to ride a little under-gunned on a wave that doesn't really lend itself to that. I feel really prepared this year.

Sally Fitzgibbons winning her Semifinal. 'I want to be on parts of the wave that I haven't been able to be on before when I was on a different board,' said Fitzgibbons. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

WSL: You're also getting married! How's the planning going?
Fitzgibbons: It's taking a bit of time, but it's coming along! With such a busy schedule you have to do something once a week that contributes to it. I call it wedding Wednesday and hopefully we'll get there in the next year or so!