This November, Sally Fitzgibbons is hosting the inaugural Sydney International Pro, a Qualifying Series contest and beach festival featuring, as she puts it, something for everyone. For pros, the contest will be a chance to earn valuable Qualifying Points before the end of the year -- 6,000, to be exact. For fans, the event will feature swim events and workouts and films, among other beachy activities.
As plans got underway, Sally chatted with us about why she launched the event, and what it means to add another contest to the women's QS tour.
WSL: What inspired you to launch the Sydney International Pro?
Sally Fitzgibbons: I've always had a vision of creating this ultimate event that celebrates what I love about the sport and to champion our Aussie beach culture. I love that surfing brings people together; strangers and families both young and old. I wanted to create an event where people challenge themselves and support one another and have fun being active and outdoors.
That's why the Sydney International will be surrounded by fun runs, ocean swimming, nippers, ironwomen and outdoor workout events, so that there is something for everyone.
How impactful is this one for QS surfers?
I personally love this time of year, the race for valuable points and to grab one of those elusive World Surf League spots, there is so much on the line. There are always clutch performances, buzzer beaters, triumphs and heartbreak when coming so close. Securing the opportunity to host the last QS6000 on the calendar is something I'm very excited about. I want to get the women into the best waves possible for a grandstand finish.
What kind of talent pool will it attract?
With the event being the all encompassing International beach festival, the event will attract not only our World Tour surfers and Qualifying Series warriors but a whole host of elite athletes across running, ocean swimming, ironwomen and our next generation junior surfers and nippers.
Can you explain what's involved and the motivation behind it?
The Sydney International Pro is the centerpiece of the festival but I wanted to include a number of other sports and activities to round it out. We often just go to one off events staying in our own bubble, but this is an opportunity to include other sports that celebrate our beach culture that I love and wish to showcase.
The event is mobile with the base at the Alley and backup sites of Cronulla Point and Shark Island. It is important for the future of women's surfing to have the opportunity to be in quality waves so having the three options should cover it depending on the swells. Shark Island can be amazing but would present a huge step up for Qualifying Series competitors as can Cronulla Point if a big swell hits and the Alley is not clean.
What do you see as the role of events like this in the development of women's surfing, and why?
I want to play my part in helping to continue to grow the sport so it can gather more momentum for the next generation. I believe that if there are more quality platforms for the women to compete in, it can only lead to the performance level continually rising. It will create a bright future for the sport.
How involved are you in the planning of this?
This has been a project of mine that I have had the concept for for quite a while. Now that I have my amazing team at Fitzgibbons International up and running, we can breathe life into the ideas and make them a reality. The entire team along with Surfing NSW and Sutherland Shire Council have a great work ethic and enthusiasm and want to bring the best possible event together for both athlete and spectator. Running an event like the Sydney International Beach Festival would not be possible without the great support of partners such as Jewel, Samsung, Coco Joy, Piping Hot, Blue Dinosaur, Ohana and Canon.
What would success with the event look like, and mean for you?
It would mean so much to the Fitzgibbons International Team and I to pull off a successful event in our first year. To see people come together with families and friends and have a great time being healthy and active while supporting and cheering for our world-class surfers and other athletes would just be a dream to see.
What have been the biggest changes in women's pro surfing since you started as a grom?
There has been so much change in the sport of women's surfing since my time as a grom. There has been prize money increases, improved working conditions and athlete care. The performance level has risen year after year, which is a credit to past and present generations. The hunger, desire and respected competitive rivalries drive everyone to be their best. The evolution of webcasts has brought surfing to a broader community and I've seen the fan base grow since I was a young grommie.
We have most importantly seen a dramatic rise of young girls and women taking up surfing, which gives us a bigger gene pool to uncover that next superstar and future World Champion. All this momentum couldn't come at a better time with surfing to debut in the Olympic games -- and that's before wave pool technology begins to take root. Who knows what will happen next?
What do you think women's pro surfing needs the most right now?
More events in amazing waves. Developing our skills in incredible waves will give us more and more opportunity to grow and take our surfing to the next level. More structure to the schedule would be awesome too, maybe one qualifying event at the start of each month and one World Tour event at the end of each month. With December off for a pre-season to start the new year strong and fresh.