"It is what I am here to do. It's why I want to surf at my best. I just love competing," said Stephanie Gilmore, after an explosive start to her season at the Anditi Women's Pro in Newcastle. The event, a Qualifying Series 6,000-level contest, was her first competitive foray of the season and a kind of warmup for the elite Championship Tour, which starts March 14. And if her results so far are any indication, she's back in the kind of form and mindset that have won her six World Titles already.
Gilmore jumped out to an early lead with a 9.0 with her first ride, which featured two huge gouges. Her next wave featured only two turns as well, but both were perfectly executed displays of grace and power, leaving the judges with no choice but to reward the naturalfooter with a perfect score.
"Looking at the conditions before the heat I didn't think I would be posting those sorts of scores," Gilmore said. "I have been here for almost a week and that was my first heat so I was pretty hungry to get out there. That's the sort of start to the year I like."
It's been 10 years since Gilmore won her first World Title at age 19. She has competed on Tour every year since, winning a remarkable four successive World Titles from 2007 to 2010. That winning run was interrupted by an assault near her home two days after Christmas in 2010. And yet, Gilmore came back from to win two more World Titles, in 2012 and 2014.
But since then, her results have been spottier. After an injury-plagued 2015 season, she finished at No. 12. Last year, she finished at No. 6. Those results have had led to questions as to whether she has what it takes to win a seventh World Title -- a feat that would equal Layne Beachley's record, which is second only to that of Kelly Slater, with 11.
Gilmore's last two contest performances, however, would clearly suggest she has the skill and desire. At the Women's Pipe Invitational held in December, her performance on the way to victory was considered the best of the day. On Thursday in Newcastle, with her 19.00 heat total, it was clear that Gilmore's momentum was only picking up. Not only is her surfing as good as ever, but her competitive fire remains undiminished.
"It's so nice to get the excitement back, bubbling away," she said after the heat win. "That's what keeps you coming back, knowing you can always improve. I still want to win a World Title."