Last year was largely the Stephanie Gilmore show. In 2018 she took event wins at the Rip Curl Women's Pro Bells Beach, Oi Rio Women's Pro and Corona Open J-Bay - Women's. While World No.2 Lakey Peterson started the season off strong -- winning the first event at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, she made a couple critical slip-ups in the latter half. After being eliminated in Round 2 of the Beachwaver Maui Pro, Peterson sat 8,255 points shy of a rankings lead at the last event of the 2018 season.
In fitting form, Gilmore claimed her 7th World Title in classic 6-8' Honolua Bay. The milestone was a major one, as it tied Gilmore with Layne Beachley for the most women's World Titles in history. In addition, throughout her career she's won 29 Championship Tour events - second to only Kelly Slater.
Now, the 2019 Championship Tour is officially underway and despite her Quarterfinal exit on the Gold Coast, there's no doubt that Gilmore has Bells Beach on lock. Come April 17, she'll be looking for redemption at the Rip Curl Pro and being the defending event champion -- she'll have a good amount of confidence backing her up. But before the horn sounds next week for Stop No. 2, the 2018 World Champion looks back on her record year:
The World Surf League: Can you walk us through your World Title win in Maui last year?
Stephanie Gilmore: I was sitting at home just trying to chill out when I got a message from Jessi Miley-Dyer [WSL Deputy Commissioner] and Whitney [Gilmore's sister and manager] telling me that I should come down for Lakey Peterson's heat just in case she loses. And in my head I was like, 'No way she's going to lose'
So I drove down there in my sarong not really letting my mind go there. And it is pretty weird because there are all these cameras on you waiting for you to react so I was trying to keep my cool. And then Alana Blanchard got one really good wave and the heat was winding down. I was just like, 'No way, no way this is happening'.
In all honesty, I don't really care how it happens … no matter what, winning a World Title is the best thing in the world. I just like the sound of seven World Titles. Seven is a good number. I like the sound of eight too, though.
How did this win compare to your first?
In terms of the way it went down, it was pretty similar actually. When I won my first Title in 2007, Silvana Lima and Rosy Hodge were in the water and that heat decided whether I won or not. Jessi Miley-Dyer and I were sitting in the bleachers watching. But back then I was just having fun. And everything happened so fast. You don't really take the time to appreciate it.
This Title was sweeter in that aspect because there were so many times that I doubted myself or questioned whether I was too old to be doing this. My 7th Title proved that I'm not, that I'm still just as much in this as I was 10 years ago.
With the WSL pay equity announcement this year, did that motivate you?
Being involved in a sport that is willing to make changes that will effect not only this sport but industries all over the world, that's inspiring. Surfing is still such a young sport in comparison to others so to see it have come this far in such a short period of time, it's wild. It motivates me in the sense that I've been able to experience these changes first hand. All sports struggle to build themselves up early on and I'm sure there will be challenges in the future but we're all learning and I'm proud of that.
A lot of the younger surfers that you compete against on Tour look up to you. Is that weird for you?
A little bit. But I've known them all for so long. Coco Ho for instance ... I've known her since she was 12 years old. She used to come to Australia and she'd be doing her homework. She was always really diligent about that and I remember us all being like, 'Who is this girl?' You're in Australia without your parents and you're still doing your homework? To think now that she's 27, it's really special to have grown up together.
When I first started out I remember competing against people like Layne Beachley so I know the feeling of competing against your idols. But that's also kind of dangerous because I remember being so confident and thinking that, yeah I idolize these women but I can also beat them. I can just imagine with people like Lakey Peterson or Carissa Moore... they're probably like, 'I look up to you but that means I can't wait to smash you.'
After winning your 7th Title, you probably got a ton of messages. What's the best one you received?
I still haven't gone through them all yet. But before I won Sophia Medina (Gabriel Medina's little sister) was always sending me these cute messages with pics of Gabe and I back when we both won the Title in 2014. And she would be like, "This is going to happen again, I know it!" Luckily it did. We both won.
The 2020 Olympics aren't too far out. If you could chose anyone, alive or dead, to be on the Australia team who would you pick?
There's so many people, I would have to think really hard on this. Honestly I would probably go for the entertainment factor more than anything else. Maybe Noa Deane. He's crazy ... he doesn't care what anyone thinks. And his surfing is flat out. It would be fun.
One prediction for the women's season in 2019?
My fantasy prediction is that I'm going to win every single event on Tour. It's never been done before so that would be cool. But realistically I think there's going to be a fierce rivalry between Carrissa Moore, Lakey Peterson and I. It might be a 3-way battle all the way till the end.
The Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach will kick off April 17. Watch live on Worldsurfleague.com, App and Facebook.