While Stephanie Gilmore’s high school friends stressed over choosing college majors, the New South Wales, Australia native faced her own future with uncommon certainty. “I remember just having a really strong feeling that surfing, and professional surfing, was what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” she recalls in Rolling Stone’s “The First Time” video.
Seven World Titles later, there is no disputing that Gilmore, now 31, proved her teenage-self correct. Gilmore has dominated the sport since her arrival on the scene. She even claimed her first title as a rookie. Not only was this a landmark in her own career, but it made surf history. Gilmore was the first surfer — man or woman — to ever win the title during his or her rookie year.
“I was able to win and accomplish that dream of mine that I’d had forever. It was kind of a surreal moment, but I just remember feeling so elated.” says Gilmore.
Today, she is celebrated as one of the most decorated surfers, matched only by Layne Beachley for women’s World Titles. Gilmore’s most recent victory came in 2018. Yet no matter how many titles she secures, the excitement never fades.
“I’m not sure if my smile could get bigger on either of them,” says Gilmore. There was only one difference: “I probably drank more tequila this time around!”
Gilmore found rookie success in music, as well. The very first time she played guitar for a live audience, she shared the stage with Jimmy Buffett, joining in for the fan-favorites “Volcano” and “Margaritaville.”
“His band were all such accomplished musicians and it was a real honor to get up there and play with them.”
Buffett’s island state of mind may fit the surf scene, but Gilmore admittedly wasn’t very familiar with him before their impromptu jam. She recalls that the first album she ever bought was actually by Jeff Buckley, in hopes of impressing her arty older sister.
“She was kind of like, dark and depressed, and so I went for the Jeff Buckley.”