Australian surfer and seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore is in good shape to qualify for the first Olympic surf team ever in 2020, but surfing’s not the only thing on her mind. In addition to hauling her board and other gear on tour, Gilmore travels with a guitar from her treasured collection: maybe a Fender Jazzmaster or a vintage Epiphone Crestwood that’s faded from Pelham blue to, fittingly, surf green. “I’m gonna be drowning in a sea of guitars one day,” she says. “I just love buying them.”
Gilmore started playing as a kid. “Dad used to pay me a dollar to do the major scales on every fret,” she says. “That was kind of like my chores. I thought it was pretty cool that Dad would let me do that rather than do the dishes.”
She got even more serious about her playing when she was in her late teens. As her athletic career has accelerated, she’s made a name for herself as a surfer who can shred. She’s even played onstage with Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins’ side project, Chevy Metal. “I played ‘Bitch’ by the Rolling Stones with them at a gig in Australia,” she says. And she keeps up her chops. “I try to play every single day. It’s awesome.” Gilmore told RS about the songs that define her as a surf champ, a guitarist and a child of the Nineties.
1. Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin’”
I remember being around nine years old and Dad taught me to play the guitar. Obviously he taught me the 12-bar blues first, but when I moved into learning full songs, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” is one Dad taught me. I have really fond memories of just sitting next to him with his Bob Dylan sheet music pages. It definitely takes me back to the beginning of my love for guitar. At a point, I was getting confident enough that I was like I think I could play this at the school talent show and impress all my friends. I never played in the talent show but I did try to busk on the street when I was 10 or 11. I tried to take it to the world. I think the only money that went into the hat was my parents.
2. Bonnie Raitt, “Nick of Time”
I just remember my parents working so hard, cause it was myself and two older sisters, and Mum was a schoolteacher and Dad, once he came back from the merchant navy, just did whatever jobs he could just to keep us afloat. So Mum would look after us while he was at work and then they’d swap. And I remember on the weekends my dad would go surfing and Mum would basically blast Bonnie Raitt on our little stereo and clean the house. It was just her enjoyment, her exercise. It was her time at home to really just be the mom and look after the house. It makes me so happy to listen to that song. It makes me feel warm and safe like I’m at home with my mum. Mom and Dad actually still live in the same house that we grew up in. It’s pretty special.
3. Hole, “Malibu”
When I was a kid, for our family holidays, we’d pack up the combie and a tent and drive down the coast about an hour to Byron Bay and Dad would take us all surfing at one of the most beautiful beaches you’ll ever see in your life. It’s like perfect waves and the water’s crystal clear and it’s warm and amazing. At that time, the song “Malibu” by Hole was on the radio a lot and I really loved it. “Rage” was the music TV show, and I remember seeing the music video of Courtney Love and the band. They’re all in a camper van by the beach in Malibu and they’re playing guitar with surfboards in the background,and it just kind of made me think, “That’s going to be me, hanging out in a camper van at the beach,” and “Maybe I’ll get to America one day,” so yeah, fond memories of surf adventures with my family. And here I am. It’s called manifesting, right?
4. No Doubt, “Sunday Morning”
Obviously No Doubt was a staple in the teenage music diet. I think my older sister Bonnie got the CD first, and she used to pay it so much. It was actually my dad who probably got my older sister onto it. My dad has a great taste in music and he used to rave about Gwen Stefani. We played that album, Tragic Kingdom, so much, and “Sunday Morning” was always a song that I thought was perfect to put on super loud on the weekends when we’d drive down to the beach and surf.
5. Jeff Buckley, “Last Goodbye”
I remember picking up the CD at home — my older sister Bonnie’s — and looking at it and thinking I don’t think i’m going to like this at all. I thought it was for kids who made art and were depressed. But when I got to “Last Goodbye” it really hit me: This music is complicated and soulful. I just absolutely loved it. It opened my mind to this kind of music that was deep and meaningful and so poetic but I could also listen to it and not even hear the lyrics but just be so affected by the sounds he was making. I’d always put that song on when I was traveling alone, sitting in airports or taking off on planes.
6. Missy Elliot, “Lose Control”
At the end of high school, I knew I wanted to be a champion surfer. At a few events I went to before I actually qualified for the tour, I got to hang out with my heros and they were always playing Missy Elliot. I’d never really been into that kind of music before, and Missy Elliot was like a smack in the face but so much fun. I also loved the way Missy dressed. I was such a tomboy at the time. I just lived in board shorts. I was not interested in being glamorous at all. But I saw this image of Missy and thought it was so cool because she is such a tomboy but so glamorous at the same time with her jewelry and makeup. The song Lose Control makes me think of 2007, when I won my world title in Hawaii as a rookie, and we played it like crazy at the party.
7. P.J. Harvey (feat. Thom Yorke), “This Mess We’re In”
In 2009, I was going for my third world title, and I was feeling like, “OK, winning’s so fun, but there’s more to life than just going surfing.” I had just gotten into P.J. Harvey and saw she was playing in Paris the week after the event, and I rang up my friend, a French surfer, Lee-Ann Curren, and flew to France for it. It was a moment in my life where I started to understand how important balance is. The tour life is great, and competing is awesome, but it’s important to take all those other opportunities, too, to go see music and go to art shows and just immerse yourself in everything else that’s going on and then take that inspiration back into your competitive events.
8. LCD Soundsystem, “You Wanted a Hit”
Whenever I listen to LCD Soundsystem songs, no matter what time of day, it just makes want to dance and hang with my friends, maybe go to a club or something. It’s kind of the buildup to the song — I can put it on and just zone out and then the beat drops: “You wanted a hit, but maybe we don’t do hits.” I saw them live down in Australia and they played this song and I remember thinking, “This is the best song in the world. I could listen to this forever.” Maybe it’s the beat. It’s kind of a “Fuck you, you wanted a hit, but I’m going to do it my way.”
9. Sonic Youth, “Kool Thing”
Sonic Youth has a coming-of-age sound. Their music is pretty intense. When I went to New York to visit a good friend, she kind of dragged me around, away from the surf scene and opened my mind to the whole idea of punk and thrash and kind of, like, the beauty in darkness? Not everything has to be about being sunny and happy at the beach. I just remember spending time in New York and learning more about Sonic Youth and “Kool Thing” was such a kickass song, and you know Kim Gordon is badass — another epic frontwoman. When I listen to that song, I think of a surf film, like editing cool surfing from the 90s to a song like that. It also was my inspiration to get the Jazzmaster guitar.
10. Tame Impala “Half Full Glass of Wine”
I feel like I play Tame Impala more than any other band. “Half Full Glass of Wine” is off their first EP, and I’ll put that album on when I’m driving or want to just feel like home. And that earlier stuff is a little bit heavier so I’ll also put it on before I compete, like to psych up. Kevin Parker and those guys are pretty much genius. This is one of those songs I’ve played one billion times.
11. Roberta Flack, “Feel Like Makin’ Love”
Roberta Flack is one the OGs. I love soul music and gospel music and this song just makes you think of when you’re crushing on a guy or falling in love with someone, strolling through the park watching lovers do their thing, no worries in the world.
12. Black Sabbath, “NIB”
I saw Sabbath play in Melbourne, and it just blew my mind, so I started to learn more of the electric guitar and how to play it loud. A couple years ago, there was this surfing fundraiser event in Malibu, and this young band called the Helmets were going to play. It’s these kids who were 12, 13 years old at the time and actually really accomplished musicians. They’d heard I play and were like, we want Steph to jump up and play with us, and they sent over the song list and it was like Sabbath, Metallica, Kyuss and I was like, “Oh OK, they mean business.” They asked what I wanted to play and I suggested NIB. I spent the next three days just making my fingers bleed, practicing. It was the first time I was confident enough to get up and play a solo onstage. I was about three feet taller than the kids onstage but it was unreal.
13. Led Zeppelin, “What Is and What Should Never Be”
I feel like my taste in music goes from dreamy stuff and soul to heavier music and this song is such a journey in that sense. I love how it goes from quite a dreamy start into something heavier. I’ve been playing it a lot more, recently. It was probably one of the first Led Zeppelin songs I was able to play confidently from start to finish. I love when he’s talking about just sailing away and leaving on a whim, just going where the wind blows. It makes me feel good.
14. Connan Mockasin, “Faking Jazz Together”
Connan is my favorite. I love his voice he’s so quirky and wonderful. This is a really long song and it’s just this dreamy musical adventure. You can put it on and go through so many different emotions. I really enjoy escaping the world and listening to this kind of music. I feel like I can put it on anywhere — the tarmac of an airport — and if I’m listening to this, I can be in the ocean or some other place. That’s the coolest part about music.
15. Daft Punk “Give Life Back to Music”
When this album [Random Access Memories] came out it [in 2013], I don’t think people were expecting this kind of sound from Daft Punk, but I absolutely loved this song. It’s groovy, it’s got that disco kind of beat. If it makes me wanna dance and just smile, it’s a hit in my world. I wish more young artists were making disco or soul music. The name of the song this is exactly what needs to happen. In Europe, you can drive really fast on the highway and I have memories of blasting it driving from France down into Spain, going surfing and having long, late dinners with friends. I went on to win my sixth world title in 2014. I hadn’t won a world title in a few years, and I felt like I’d breathed some life back into my motivation and my inspiration.