The Girl in the Crowd

The unique gifts of Stephanie Gil­more

Tracks - - Intro - By Luke Kennedy

New York, 2011 and the pro surf­ing world is in a tizz be­cause the most fab­u­lous city in the world is play­ing host to one of its sin­glet and siren soirees. In the lead up to the Quik­sil­ver Pro New York, which is be­ing held at Long Beach on the fringes of the Big Ap­ple, Quik or­gan­ises a se­ries of sideshows closer to town.

On the day of my ar­rival I find my­self stand­ing in a crowd on the edge of the Hud­son River, the Man­hat­tan Sky­line soar­ing like an im­pos­si­ble dream be­hind me, while Tony Hawk and his skate posse put their own spin on grav­ity-de­fy­ing physics, while rid­ing a cus­tom-made ramp.

As I mar­vel at the skat­ing hi-jinx and get a lit­tle over­whelmed by the scale of the set­ting, I feel a tap on the shoul­der. Turn­ing to the right I’m met with a warm smile, a sweep of blonde and a friendly ‘hi’ from a girl who is happy to see a fa­mil­iar face – some­one to say ‘Wow, how cool is all this’ with and share in the won­der of the mo­ment. Steph Gil­more was al­ready a four times world cham­pion by then, but for a few min­utes she was just the friendly girl next to me in the crowd; ea­ger to chat about her ex­pec­ta­tions for a city, which seemed to re­veal a new mys­tery at ev­ery turn.

Cut to 2018 – the lineup at Snap­per Rocks in the lead up to the Quik­sil­ver and Roxy Pros. Jostling for the small rib­bons of swell is a heavy­weight pack that in­cludes surfers from both the men’s and women’s tours, se­cond-string pros ea­ger to cap­i­talise on the fir­ing line of pho­togs, the rank and file rip­pers from the Gold Coast and a flot­sam of ev­ery­day surfers. Amidst the chaos is a magazine ed­i­tor (me) who is drift­ing fast down to Green­mount, ea­ger to get out of the way lest I up­set the prepa­ra­tions of the elite cast.

Steph Gil­more pad­dles up the point as I con­cede de­feat and suc­cumb to the sweep. As we pass she still takes a mo­ment to of­fer a gen­uine greet­ing and flash that fa­mous smile, but it’s all done with well-prac­tised, lineup econ­omy – like a politi­cian who knows how to give just enough at­ten­tion to each rel­e­vant per­son as they work the room. There is pre­cious lit­tle time for small talk to­day. There is a con­test about to start – the first step to­wards that elu­sive, seventh world ti­tle and more im­me­di­ately there is a lineup to con­tend with, one which re­quires a dis­dain for un­nec­es­sary dis­trac­tions if you want a wave.

Mo­ments later Steph finds a gap in the lineup, which po­si­tions her per­fectly for a bend­ing wall that some­how slips through the mosh-pit un­claimed. The friendly face is now wrought with fo­cus and de­ter­mi­na­tion as she strokes in hard, slides pur­pose­fully to her feet and levers off the bot­tom so hard that I can’t help but feel a lit­tle sorry for the lip she is about to oblit­er­ate. All heads in the lineup turn as Steph evis­cer­ates the help­less wave with her finned blade, the ‘thwack’ of the DHD echo­ing all the way down the line as it re­peat­edly hits the lip. It’s the se­cond best wave I see rid­den all day. The best is the next one Steph gets.

Stephanie Gil­more some­how makes am­bi­tion and ami­a­bil­ity seem like the most nat­u­ral of bed­fel­lows. In truth there are many di­men­sions to Steph’s char­ac­ter and while her seven world ti­tles rep­re­sent a re­mark­able achieve­ment, her holis­tic em­brace of life’s many joys and chal­lenges en­sures she will never be de­fined by a num­ber. In­stead, by virtue of her suc­cess and dy­namism, Steph gives us all hope that we can reach for the best in our­selves while still be­ing bal­anced and em­pa­thetic hu­man be­ings. Here’s to the girl in the crowd.

Photo: Bosko

Steph Gil­more – com­fort­able and con­fi­dent in any set­ting, but hap­pi­est at the beach.

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