Surfer Stephanie Gilmore on record-breaking title: ‘Greatest performance in my entire career’

Stephanie Gilmore celebrates after winning her eighth surfing world title
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Last week, Australian surfer Stephanie Gilmore won her eighth world title, breaking her tie with Layne Beachley for most world titles won by a female surfer. 

Gilmore’s eighth world title looked very different than her first seven. Last year, the World Surf League (WSL) introduced a new championship format: a one-day surf-off featuring the top five surfers on the Championship Tour (CT). Gilmore — who won her previous seven titles under the old season-long points system — entered this year’s WSL Finals in San Clemente, California, as the fifth-ranked woman. That meant the 34-year-old had to compete in (and win) every round of the bracket in order to have a chance at the world title. Gilmore did just that, going on to defeat five-time world champ and 2021 Olympic gold medalist Carissa Moore 2-0 in the best-of-three final. 

After the competition, On Her Turf caught up with Gilmore about what this eighth world title means to her, whether she plans to continue competing through the 2024 Paris Olympics, and the future of women’s surfing. This Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. 


On Her Turf: I’d love to start with your expectations entering the WSL Finals. As the fifth-ranked woman, you obviously had the longest ladder to climb in order to win the world title. What were your expectations and goals heading into the day?

Stephanie Gilmore: You know, it seemed impossible to imagine you could surf from fifth — beat all of the seeds ahead of you, all of the women that performed better than me throughout the whole season — and go all the way to the final. And then, to have to beat Carissa (Moore) twice in conditions that really favor all of us… Like, four-foot right-handers are really what Carissa excels at, and myself as well.

So I just wanted to keep believing. As cheesy as that sounds, it was just like, ‘Hey, this is a long shot, but a chances is a chance.’

I had this weird feeling if I could get through Brisa (Hennessy) and Tatiana (Weston-Webb), I could get enough momentum to keep rolling. I felt like, at that point, I could probably start getting into Johanne (Defay) and Carissa’s head. They’d see me catching some momentum and (it would) freak them out a bit.

And then, as the day went on, I was just like, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is actually happening. This is insane.’

Women's bracket for the 2022 WSL Finals, showing who Steph Gilmore had to beat in order to win the world title
2022 Rip Curl WSL Finals – Women’s Bracket (WSL)

I was just running off of adrenaline and excitement. Physically, I was ok. I was still able to surf. I just had to conserve my energy in different ways and try not to catch too many waves in a heat.

So yeah. My thoughts were just like, ‘Hey, this seems impossible.’ But if you just do the simple math, it’s not too bad. You can do it (win the world title) in five heats. That’s 10 counting waves. That’s just a three-and-a-half hour surf and you’re done.

On Her Turf: With the new WSL Finals format, what’s the balance of coming in as the fifth seed and getting all of those extra reps and momentum vs. the physical toll of competing in so many consecutive heats? What are the pros and cons?

Gilmore: Yeah, I was thinking about being in Carissa’s position and how I wouldn’t like to (wait around). I feel like it’s much harder to sit there and watch, to try to just visualize and adapt to the conditions without being able to physically go out there and feel the ocean and test the waves and test your equipment. Yes, we’ve already done all that in our practicing and our warm ups, but surfing is unique in that our field changes every 5, 10 minutes. The wind comes up, the tide changes, it’s just constantly moving… Surfing is very much a sport where you have to be in tune with Mother Nature, you have to be in tune with the elements.

I felt like I had such an advantage by the time I got to those later heats because I’d been in the ocean. Yes, each heat I went through was physically draining. But I just kind of kept finding the momentum where, because I’d been in the ocean, I knew what it was doing. I was in rhythm with the waves. And I was able to kind of use that to my advantage, whereas I could see that Joanne and Carissa, towards the back end, were a bit overwhelmed because they’d been sitting there watching it all day. They didn’t get the chance to go out there and feel it.

Rip Curl WSL Finals
SAN CLEMENTE, CALIFORNIA – Stephanie Gilmore of Australia competes in her first match of the day at the 2022 WSL Finals. (Photo by Pat Nolan/World Surf League via Getty Images)

On Her Turf: Right after you won, you and Carissa embraced out in the water. Can you share what you told her in that moment?

Gilmore: I saw Carissa and I just gave her a big hug. And I said to her that I believed that she was the true world champion this year. Having won all of my world titles in that fashion, where I’d accumulated the most points over the entire season… It seemed hard to imagine that Carissa wasn’t going to be the world champion this year. Like, she had such a great year… And I just said, ‘I admire you so much. And I’m so honored to be able to share the water with with you in the final here.’

Rip Curl WSL Finals
SAN CLEMENTE, CALIFORNIA – Carissa Moore and Stephanie Gilmore talk in the water after the title match at the 2022 WSL Finals. (Photo by Pat Nolan/World Surf League via Getty Images)

In saying that, now that I’ve had some time to really process what happened and how I had to just dig deep to be able to go through all of those incredible female athletes, and then to get through Carissa twice, at the very end of the season. It’s finally sunk in to me that that is truly what it takes to be a world champion… With this new format, it was almost like I was out to prove all that’s wrong with it, but all that’s right with it as well…

And I actually really appreciate this new format, because it does bring out the best in athletes. I would say this was my greatest performance in my entire career. And I wouldn’t have had that chance without this new format.

On Her Turf: Wow. That’s a big statement, especially given that it’s your eighth world title. That actually leads to something I wanted to ask you about: I was curious if you have specific memories of all eight world titles? Or have they started to blend together, especially given that you won the first six in such quick succession?

Gilmore: I would say the first one (2007) is very memorable because it was the first and it was my rookie year on tour. And I was just so hungry to get out there and be world champion, that was my dream. So that one was incredibly memorable.

And then I’d say world titles two, three and four (2008, 2009, 2010) kind of blend together. Like I’m probably actually a bit shady on what the last events were and who (I had to win) against.

I had an assault after my fourth world title and I was out for a few months with physical injury. It was just kind of a traumatic moment in my life. And so thinking about the fifth world title (2012), it was my most rewarding title for a long time because I had to overcome a traumatic experience and I had to really re-find that confidence that I used to have in the beginning of my career. That’s when questions of doubt started coming, like, ‘Can you do it?’ That was also the start of when Carissa came on tour and started blazing through everyone. So when I was able to really fight back and win the fifth world title, that one was like, ‘Okay, this is a pinnacle moment.’

The sixth (2014) was great, but yeah, it kind of blends in. And then the seventh (2018) to align with Layne Beachley for the record was a huge goal of mine.

But winning my eighth kind of blows them all out of the water.

On Her Turf: It always strikes me as really hard for athletes when they have sustained success when they are really young… And then when they aren’t as successful, it seems like some people struggle to separate that downturn in their sport with their own self worth. I’m curious if that’s a feeling you experienced and how you dealt with it?

Gilmore: Totally. That’s a great question because it’s like, from a young age, I was able to detach from my wins really easily. It was kind of like, ‘Great, I’m winning a lot. And this is awesome.’ But I always felt like there was more to do, there was more to achieve, that I needed to surf better.

You have to be cautious of not becoming these world title trophies. Because surfing is just something that you do, it’s not who you are. Yes, I live and breath surfing. But, I think as a competitive athlete, you kind of have to be able to detach from wins and losses the same. You have to restart and refresh and move onto the next challenge, the next event, the next year with a fresh mind and see how you can evolve in all the different areas.

It’s like, I just won my eighth title. But I’m already thinking about the performances that I had this year that I was really disappointed in… To not have a great performance in Hawaii, to not get a great result in Tahiti, like, I would love to win those events. And that’s already giving me so much inspiration to just keep going. That’s the cool thing about surfing: we have such different playing fields, and to be able to perform at peak level in all the different waves, that’s really cool.

So that’s kind of where my head is at.

On Her Turf: I’m glad you brought up Tahiti! That was obviously a historic event just for women to be back at Teahupo’o and competing again. What were your main takeaways? And looking ahead, what are you hoping to accomplish there?

Gilmore: Tahiti was really special. All of us women on tour, we just bonded a lot at that event. We knew we had to unify and support each other because we could feel that all of us were intimidated.

We were at this scary wave and we wanted to put on a great show, but all of us were like, ‘Oh, this is new territory, we’re not sure how we’re gonna perform.’ We didn’t want to embarrass ourselves and we wanted the sport to grow. So it was cool. Yes, we were competing against each other. But there was something about the camaraderie that was really special. Even though the waves, you know, in the end weren’t so great at the finish.

Also, to see the young girls, local girls from Tahiti that were so confident, like Vahine Fierro. I thought she was going to win the whole contest. I watched her in the pre-surfs and I just thought, ‘This is what is so cool about women’s surfing.’  We’re only just starting to see these young women who have been surfing in these remote locations. And they’re starting to become world class surfers and they’re leading the charge for us as well, you know?

But yeah, I didn’t get a great result there so I know I’ve got a lot of work to do. I think that’s also the general feeling from all the women. It was great and we all pushed each other. But we all know we’ve got a lot of work to do and room to improve in these conditions. I mean, a lot of us were already talking about planning a trip back there to learn the wave more.

On Her Turf: Are you hoping to compete there during the 2024 Paris Olympics? I guess “Paris” should maybe be in quotes given how far away the surfing venue in Tahiti is from the Olympic host city.

Gilmore: Yeah, that’d be really cool. It’d be strange, for sure, not being in Paris with the Opening Ceremony and all that other stuff. Having been to Tokyo for the Olympics, I know that that was the highlight for me: going to the Opening Ceremony and meeting all the other athletes. So Tahiti will be kind of different. But in saying that, I’m sure winning a medal, getting spat out of really big beautiful barrels in Tahiti, that would feel really good, too.

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Stephanie Gilmore competes during the 2022 Outerknown Tahiti Pro in Teahupo’o, French Polynesia, on August 19, 2022. (Photo by JEROME BROUILLET/AFP via Getty Images)

On Her Turf: In terms of the growth of women’s surfing. I always say how thankful I am that I get to cover a variety of women’s sports because it is so interesting to compare and contrast between what different women’s leagues and sports are trying. And surfing is clearly doing a lot right in terms of gender equality, from the equal prize money to the side-by-side WSL Championship Tours this year. But gender equality is also the type of thing where the work might never be done. I’m curious what you think is the next step in that evolution?

Gilmore: Yeah, it isn’t ever done, progression is an ongoing thing.

I’m just so proud of the women in surfing. These positive changes that have happened, that is from the hard work and perseverance of the women before us, which started in the 70s, 80s, the 90s… That was a tough period for women in surfing.

It’s so incredible to see the young women now. The WSL does a ‘Rising Tides’ event. And pretty much in every country we’ve been to… In El Salvador, we had 40 young women that came down and they were great surfers. In Brazil there were like 50 young girls. And then here in California, we had 30 young girls who all surfed incredibly well.

It just restored my faith in the fact that, even though we may not specifically be on this mission to progress the sport of women’s surfing, we’re doing it through our actions, through our own personal goals, and our own personal missions. So the progression is happening and it’s really cool.

On Her Turf: Related to that… I was curious if there were any up-and-coming surfers you really enjoyed getting to know this year? Athletes who maybe didn’t have a huge breakthrough or win, but that you just enjoyed watching surf?

Gilmore: Yeah, I really enjoyed watching Bettylou Sakura Johnson. She’s from Hawaii and she’s sponsored by Roxy, too. So we spent a bit of time together and she’s a phenomenal young surfer.

Also Gabriela Bryan. She had the best year of all the rookies, made the cut, and had some awesome performances throughout the year.

I really liked Luana Silva, too. She and Bettylou were best friends on tour. I loved watching them learn. Like, they didn’t make the cut and it was a really emotional moment for them. It was kind of like watching their dreams crash. But at the same time, I just wanted to say them, ‘Hey, it’s a long, long career ahead of you. And these are the moments that that make you stronger.’ So it was cool to kind of be able to step in and be a big sister in that in that moment. But it’s hard because I also can’t give them too much information because they’ll be out here smashing all of us pretty soon (laughs).

On Her Turf: Final question, and this might be silly but, how did you decide on jersey #88? And do you switch to #99 as you now pursue your ninth surfing world title?

Gilmore: I was born in 1988. So that’s a pretty easy one. And I just liked the number eight. It looks beautiful, it’s infinite. Yeah, it’s a it’s a really nice number and so I just kind of stuck with it. And I’m sure I’ll stick with it for a while. Lucky 88.

On Her Turf: There you go! No. 88 has her eighth world title!

Gilmore: On the eighth of September, too!

2022 Rip Curl WSL Finals Lower Trestles
SAN CLEMENTE, CALIFORNIA – Stephanie Gilmore celebrates winning the 2022 WSL world title, setting a new record for most world titles won by a female surfer. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

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Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.