Perpetually optimistic regularfoot pro from New South Wales, Australia; six-time ASP world champion, revered for her powerful but flowing style. "She's taken a testosterone-saturated field and beautified it infinitely," Beach Grit magazine said of Gilmore in 2014. "Men can be beautiful on a surfboard, sure, but it always seems partially contrived. The flow Steph achieves on an open right wall is pure dance and the epitome of feminine beauty."
Gilmore was born (1988) in Murwillumbah, a small town just over the border from Queensland. Her father, a Snapper Rocks local, taught Gilmore to surf when she was 10, and two years later she was a regular in the crowded, and nearly all-male lineups at places like Kirra and Burleigh Heads. "I was such a tomboy," Gilmore said in describing her adolescence, "I didn't shave my legs until I was like 16."
Gilmore's competitive mastery was evident long before she turned pro. As an amateur, she won the New South Wales junior title in 2003; the next year she was the Australian junior national champion. In 2005, the 17-year-old Gilmore won her first pro event, the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, defeating world tour powerhouse Layne Beachley in the semifinals. Two years later, Gilmore, a WCT rookie, won four of the tour's eight events, cruised to her first world title, and was went all but unchallenged as she snapped up the next three titles as well. Tall and strong (5'10", 147 pounds), and gifted with equal parts strength and fluidity, Gilmore simply outclassed her competition.
At the end of 2010 Gilmore signed a five year, $5 million deal with Quiksilver to beccome the sport's first million-dollar female pro. The tomboy element was still there, but Gilmore had also embraced a kind of wholesome sex appeal. "In my eyes," she told surf journalist Janna Irons, "the best female surfer is someone who pull into big barrels and can take getting scraped on the reef, but can then turn around and be graceful and stylish in beautiful waves in the most feminine way possible. That's what I'm trying to achieve." Her sunny disposition had meanwhile earned her the nickname "Happy Gilmore."
On the evening of December 27, 2010, as Gilmore walked up the steps leading to her Tweed Heads apartment, she was ambushed by a deranged man wielding an iron bar; he struck her twice; one of the blows broke her wrist. She healed quickly, but was rattled mentally, never really found her rhythm in 2011, and finished the year rated third. That year also saw the world tour rise of Carissa Moore, a 19-year-old Hawaiian phenom who was Gilmore's equal in raw talent—Moore took the championship title easily. Layne Beachley, whose own impressive run of titles was stopped by Gilmore in 2007, told Surfer magazine that "it was only a matter of time before the girls realized that they have the ability to not only beat Steph but to challenge her for a world title." Tyler Wright and Sally Fitzgibbons of Australia, as well as California's Courtney Conlogue, were among the up-and-comers who would do exactly as Beachley said.
But Gilmore returned to dominance in 2012, amassing enought points for a fifth world title even before the last contest of the year was held, at which point SurferToday.com wondered if the then 24-year-old Gilmore, the most marketable surfer since Kelly Slater, might eventually become "the most influential surfer of all time."
Hobbled by injuries in 2013, Gilmore had her worst run as a pro, failing to win an event, and finishing the year ranked #5. The year also brought controversy, as Gillmore starred in a gently sexed-up—and completely wave-free—promo spot for the Roxy Pro Biarritz. The resulting backlash put Roxy on the defensive, while Gilmore seemed content to let her father, Jeff, speak for her: "If Roxy and Steph can get more people to watch women's surfing, then it's a good thing.''
In 2014, Gilmore won three event for the season, and her fifth-place finish in the last contest of the year, the Target Maui Pro at Honolua Bay, was just enough to earn her a sixth world title.
Gilmore has appeared in a number of surf videos including Dear and Yonder (2009) and A Deeper Shade of Blue (2011). Stephanie in the Water, a biopic, came out in 2014. In 2010 Gilmore was inducted into the Surfer's Hall of Fame in Huntington Beach. She won the Surfer Magazine Poll in 2009, 2010, and 2012, in 2011 she took home an ESPY award for Best Female Action Sports Athlete of the Year. Gilmore won the Triple Crown of Surfing three straight years from 2008 through 2010.
In 2011 Gilmore, in a fairly demure way, posed nude for the "Body Issue" of ESPN The Magazine, one year after then ten-time world champion Kelly Slater did the same. In 2012, Gilmore appeared in Vogue magazine. "Steph Gilmore not only wins us over," one blogger noted of Gilmore's Vogue spread, "but sells the rest of the world on women’s surfing.