• Culture

Why Stephanie Gilmore is the original conservationist

The surfing world champion with the ocean at heart 

By Jenny Ringland

Stephanie Gilmore is undeniably one of the most inspiring women in sport, she’s a seven-time world surfing champion, (equal only to fellow Aussie Layne Beachley), the winner of 34 elite World Tours, and in 2018 was integral in securing pay parity for women in partnership with the World Surfing League. What you might not know, and what brings us much joy, is how passionate she is about ocean conservation.

“As surfers, we see so much first hand that you can’t ignore,’’ she says.

“I believe it is our duty to use our voices, create awareness, and connect people and programs globally so that together we can hopefully stop the bleeding and fingers crossed, reverse some effects.”

Growing up on the north coast of New South Wales, Stephanie says she doesn’t remember a time that she didn’t feel connected to the ocean. Her relationship with the water started at such a young age, she has only known a life centred around it.

“I remember visiting cities when I first started traveling and competing, and finding it so hard to comprehend growing up without the ocean as a daily relationship,’’ she says.

“I remember having this realisation, understanding what a profound impact the ocean has on my life.”

We were lucky enough to chat to our favourite world champ about how strongly she feels about conservation, her tips for living a sustainable life, some of her favourite beaches in the world and more. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

You get to surf all over the world (maybe not right now!); what are some of the most beautiful beaches you’ve surfed?

They’re all so different and hold their own beauty. Being in Indonesia or Fiji off an island with crystal clear water and pumping waves is magical, but also beach culture in Brazil with fun small waves so close to the sand that you’re sunbaking one moment, playing bat ball and surfing the next. Everyone’s so happy and colourful and all beach goers are watching the surfers and smiling.

Have you always been concerned for the environment and ocean conservation?

As surfers, we see so much first hand that you can’t ignore it. Being on boat trips and seeing garbage piles in the middle of nowhere in the ocean. We visit very remote places to find waves in areas with very little infrastructure and unfortunately these communities also use single use plastic as a necessity for everyday life so what we see is confronting. I’m conscious of the fact I use a high amount of air travel for my career so I try to offset it where possible. But simply put, we as professional surfers have access to see the worsening state of the environment and oceans around the world year to year, so I believe it is our duty to use our voices, create awareness, and connect people and programs globally so that together we can hopefully stop the bleeding and fingers crossed, reverse some effects.

Do you remember the first time it occurred to you that it was something to feel strongly about?

Visiting Indonesia always hits me hard. The amount of rubbish in the ocean and the sheer amount of single use consumption daily that you see, on such a large scale, it feels completely hopeless.

Do you collect rubbish while you are out in the water?

Yes where possible. There’s a cool program created by surfers called Take 3 for the Sea. Their philosophy is every time you go to the beach or surf, you pick up (at least) three pieces of rubbish. If we all did that, it would have a significant impact. The program is a nice thing to have in mind at all times.  

Is ocean conservation a big issue amongst surfers?

Yes! It’s important we learn from experience and spread awareness.

Who do you look up to when it comes to sustainability? Is there anyone that really inspires you and challenges your way of thinking?

Individuals like Greta Thunberg are amazing. Econyl is a company out of Italy who is changing the world of recycled fabrics. But to be honest, there are many unsung heroes who deserve praise, the everyday home recycler, composters and conscious consumers. Once you start being aware it’s hard to go back. I will now go without water instead of buying a plastic bottle. Also, small businesses who are making a stand on using compostable packaging and researching the best available practices for their product production. The more we support these smaller influential brands, the more it will force change in the bigger industries. This everyday awareness is important and we should all make an effort.

What does living a sustainable life look like for you?

Making better choices with your purchases and product use in your everyday life. Being a conscious consumer and hopefully being less of a consumer in the long run.

What lifestyle changes have you made recently to lower your carbon footprint?

I have been driving an Audi eTron for the last couple of years, and next month I’ll have the all-electric version in Australia. I hope the electric car industry becomes quickly accessible to all. I use less and less of everything in life these days. Which feels empowering. Little things like I will always make an extra 15 minutes to drink my coffee at the cafe instead of a takeaway cup. I’ve been using plastic-free shower products. The little lifestyle changes all add up. 

What are your top three latest sustainable and or natural product discoveries?            

I take my Hydroflask everywhere I go and refill. I recommend buying one and once you start keeping it with you, it becomes like your phone, you don’t leave the car or house without it. I choose Econyl fabric used in everything from watch bands to swimwear. This Italian company is shifting the needle in production in a very conscious way. ROXY have committed to using their recycled nylon for all of the POP Surf collections which makes me happy. 


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