Born and bred on the south coast of New South Wales, Sally Fitzgibbons is the ultimate poster girl for female surfing in Australia. But she doesn’t just show off her talent on the surfboard. She’s just as awesome owning it in the boardroom.
We recently caught up with Sally to chat about her upcoming app Train Like Sally and some personal goals she has set for the near future. Here’s what she had to say…
Despite a couple of good results under your belt (2nd in Bell’s and Rio), you’ve had a few hiccups this season… Is this down to the standard of all the girls or something else?
It’s been tough going this season to get consistency with those podium results. It always burns deep down not hitting those goals I’m after… But I have to be patient and have faith that the results will come, as I know I am continually pushing my surfing to new heights. With all the variables that are in surfing, I have to keep becoming stronger both physically and mentally. This way, I can capitalise on any opportunity that presents itself. And that opportunity may not come your way too often in a given season! On the World Tour, the top 17 are at such a competitive level that any of those surfers can win an event on their given day. I have to keep being resilient and not change the goals I’ve set myself as there are so many aspects you can work on. I feel it’s in me to achieve top spot at some point in the future, just as I have done in the past.
When you were a kid, you wanted to be the best in the world and now surfing is part of the Olympics. How does that feel?
It’s amazing that surfing has been included in the Olympics. I would not have imagined when I was young that this was a possibility. I am so psyched to give it my all to claim one of the very sort after spots to go to Tokyo in 2020. It makes our sport very holistic having all the different platforms to perform at. By adding the missing piece of an Olympic platform and show our sport off to a broader audience is just fantastic. I had a dream of becoming an Olympic gold medalist or a world champion as an 8 year old. Now, to have both those dreams a possibility is super exciting. I can’t wait to keep bettering myself as an athlete and aim for these ultimate goals.
“It’s never easy to keep picking yourself up after heart breaking losses and disappointing finishes.”
Your mantra is “Live your passion and never give up”. Are these words always easy to live by?
No it’s never easy to keep picking yourself up after heart breaking losses and disappointing finishes. I think every single person can relate to obstacles and setbacks in their lives and workplace. And I know it’s tough to keep throwing all your heart and energy into something that just isn’t working out, but you will never know how close you are to achieving a breakthrough if you give up. The reward is making yourself proud by being resilient and never giving up. I pride myself on being able to compete with Aussie spirit and wearing my heart on my sleeve. Give it your all and be proud of yourself and your achievements.
What’s a typical day for you on tour?
There really isn’t a typical day, it is quite fast paced. I wake up to prep for the day before light with a run and mobility training, before heading straight to the beach at dawn for a warm-up surf on the contest bank. If they call the event on, then we have to be prepared to surf between 1-3 heats on the same day. Depending on what happens, you adapt. It helps to be good at power napping as you can be put on hold as well which means you may have to wait between 1-4 hours for the contest directors to decide if conditions are good enough to surf. So it is quite unpredictable, with you powering up and down and keeping warmed up and down, trying to stay focussed on reading conditions as the surf and elements change. I really get psyched for competition. I love all the routines elements about tour days, especially pool recovery and yoga sessions to wind down after a big day.
And a typical day off tour?
I have a lot of different elements on the go in my life at the moment, so I try and keep the balance and give everything. I love quality time whether that’s my fiancé and loved ones when I’m back home. But also surfing and training, business life at Fitzgibbons International or my charity, the Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation, and studying for courses and fitness qualifications. I’m constantly on the move trying to make the most of every single day.
When home, do you spend more time training than surfing?
I train in and out of the water everyday. Surfing is one of those sports where you’re at the mercy of nature. When the surf is pumping, you’re chasing swells up and down the coast and land training happens at the end of the day. You try and surf 2-3 times a day when the waves are good and when the surf backs off you slot in a bit more land training.
How is that training organised?
I start the day with a cardio session out on the coast or under the street lights. Then I have a training session in the gym. I hit the waves wherever they are looking the best for what I am working on. The back home to refuel before some time in the office. This is followed by a couple more surf sessions and then a late session of extras, paying attention to what body parts need maintaining. Then I do odds and ends like core or mobility and some yoga to wind down.
Do you also work on mental preparation?
Yes, it’s an important part of preparation. Over the years it can range from reading a good book on psychology and mind over matter type topics to linking up with a specialist in that field. I lean a lot on my Fitzgibbons support crew to bounce feelings and emotions back and forth. My dad has travelled with me to a lot of events over the years. We have some great yarns on how to strengthen the mind and body. I also have a fiancé now who is a professional NRL player which really helps, as he is often going through similar athletic highs and lows. We know how each other feels and can talk through what is happening.
Do you also use tools such a surf training skateboards or facilities such as the ramp at the High Performance Centre (Gold Coast), especially when it’s flat?
I have used a range of tools both at home and at the High Performance Centre (HPC). Being on the South Coast, it isn’t always possible to get to the HPC but I have linked up with the trainers there over the past few years. They have developed the centre into a world class facility. I also love skateboarding when the surf is average. Just playing around in the car parks to experiment with different ideas and flow I want to translate to the surf.
After the book Live like Sally, you’ve created the app Train Like Sally. Was this a logical and planned chapter 2 to the series?
It’s been an awesome feeling to get a great response from Live Like Sally and watch it grow organically. The whole essence behind it is wanting to create the spark in people and a desire to create their “best selves”. Building belief that when they take care of their bodies and are feeling strong, confident and powerful, they can achieve anything they set their mind to. I want all the products I create to have an undertone of our ethos and empower people to never give up and live their passions. The app is a super exciting project. I hope that I can resonate with many people to be their ultimate training partner.
What can we find on it?
I created Train Like Sally with a holistic view on training. What’s one element without doing the other? I place a huge importance on balancing all elements in my own training to get the absolute best results both physically and mentally. Whether it’s strength work in the gym, cardio sessions, mobility training, core, stretching or meditation, I feel you need it all. And that’s what I’ve written in my program. I’m a product of so many different training styles… I feel that has developed me as the all round athlete I am. Being able to now share that with everyone is a really cool place to be. Hopefully, people can have a lot of fun with the app and getting their bodies moving. There is something for everyone’s level of fitness. I encourage people not to wait to get your fitness to a level before having a go. We cater for everyone in the Train Like Sally community. We just want YOU to be a part of it.
In your case, what are your favourite exercises to do and the ones you hate or fear?
(Laughs) The sessions you fear or feel nervous about are the awesome ones. I love challenging myself and pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I’m constantly having to do this in my sport to try and take my performance to the next level. I feel you get the biggest confidence boost when you finish a crazy training session, it feels insane. Some of my favourite sessions are adventure surfs, walking into new places trying to find that uncrowded lineup, long runs on the coastal trails or in the national parks… Tough sessions are some of the underwater pool sessions, as they can get pretty uncomfortable. Or hill sessions with weight vests and altitude masks. When you are really fatigued in the gym and finish with weighted sled sprints, that’s when you really test your willpower to keep going.
What does your diet look like and is it covered in Train like Sally?
After the release of the app, there will be another roll out for our nutrition component. The two go hand in hand. I want people to really enjoy their food and build a great relationship with their bodies and what they are filling up on. My approach is pretty simple and I have eaten this way ever since I was young. I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything by having a healthy diet full of an abundance of fruits, veggies and quality proteins. Also, I drink a lot of water and enjoy coconut water and bars to snack on. The tour takes us around the world to most places in summer, so I am really fortunate for always be stimulated with different cuisines. I can’t wait to release our nutrition app very soon.
Another project is the hosting of the Sydney International Beach Festival (3-6 November), a brand new QS6000 to end the women’s tour and determine who will get onto the World Tour…
It’s pretty exciting and I just love the stories that come out of that time of the year. Obviously there is the race for the world title going on… But the one to get onto the World Tour is one that I’m always really into as well. I feel infatuated with it and it resonates with me. All the girls on the QS pour their heart and soul into trying to get the points and realise their dream of being on the Women’s World Tour. It’s a great sporting moment within surf and that’s why we wanted to place the event in November.
What were your motivations to organise a women-only event?
We started the project at Fitzgibbons International with that vision in mind of creating a platform for inspiring Australian women. We wanted to promote and celebrate talent female in Australia, give them a dedicated stage to perform on. Of course, we also want to showcase what we love most in Australia, our beach culture and healthy lifestyle. We wanted to combine all those things and bring them to the forefront.
The younger generations are pushing hard. Who do you see as the next Aussie woman to make it onto the World Tour?
I think Macy Callaghan. She’s young, she has a great attitude and work ethic. Her surfing is going from strength to strength… So I’m definitely going to say that she is one to watch in the very near future.
Why did you choose Cronulla to host the event?
When we were thinking about where to hold an event of this calibre, Cronulla just sprung to mind. It’s so iconic down here and we can really bring that to life with the International Beach Festival. I have so many incredible memories here, made on the sand and in the surf or even in the streets. Also, with many world class waves just on our doorstep, the surf event will be mobile… The Alley will be the main spot, but we will have all options from Wanda to the Point and Shark Island available to us.
The South Coast is also pretty awesome. What makes it so special?
I live about an hour and a half outside of the Sydney CBD in a small town called Gerroa. It is half an hour to the nearest traffic light in either direction. That sets the tone for the pace of living. Lush green hills, kilometres of beaches and cool little towns with so much character and soul. I love being able to train in this environment. I can just take a deep breath and really connect with all the nature around me when I’m home. It gives me a grounding feeling. I’m always so psyched to get back to the South Coast and reset.
Last but not least, what are your 3 favourites spots to surf when you’re home and why?
I can’t give away too many secret spots! (Laughs) But the well known breaks on the South Coast will always have a wave for you. I think of Sandon Point, Shellharbour and Mystics. There’s so much variety down south and it really spreads the crowd.