Stephanie Gilmore is the best women's surfer in the world. That's not hyperbole - if not for a broken foot, she'd be closing in on her sixth ASP World Title in seven years. Since qualifying for the World Tour at 19 and winning the world title in her rookie year, the frequency with which Gilmore has reached the podium has been unparalleled in the sport - in any sport, really - and her utter dominance on the tour makes her the closest thing there is to a "Queen of Surfing." More than that though, Gilmore is easy going, drop-dead gorgeous, and disarmingly funny - her down-to-earth vibe stifling any hint of ego. It's that, not all the accolades, that makes her the ideal ambassador for the sport at large. And this was the role that she graciously played when she stopped by the Men's Journal offices during a rare hiatus from chasing waves.
"I think [everyone] should try surfing because it's a challenge, and the reward is unlike any other," she says after gently ribbing some editors about shark-related fears. "If I could have everybody in the world experience something, it would be to get barreled. Because I just feel like it would change the world."
She laughs after saying this, seemingly kicking herself for being so philosophical, but she also seems to mean it. No small wonder. Surfing has taken Gilmore to the farthest corners of the globe and her charmed life now consists almost entirely of World Tour events, photo shoots, and training - a constant cycle of jetsetting from one world-renowned surf destination to another. If there's a good break somewhere, chances are she's surfed it. And if there's a good surf town, she's probably done more than a little hell raising there.
We asked the five-time world champ about the world's best surf spots. Here are her favorites.
Bali and West Sumatra, Indonesia
Gilmore's personal attachment to the waves in New South Wales is obvious, but she's every bit as stoked about the surfing in Indonesia.
Bali is probably the most widely known surfing destination in Indonesia - partially due to its status as a regular stop on the World Tour - but it can be a bit hectic, and the waves cater mostly to experienced surfers. "Bali is pretty intense. The waves there are also amazing though. Keramas in particular - they just had a men's (ASP World Tour) event there - and that's a world-class wave," Gilmore says.
For some of the best and most consistent waves on the planet, Gilmore recommends heading to the west coast of Sumatra, where the reef breaks of the Mentawais Islands provide what might be the best surfing environment in the world - an idyllic garden of waves, accessible only by boat.
"In West Sumatra, there are a bunch of islands called the Mentawais. You go out on a boat, everyone stays on the boat, and you just pull up to the waves next to the reef breaks and surf your brains out," she says. "There's like hundreds of waves around, and they're all perfect. It's a very dreamlike trip - you're pretty much guaranteed to get good surf."
Getting out to the Mentawais breaks from Sumatra isn't easy, but it can be done - either via private charter, through an arrangement with one of the nearby resorts, or by asking the right locals.