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.
Hossegor and Biarritz, France
Paris is Paris, and Cannes hogs France's beach-related press, but the southwestern corridor near the Spanish border is no slouch as a destination. "I love the beach breaks in France, especially at the very Southwest, in Hossegor," Gilmore says.
The site of September's Quiksilver Pro France ASP World Tour event, Hossegor is known for its world class – if notoriously unpredictable – surf. There's not much in the way of swell during the summers months, but it gets roaring in the late spring and early fall. It's known to give even the world's best surfers fits, so if you're looking for more manageable breaks, head about 20 minutes south to Biarritz, a tiny European beach town with a turn-of-the-century grandeur that also happens to double as a surf locale.
"I love Biarritz. It's one of my favorite spots - just because it's such a cute little town - it's like a mini Paris on the beach," Gilmore says. "It has a little Spanish/Basque influence as well, so it's really multicultural. The waves aren't so great, but it still has that summer vibe, so it runs very festive, and they just hang out and surf, and it doesn't get dark until 10 o'clock at night, so you can go eat dinner and then go surfing again after that. Or, you can just go straight to party town."
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