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.
Unless the discussion revolves around Mavericks (in NorCal's Half Moon Bay) or somewhere in Hawaii, getting non-Americans to compliment American surf destinations tends to be like pulling teeth. Crowded oceans and mediocre breaks are a bad combination. Still, at least one place in the Lower 48 holds some cache among the world's best surfers: "I really like Malibu," Gilmore admits as though she's disclosing a guilty pleasure.
Recognized - for better or worse - as the birthplace of popular surf culture, Malibu should be on any surfer's list of must-go spots. Like playing hoops at Rucker Park, it's worth paddling out in the 'Bu just to cross it off your bucket list. Prepare to battle for waves though, the traffic in the lineup can be as bad as it is on the 405, especially if there's a big south swell coming in.
"It's madness to try and catch a wave in the crowd. You feel like you're on the set of a Hollywood film," she says. "It's a lot of fun though."
Credit: Kyle Sparks / Getty Images