When Steph Gilmore claimed her first world title as a 17-year-old rookie in 2007, it became obvious the teenager was going to change the guard in women’s professional surfing. In the ensuing years we watched on as Steph cut through her competition with ease and the World Tour wins and world titles racked up in abundance. Destined to become one of the most dominant female athletes in the history of the sport, the world—along with the World Tour—seemed to belong to Steph.
And then tragedy struck.
At the height of her career, Steph was attacked in the parking garage of her Rainbow Bay home by a delusional man with a crowbar. The physical injuries, which left her with a broken arm, healed much faster than the mental scars. To be attacked in the same building where you live by a complete stranger wreaked havoc on her psyche. Her surfing suffered and Steph fell from the podium. “It was if I slept for an entire year,” she said.
It’s this narrative—one of a meteoric rise and overcoming tragedy—that sets the tone of Steph Gilmore’s biopic film, Stephanie in the Water. Years in the making, the film chronicles the tribulations and triumphs of a young phenom. From her unyielding competitive drive, to her coming of age and the thrill of winning a world title, to her subsequent attack and her return to form, it’s all cleanly packaged into the movie.
We watch as Steph evolves from a fiery young teenage surfer into a fully-fledged world champion. Complete with archival footage, it’s as if nearly every major moment of the past few years had been documented. We watch as Steph struggles with the pressures that accompany becoming a surf celebrity and catch a glimpse into the day to-day happenings of her life.
The strengths of the film lay in filmmaker Ava Warbrick’s unfettered access to Steph. Marked by the type of candid interviews that only occur when the documentarian and the subject have a close relationship, Stephanie in the Water truly takes you inside the psyche of what it’s like to be Steph Gilmore, which includes the good with the bad.
On a visual level, the film finds success in its ability to reflect the emotion of Steph’s story through her surfing. High points, when the world titles are practically always within reach, are expressed through sunny sessions and carefree sound bytes. Darker moments, in the wake of her attack and recovery, are mirrored with grainy black-and-white cuts, coupled with teary-eyed recollections of what it was like to experience such a vicious incident.
Whether you’re a die-hard surf fan or someone vaguely interested in what it’s like to be a female professional surfer today, Stephanie in the Water is definitely worth a watch.
Stephanie In The Water is available now.