Sally Fitzbibbons is a model of consistency. At 26 years old, she's already spent a decade on the Championship Tour, finished runner-up to the World Title three times, and has a number of big event wins to her name. But she hasn't won the whole thing. Yet.
This year — her most consistent yet — may very well change that, with Sally heading into the the final stop of the year with a 1,700-point lead over last year’s world champion, Tyler Wright. We called up Sally to hear how she's handling both the pressure and preparation of a potential title in late November.
How does it feel to be heading into the final event of the season at Honolua Bay as the current world No. 1?
It's awesome that it's coming down to the last event, at an unbelievable wave, and with a number of surfers having a shot to claim the title. This is what dreams are made of. To be in a title race brings up so many learning curves, and in previous years, it was hard for me to digest the ups and downs of it all. This year, though, I can feel how I’ve grown and matured in and out of the water, and I'm stoked on how far I've come.
Speaking of title races, what have you learned from coming so close to winning it all in the past?
I've learned that everything will be OK, no matter the result. I have a choice on how to feel about big wins and big losses, and the fun part of the entire experience is riding the emotional roller coaster. It's been amazing to look back and realize how many incredible moments I've had over my 10 years on Tour. I really value those opportunities. This year, I feel a sort of calmness, and I think that's helping me handle, and actually enjoy, the big-pressure moments that come my way.
What's your plan for the next month?
I'm super excited to lay some tracks on some bigger boards for the last event, so I'll be working with JS over the next month to get a bunch of great boards underfoot. I'll also be getting my surf fan on by hosting a Gala night for Australian Women of Surf, in aid of the Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation. That night is such a cool experience for me. I'm the biggest fan of female surfers past, present, and future. I love that I have the opportunity to bring them all together.
Is it tough to get a feel for your equipment at Honolua, with its inconsistency and crowd?
It's always a challenge to get a bunch of waves at The Bay, but over the years, I feel like I've accumulated some good time out there, both in heats and while out freesurfing, so I think I've developed the patience to not spin my wheels and get frustrated if things aren’t going according to plan. I work with JS on a pretty similar profile for all my shortboards. We're just adding a little more foam to handle the power.
You’ve made the final at Honolua already. Do you feel like the wave plays to your strengths?
The year I was runner-up [2015, to Carissa Moore] was such an epic year for waves. It was a dreamy swell, and an amazing feeling to score an empty lineup out at The Bay. As for my own surfing, I've worked a lot on my rail game this year, so I'm excited to get a chance to display it out there.
How do you prepare mentally for a scenario where you're surfing one-on-one for the World Title in the Final?
I've been in a similar scenario once before at Honolua. I was in the title race and lost in the Quarters by .01 of a point. At the time, it was shattering. I felt like I'd failed. But the cool thing now is that I've lived through it, and I've already felt all those emotions. I feel a lot more free this time around, because the setbacks have already happened. I've been resilient and have come back as a stronger surfer and competitor. Losing the title wasn't the end of the world. You just can’t get rid of me—I'm that phoenix that always comes out of the ashes [Laughs]. At the end of the day, no matter what happens, I know I'll make the most of my situation.
With that said, you're hoping to become the first world champ not named Carissa, Steph or Tyler since 2006. What will it mean to accomplish that?
A World Title is not a finish line for me. It would definitely be a personal milestone and a reward for a brilliant year, but I want to continue to learn and evolve my surfing no matter what. Just to be in the mix with the best women in the world is the rewarding part. Carissa, Steph, and Tyler are amazing competitors, and it really is the ultimate to have competitors who are really hard to beat. It grinds your gears when they get a few wins over you, or win the Title that you want so bad. But on the flip-side, a win over them feels so good. Seriously, it's like playing the computer at chess [Laughs]. You become obsessed trying to find the edge and the knowledge to win.