Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Surfing [Print without images]

Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Updated: March 4, 10:46 AM ET
ASP Women: Gilmore regains focus

By Casey Butler
ESPN Action Sports

As always, Steph has a positive outlook going into the 2012 season.

Preview Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5

This time last year, Stephanie Gilmore was settling in with new sponsors and recovering, both physically and emotionally, from a seemingly random act of violence she suffered near her Coolangatta, Australia, home in December 2010.

Her accused attacker, Julius Sterling Guy Fox, was scheduled to appear in court Feb. 21, during the same week that the four-time world champion kicks off another bid for world domination at the Roxy Pro on Australia's Gold Coast, but the trial was postponed until June 1 due to technical difficulties, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Friday.

Following the attack, Gilmore spent six weeks out of the water, and although she ranked third at the close of 2011, she says she struggled to regain her confidence and felt overwhelmed in the competitive setting.

"It was a bit much," she said. "But at the end of it, I think last year was one of the most valuable years of my entire career. It really opened my eyes to what you can achieve and how having little hurdles in the journey makes the whole experience, and the wins, that much more rewarding."

In 2012, Gilmore exudes vitality and tranquility, with a healthy hint of competitive fervor. She opted to treat the long offseason accordingly: She hasn't surfed a heat since August's U.S. Open. Instead, she spent time with family and tried her hand at adventure humanitarianism. The 24-year-old recently traveled to Senegal with the Quiksilver Foundation's Water Guardians project.

"It was kind of a different trip to have at the start of the year, and something people [didn't] expect," she said. "They're like, 'The season's coming up! Aren't you psyched and doing 10,000 push-ups a day?' But that was such a valuable experience for me."

Gilmore has both trepidation and excitement for the upcoming season. Last year, she was just plain nervous.

"I feel like I didn't even really exist on Tour last year," she explained. "Towards the end, I was there, but not really. I don't think my heart was completely there, either. This year, just to see the contest set up gets me so excited!"

More than anything, Gilmore's looking forward to the girls showing the world what they're capable of -- in what will hopefully be a pumping arena.

The upcoming trial of her assailant is surprisingly far from her focus, and despite the fact that people mention it daily, it's definitely not infringing on her contest headspace. "I'm at the point now where I can relive it, but not be completely petrified. I think that's pretty good progress," she said. "I can be up-to-date, but it doesn't worry me. My parents have done a really good job of handling that and just telling me the stuff that I really need to know."

Gilmore contends she lives "the most incredible life. To not be happy would be pretty crazy."

This week in Cooly, where the Women's World Tour kicked off Friday, there's talk about another trial. Lisa Andersen, who also holds four world titles, is vying for a wild-card entry to the Roxy Pro, which would be the 42-year-old's first major comp in six years. Women's Tour manager Jessi Miley-Dyer says, "2012 is shaping up to be one of the biggest years for women's surfing yet. Never before have the limits been pushed so far in terms of progression."

Reigning world champ Carissa Moore has been busy since last season, when she earned a historic wild-card entry into the men's Triple Crown events in Hawaii. She's been spending time improving her aerial game with trainer Shane Beschen.

Carissa Moore is not afraid of any conditions, even surfing the first two events of the Men's Triple Crown in 2011.

"It's all about the airs and barrel riding," said world No. 2 Sally Fitzgibbons. After nursing a broken wrist this summer, she's officially off the bench and holding a first-place finish at the Australian Open in Manly. The natural-footer is looking forward to starting the season with the iconic rights at Snapper Rocks.

"I think the Roxy Pro is such a great event to start the year off," she said. "I've been competing [at Snapper] since I was 11 or 12 and it's an event I've really wanted to take out. I think the wave is really perfect and you have to bring your best surfing."

At 21 and in her fourth year on Tour, Fitzgibbons is (bizarrely) among the older competitors in the field, but said, "I think with all the girls wanting to improve and win events so badly, it's elevating the sport at a really fast rate, and that's really exciting to be a part of."

Never has the ASP seen such a rivalry grow so quickly: In 2011, Sally Fitzgibbons met Carissa Moore in several finals and won three. Fitz is a tough Aussie competitor who is developing some serious above-the-lip game.

She's also not afraid to admit there's a high possibility for upsets with the latest crop of rookies. The youngest among them, Californian Lakey Peterson, has a stellar résumé that includes a second-place finish at last year's U.S. Open. She's 16.

Gilmore agreed: "I think the key for the women's Tour is having multiple rivalries. For the last few years, there were heats where it was kind of like, you could put your life savings on someone winning. No longer is it going to be like that."