Sally Fitzgibbons is best known as a successful professional surfer. In her junior years, she also had remarkable talent in athletics, soccer and cross-country running. At age 17, she focused on surfing and qualified for the 2009 ASP World Championship Tour. Sally was runner-up to the world title in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and has won several World Championship Tour events including the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, the US Open, Australian Open, Roxy Pro France and the Billabong Rio Pro and Fiji Pro. I chatted to the 24-year-old about her success, how being vitamin D deficient led her to her partnership with Solar D Sunscreen and her recent engagement to NRL player Trent Merrin.
What is a day in the life of you?
My starts around 4:30/5:00 am and go to the gym, then, I start surfing as soon as sun is up. The rest of the day, training is filtered between meetings and trying to build my business in Live Like Sally.
Did you grow up surfing?
I did. I’ve got three older brothers and my dad who would surf and mum would stay on the beach with us. So, it was sort of like our natural playground. The boys were all surfing and it was instinct as the baby sister that you want to do everything they’re doing and then try to beat them at it. So I started when I was about six years old. It was one of many sports that I played.
You excelled at many sports when you were young, why did you pursue surfing?
It was tricky. Team sports fell away because my family started to travel so I couldn’t commit to those team sport commitments. Then, it was either middle-distance running or surfing. Out of the two, when you look at female sport, there are not a lot of them you can carve your own career path out to make that your livelihood – in regards to funding and support. I could see, on the surfing side that I already could see a pathway to the top. But in athletics – their funding pool really dries up unless it’s like an Olympic year.
What has been your biggest career highlight so far?
I think this year; I thought Fiji Women’s Pro was one of the most incredible moments. I perforated my eardrum in round two. The force of the water and the air just burst my whole eardrum open… There was this ringing and there was this super sharp pain. And I thought, “Oh, something is majorly wrong.”…. I had so much adrenaline running through me that I thought, “Oh, if I can just find a way to get through the sea and then go back to the board,” and then docs are calling it saying, “No, no, no. That’s too dangerous.”… And I thought, “I’ve got to find just something.” I looked at my dad and I’ve got tears and I’m just going, “We’ve just got to plug it up or just do something”. They ended up taping it all up; just to get back [in the water]… I’d worked so hard to be in the event… I kept making the heats and to win the event, it was the most euphoric moment I think I could feel in my sport. World title aside, everything aside, it was just like this pure elation that I won in this pain.
In that moment, what was your motivation to keep pushing through?
I think my motivation was, when I go out there and perform, I perform for my family, my loved ones that have sacrificed so much [for me]. I had nothing left but I had to find that little bit extra. I looked up and I saw my dad and he was in tears… It was that emotion of everyone riding along with me.
You have a lot going on outside surfing; tell me about your philosophy of Live Like Sally.
Live Like Sally is a vision I had quite a few years back…I was kind of in the midst of my career and I felt like I had that relevance to the younger generation and just educating people on how much I’ve got out of living healthily, trying to become my best and how much they could benefit from it too in their day-to-day life. That will be the basis of the Foundation, which we’ll launch at the end of the year and going back to grassroots with the kids as well at that influential age, getting outdoors, having fun, being active and so we targeted childhood obesity.
What is your mantra when it comes to a healthy lifestyle?
My mantras is, is becoming the best you can possibly be. Some people have that focus and go, “I’ve got maybe a wedding or an event coming up so Ill work out for two weeks,” and then it all goes out the window. It’s more a lifestyle choice… It’s just making smart decisions and just sort of leading by example of how much I enjoy life and get so much out of life by those decisions.
Do you ever indulge and have a cheeky wine or anything like that?
I’ve never drunk. I’m not a coffee drinker [either]… I’m not saying, “Don’t have any of these things.” I guess, myself, it was purely just a lifestyle choice when I was young that I stuck by.
Congratulations on your recent engagement! How did Trent propose?
It has been a bit of a whirlwind since getting engaged as my season was still going and Trent’s starting preseason was starting up again. It was amazing to have a short window to go away for a break together to Vanuatu. Being such a beautiful place in the world and no other chaos surrounding us it made it a perfect moment and it was such an incredible surprise when Trent asked me to marry him. It is a really exciting event in both our lives and we can’t wait for our future together to unfold.
Do you ever train together?
We love training together especially in the Rugby League off season when Trent has a little more time. A lot of the sessions revolve around the beautiful coastlines and beaches on the South Coast, it is an amazing place to train and we are both really blessed.
Tell me about your involvement with Solar D sunscreen.
Solar D was a really natural partnership… I’m in the sun so much in the day but I got tested and found out that I was vitamin D deficient… It was just my skin not absorbing [Vitamin D]. With Solar D it has SPF 30, SPF 50 but, it also allows UVB rays in so you’re absorbing [vitamin D]. I think it’s going to have a great place in our history in the sense that it’s an Aussie product and there haven’t been any breakthroughs in sunscreen technology since when it became water resistant.
You live your life in the water, I have to ask, do you ever get scared of sharks?
I know they’re there but, a lot more people get killed by falling coconuts than shark attacks! [laughs] It’s eerie but it’s just knowing, you have to be [aware] if you see a big school of fish or it’s you’re in front of a river mouth at dawn or dusk, those little things. But I’ve only ever seen three decent sized ones and a couple of Seals. You get sweaty armpits and you try not to think about it and get your head above the water [laughs].
WE WENT TO About Life, Double Bay
WE DRANK Green Blast: Kale, celery, cucumber, spinach and ginger with chlorophyll. The Cleanser: Kale, carrot, celery, ginger and beetroot with chlorophyll.
I WORE TOME shirt and Skin and Thread jeans.
Photography by Louise Kennerley.