"If I could help one person into a healthier lifestyle, for me, that's the most rewarding thing.”

Surf's up for your ride to health

SALLY Fitzgibbons is hungry to inspire others.

When the current world number five is not chasing waves in the World Surf League, she's making them back home.

Sally's recently added fitness entrepreneur to her job description and busy schedule with the launch of her business Fitzgibbons International. There's a fitness app, Train Like Sally, in the pipeline for a summer release.

Soon she'll start touring schools in a series of educational talks to battle obesity and inspire healthy living. There's her own four-day beach and surfing event set for November 3-6 at Cronulla where she hopes to unearth the next generation of women's surfing talent. Not to mention a possible Olympics debut in Tokyo in 2020 - a gold medal dream since she was a child. Plus a wedding to Penrith Panthers lock Trent Merrin to plan.

Right now the three-time runner-up surfing world champion is in California, competing at the Swatch Women's Pro at Lower Trestles.

Her unwavering determination and energy is infectious. It's go, go, go for the once gutsy grommet from Gerroa who's gone on to become surfing's sweetheart. Success seems to follow in her wake. And somehow she keeps her trademark cool, laid-back persona.

Sally Fitzgibbons taking on Fiji's famous Cloudbreak. Souce AAP
Sally Fitzgibbons taking on Fiji's famous Cloudbreak. Souce AAP KIRSTIN SCHOLTZ

"I was never satisfied to just be okay at something," she tells Weekend. "I was always up for another challenge. I wanted to excel, whether it was school work or my sport. I had this urge and I couldn't give anything a half-hearted effort. It has led me all the way to here."

If it wasn't in the ocean, Sally would have found success on the track. In 2007 she was looking at a career path as an athletic runner having won the 800m and 1500m at the Australian Youth Olympics. She had already made the state and national teams of six sports before joining the surfing tour at 15.

"I've lived and breathed my training since I was eight years old. I had a dream to become an Olympic gold medallist or a world champion. I didn't really know at that age what that looked like - I was country kid with all these elements at my disposal."

Since becoming the youngest surfer in history to qualify on the elite tour after winning the World Junior Championship in just five events in 2007 and 2008, Sally has built a formidable competitive career now with eight seasons on the world tour with three runner-up finishes in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

"I felt a bit of a shift, something inside of me, the third time I was runner up to the world title," Sally says.

"It's so heart-wrenching when you pour your heart and soul into something and you're not quite getting to your ultimate goal. It's right there, but each time it rips your heart out. I needed an 8.9 score to become world champion and that's what I've always dreamt of, but I ended up getting an 8.7. Point 2 of a point, what is that in the scheme of things?

"Some people will label you a 'bridesmaid'. But what seems like a setback has driven me further forward. It's taught me more about myself, has made me mentally stronger as an athlete and also allowed me to think laterally and outside the box about what else I want to develop off the board. That's where the business angle comes in and probably what's inspiring me more than ever.

"I'm not going to lose the desire to chase this world title, but I've got so many things inside me I want to bring to life."

Sally's true Aussie grit was highlighted in her 2015 Fiji Pro victory, beating the entire field with a perforated eardrum.

"I think it was probably the most euphoric yet painful moments I've ever experienced," she recalls.

"I just couldn't believe when the siren went and they announced 'You're the champion of the Fiji Women's Pro'. I had all the tape on, one eye covered, my head was pounding, pain ringing down my neck, I lifted my arms up like 'Yeah I did it'. It proved to me you can overcome anything. The Aussie battler was in me that day."

Perhaps that's why she quotes tennis ace Martina Navratilova for the best piece of advice she's been given.

"Once I was fortunate enough to give Martina a surfing lesson and I asked her 'What's one piece of advice that's always stuck true to you?' She said: 'Champions will find a way to adapt'.

"It really resonates with the way surfing is. You can't really forecast you'll have an exact same experience in a competitive heat, it will always be different. But if you can be comfortable in uncomfortable situations, you'll find a way because you're always going to give it your best shot."

For Sally, surfing is not only a sport that feeds her competitive endeavours, she says it brings much joy and energy to her life.

"I couldn't imagine my life without the ocean. Being out on the water brings a sense of calm. It's my own little space, my own little bubble."

From the age of three she was on a boogie board doing her "apprenticeship". It was her three older brothers who taught her to surf.

"All the boys would be out the back and I was stuck on the inside, I thought this is no fun. I kept nagging dad to push me on waves.

"I cut my teeth (in surfing) on the river mouth at Gerroa with a longboard. You'd feel like you'd go for 100m because you were so small," says Sally, emulating her younger self in the moment with her arms stretched out. "I became instantly hooked from there. It unleashed the inner competitor within me.


Sally Fitzgibbon. Embargoed for Weekend magazine 10/09/16.
Sally Fitzgibbon. Embargoed for Weekend magazine 10/09/16. contributed

"As a sport it's very stimulating in the sense that you become an amateur weather reader. You become so in tune with your surroundings that you're basing your day around winds, waves and tides - you don't ever really switch off from it.

"There's always an infinite amount of things to work on. I think that's why athletes like Kelly Slater, Layne Beachley, Taj (Burrow) and Mick (Fanning) have been in the sport a long time. It's because no wave is ever the same. You go out on your board and one day it's magic and the next day you've got a list from A-Z to work on - I don't think its something that will ever get old. It keeps me motivated."

And while she's surfed some of the best breaks in the world, her favourite is still at home in Gerroa, where she grew up on the New South Wales South Coast.

"There's probably only 250 (people who live in Gerroa) and most of them are over 70 years old. But it's the best place in the world," she says.

"I'll go for my morning run and I'll have the whole 'Rocky' vibe going on. The steam is coming off you it's that cold and as the sun breaks you'll pass a couple of oldies walking the dog who've done the same route for 20-odd years.

"I'll pull out of the street to go to an event and there'll be a big cardboard sign saying 'Go Sal, go get 'em in the US'. It's so special, you couldn't replicate it anywhere in the world. No matter how far I go, I'll always come back."

While she admits life is "a bit nomadic" at the moment, when she's not on tour her time is often spent between home in Gerroa or in Penrith with fiance Trent.

"We can't wait every time that free moment pops up when maybe he can come to an event or I can go to a footy game," Sally says.

"It makes it so much more rewarding to run out onto the field or out into the surf and know they're there.

"I've been a Dragons fan at heart since I was a kid, now my allegiance has been torn a little, obviously supporting the Panthers.


She was runner-up for the world title in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
She was runner-up for the world title in 2010, 2011 and 2012. contributed

"It can often be nerve-racking when I'm watching him play in some of those big games. But it's really great to be connected to someone who is also on their journey to the top. As with any athlete, it's the downs you need support from and when things don't go to plan, we really find a lot of strength from one another."

While the pair are yet to lock in a wedding date, Sally says they're enjoying the "whirlwind phase".

"We want to have a country wedding - we're both from the South Coast. With both our schedules busy, especially next year, it's been hard to lock in a date, but it's such a great milestone to look forward to. It doesn't need to be rushed, we're relaxed about it."

Her business is as progressive as her athletic prowess.

"Surfing is still first and foremost. But business-wise, there's just as big a thrill when I hop off the board and I'm able to bring my ideas to life. There's something really empowering about being a young entrepreneur. It's authentically me."

The Train Like Sally app comes off the success of her first book, Live Like Sally, in 2014. She says it's her way of "giving back" to her league of loyal fans (one million of them on social media) globally.

"We don't just jump on the board and have a few waves, we have to train for what we're doing and that's the same for other elite sports.

"Train Like Sally combines the tips and elements that make me tick as an athlete. If I could help one person into a healthier lifestyle, for me, that's the most rewarding thing. They are some of my favourite sessions and things I do before competing. It's your training buddy, whether you're entry level and want to kickstart your healthy lifestyle or you're in that upper echelon of training and looking for something different.

"I'm working towards a goal, I've come close so many times (to a world title), so this my way to give people that little bit of inspiration to not give up. I've been there, I've had results that can knock you down, but you can be resilient enough to come back."

And at only 25, Sally says: "I'm only just getting started."


Sally's new fitness app, Train Like Sally, launches this summer. For more information, check out or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.