Gilmore returns to the top
Stephanie Gilmore celebrates her fifth world surfing title. Photo: DP/Aquashot
When Stephanie Gilmore won her first world surfing title at age 19, she declared she wanted to win 10.
Five years on, the 24-year-old is half way there after claiming the 2012 Association of Surfing Professionals crown in Biarritz, France, at the weekend.
And former world champions Mick Fanning and Layne Beachley agree she could pass even 11-time men's world champion Kelly Slater.
''I wouldn't be surprised if she hits 10, 12 maybe 15 - it all just depends on how driven she gets,'' two-time men's champion Fanning said.
''How many titles she wins is totally up to her. As long as she is focused she will always be in the title race.''
Even seven-time world champion Beachley, who holds the record for most women's titles, can't wait to see where Gilmore can take women's surfing next.
''No record-holders want their records to be broken but you know what, it's got to that point now where all I can do is sit back and watch,'' Beachley said.
''I think Pete Sampras said last week he was now getting used to watching Roger Federer break his records.
''Like Sampras, you know, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy it. I think it's incredible.''
Gilmore is only the third surfer, after Slater and Beachley, to win five world titles.
It took Slater eight years to claim the first five of his 11 titles, while Beachley needed 14 seasons for her first five.
''It took me eight years to win my first world title and most women improve in their performances as they get older and that's frightening to consider,'' Beachley said.
''She's only 24. I won my first world title at 26.''
Fanning added: ''It's extremely wild. That level she is on is second to none.''
What makes Gilmore's fifth title all the more impressive are the circumstances she overcame to reclaim her crown.
Before the 2011 season, Gilmore was the victim of an assault outside her Coolangatta home that left her with a broken arm.
While she continued to compete, she had lost confidence.
At her lowest, she even considered giving surfing away.
But losing the world title to Carissa Moore last year woke the competitor within and, other than fellow Australian Sally Fitzgibbons, no surfer has come close to Gilmore since.
''This year for me was all about improving my consistency and having fun with my surfing,'' Gilmore said after her victory.
''I could just dance my way back to Australia.''