In late spring 2016 11 year-old Cornish grom Tegan Blackford entered a competition to meet surfing legend Sally Fitzgibbons. The aim of the competition was to inspire other cold-water surfer girls to take up the sport like herself.
However, after Tegan won, it became apparent that going to Australia to meet her idol for the weekend maybe a little too far. So the competition organisers, Samsung Australia, kindly transferred her prize to meet Sally on the France leg of the WSL Roxy Pro in October 2016.
When Tegan met Sally she grilled her about what it was like for Sally as a grom girl and her aspirations for surfing in the next Olympics.
Tegan: What is your favourite all time moment of being a grom?
Sally: Definitely being on the beach all day in my wetsuit and having my dad push me into waves. At my home break there’s a river mouth and I’d say: “ Dad you’ve got to keep pushing me,” until I was so tired they would put me in the car and bring me home in my wetsuit.
T: Who on the tour is most like a grom?
S: Apart from myself I would say Steph Gilmore. She is like the eternal grom – always chasing waves in really crazy places. Courtney might get the froth award as she still always has the salt on her face and the neck tan from being out there all day.
T: What’s your favourite surf spot?
S: Hands down it’s my home break. We go to amazing locations on tour, but often they are really crowded and sitting in the line up it’s hard to get waves. So when I go home and it’s onshore, stormy and there’s no one out but me, it’s like the best surf ever. It’s your own special moment that no one else can experience.
T: Are you going to try to get to the 2020 Olympics?
S: I would love to get to the Olympics. As an 8 year-old I wanted to be an Olympic gold medallist or a world champion, and when I picked the path into surfing I thought I was only ever going to be able to chase the world title. But since the inclusion of surfing into the Olympics, to have that on the table is really inspiring. It will be so tough to qualify, but I want to have a crack at it.
T: Do you have a British passport?
S: No, but I was asking my parents what our ancestry was the other day.
T: How do you pick yourself up after a bad heat?
S: Well, after today (having narrowly lost out to Carissa Moore in Round 4), meeting you has been the highlight today. It’s so tough as you put so much energy and heart into your performances and whether you lose by a fraction of a point it is still pretty emotional. Surfing is a unique sport as there are so many uncontrollable factors. But you have to remember why you started surfing. The results aside, I just want to improve my own surfing and athleticism, and if I keep my focus on that it takes my mind off it.
T: What are your tips for groms?
S: To be okay with being hard on yourself. If you’re striving to meet your goals, you’re going to have times when it’s disappointing. It’s all about being resilient. So if you can learn not to give up, that’s what gives you the most power.
T: A lot of groms are now being home-schooled in some countries – do you think the tour needs to do something about keeping them at school longer?
S: There are different opportunities. In some countries certain programmes allow people to chosse the lessons they want. In Australia I stayed at school all the way through and I wouldn’t change that as I played so many sports and made so many great friends – it developed me into the athlete I am today and I would encourage people to go through school.
My dad: Who farts the most on tour?
S: I probably would say me as I ate so many baked beans as a kid. But now I would say Tyler – I grew up with her on the South Coast. Yes, definitely Tyler.