The first thing I noticed about Tory Gilkerson is the way she speaks. Her voice is soft and slow moving, her Californian brogue round and curvy, intermittent by an easy laugh and a stray swear word that doesn’t really seem to fit. Her face is tanned, freckles lining her cheeky bones and a glint in her eye that is reminder that at 23, she is actually just an adult sized grommet.
There is not really a lot to give away that she is in fact, the best longboarder in the world right now.
Yes, introducing our 2016 World Surf League Women’s World Champion, Tory Gilkerson.
Hailing from San Clemente and the daughter of a life long surfer, Tory was born into the life of surf. On the weekends, some beaches in the area are closed to surfers, so as a tiny grasshopper Tory used to grovel about on a body board. Until of course, this was too little a thrill and she started to ride her boogie standing up. So it was then, at age seven, that Tory started to surf.
She also credits the surf in the area for her traditional approach to longboarding. She surfed the World Championship event on a two plus one setup (three fins), but negotiated each heat with long hang tens, her body extended directly into the sky, hands dropped placidly by her sides. She combined this characteristically traditional slant on nose riding with smooth wrap around cutbacks, with not a single bump the entire time.
She faced goofy footer Chloe Calmon in the final, who had come into the event as one of the favourites to win it – a distinctive cross step cutback made to look easy in the tannin tropical Chinese waters of the left hand point break, Hainan Island. Sadly for the Brazilian prodigy Tory never really looked like losing, something that might have a lot to do with her recent sojourns to the perfect lefts of the Telo Islands.
Tory has done some serious time in the shallow reef breaks of northern Indonesia recently, which has no doubt pushed her surfing to whole new levels.
“The waves are so much fun, my favourite wave is Max’s left. It’s a long left that offers everything from three foot logging waves to overhead tubes. There’s lots of different breaks to surf and after my first trip out there I was like whoa… that’s what getting worked really feels like!” She explained.
Sounds like a dream.
Despite winning a World Title, not a whole lot is expected to change for Tory. With the kind of money in longboarding being a tiny of fraction of that in shortboarding, for almost all of the world’s top tier longboarders it is a labor of love. Almost everyone has a regular job that funds their surf and travel lifestyles – former World Champ Chelsea Williams was notorious for her long career as a shelf stacker at Coles. Anyway, Tory is also a contest judge, something that she actually credits with her rapid improvement since this time last year.
“My approach has changed so much this year - in the water and mentally. I’ve seen a lot of heats where the best surfer loses because they’ve made a priority mistake, or over frothed, or just didn’t surf a smart heat. I think I’ve been able to learn a lot and just get a good understanding of how I want to look when I’m in a heat.” Tory said.
But, despite the World Champ returning to California to continue with life as usual, there does actually seem to be some movement in the longboarding fraternity. Formally having just one event to decide the World Champion, the World Surf League have just released plans for a two stop tour in 2017 – the first event being in the pristine waters of Papua New Guinea.
This is a huge step for longboarding, as surfers will have more than just a single 25 minutes in which to size themselves up against their international counterparts. It also offers greater incentive for people to try and qualify for the tour, which will hopefully bring more attention to discipline and consequently more money. It has become clear though, that what longboarding lacks in monetary incentive, it makes up for in smooth lines and beauty.
Well done Tory, congratulations on becoming the world’s best!