Last year was a big one for Sally Fitzgibbons. She signed with Firewire, Red Bull rolled out their "Sally Storie" web series, and Roxy's "GO Sally!" campaign generated a frenzy of Fitzy love amongst teeny wahines and 20-something guys alike. She finished out the 2012 ASP World Tour season as second in line to the throne -- a spot she has comfortably held for the last three years.
One of the best things about the relative brevity of the Women's WCT is that it affords lots of time for extra-curricular activities. Sal gal is really good at utilizing "free" time. She fills it with leisurely pursuits like the Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge. Created by F1 driver Mark Webber, the arduous adventure race, which ironically involves zero driving, covers 350 kilometers of Tassie soil in five days. Fitzgibbons teamed up with IronWoman Jordan Mercer to form the Red Bullettes. Their adversaries included Olympians and AFL players -- all of whom participated to raise money for charity.
"In the off-season this year, I really wanted to have a crack at something new that would push me out of my comfort zone," Fitzgibbons says. "I was in the Red Bull headquarters when Rick Kelly, a professional racecar driver who did it last year, was raving about how amazing it was, but also how tough it was. It seemed to tick all the boxes and I decided, 'Yep, I'm going for it.'"
Fitzgibbons says the race was both physically and mentally grueling. Naturally, she relished every minute of it: "I loved charging head-first into the unknown, not even having practiced half of the skills that I would need. I just went in with that never-say-die attitude." On one particularly wistful ocean paddle, they tried to kayak surf. "The kayaks were not made to go surfing," she explains, "so we turned [it] into a submarine and nearly lost all of our maps and stuff!" She and Mercer finished 8th of 14 pairs in the elite category -- only two of which were female.
Red Bull turned their footage from the Challenge into the sixth episode of "Sally Stories," a YouTube series of approximately three-minute videos that offer "a window into the world" of Sally Fitz, who has been on their team for the last four years. "They are always pushing the envelope of performance," she says, "and [they] do whatever needs to be done to take you the next level and become the best athlete you can be."
It was also thanks to Red Bull that she ended up working on her air game in the desert outside of Dubai.
"It was such a cool concept–surfing in the middle of the desert in a pool," she says. "I got to surf until my arms and legs fell off. It is so controlled -- you know that a wave will come every 1.5 minutes. It took a little getting used to which boards work in the pool, because you don't have any salt in the water, so [there's] much less buoyancy."
Fitzgibbons is among the women who have been pulling out airs and other progressive maneuvers at CT events, and buoyancy issues aside, a wave pool is skate ramp-consistent, so it's massively helpful for working out takeoffs and landings.
"It is sometimes hard to find those sections you want in the ocean when you are learning," she says. "[At the Wadi Adventure park,] the waves and conditions don't change. You clock in and start training, and when you finish, you turn the waves off. No tides or different swells and winds, it was all just served up to you on a silver platter."
As we saw last season, Fitzgibbons loves experimenting with her equipment, and her new board sponsor is allowing her to do just that in the off-season. "I'm stoked with how my Firewires are going. I've been working with Nev (Hyman, Firewire's shaper) and trying to fine-tune a few models to find that magic board," she says. She also enjoys being the brand's sole female rider, because it means she and her competitors will always have something different under their feet. "It's great having that edge," she says. "I love the technology behind Firewires and it really suits how I think and feel about my boards."
As she's calibrating her quiver, cyclones are beginning to stir up the seas off of the Gold Coast, where the women's 2013 season begins in March. "I can't wait to see how the year unfolds," she says. "I think the new rookies will make it really exciting, and I'm hoping a few new events pop up. I am going to be giving it absolutely everything I've got -- as per usual."
In December, Fitzgibbons watched (along with everyone else in the surf world) as her fellow countryman Joel Parkinson ditched his perennial "bridesmaid" position and earned his first world title in 12 years. "It gave me goose bumps watching Parko claim the title. So much tension and pressure on both Slater and Parko. It made everyone hold their breath. He has come close so many times and everything just fell into place this time 'round."
A year from now, we just may be saying the same about her.