Pre-dawn yoga, followed by a surf session on a New South Wales beach, hill running and fully-clothed (shoes included) river swimming has done nothing to dampen professional surfer (who currently holds the world’s number three spot) Sally Fitzgibbons’ spirit or diminish her energy. Which, it seems, is clearly the secret to the success for this 25-year-old surfer and businesswoman.
Growing up in Gerroa, a NSW town with less than 1000 residents, Sally wasn’t surrounded by the sporting academies and training facilities afforded to budding athletes in big cities. She spent many hours educating herself on training technique, anatomy and nutrition, and now believes this had a significant impact on her work ethic. “I’m really proud of my young self,” she says.
Today, having forged an incredible career as a pro surfer and also become a regular start-up investor, Sally is now turning that work ethic to the business world.
“I am so passionate about my surfing and achieving that goal of becoming world champion, but in my heart and my mind I know that I’m constantly searching for that extra stimulation and for me that comes in the form of business,” she explains.
Last year she launched her first book, Live Like Sally, under the banner of her company Fitzgibbons International, which this year launches its 12-week fitness program through the Train Like Sally app. Sally has invested AU$200,000 of her own money into the project and is also backed by entrepreneur Mike Bray.
Despite being very accustomed to winning, Sally admits that becoming an entrepreneur was “risky” and involved taking a big “leap of faith”. Yet her plan to create Facebook, Twitter and Instagram content for the 79 per cent of 18-29-year-olds who access social media every day doesn’t seem like such a pipe dream when considering her 1 million-plus social media followers. And while surfing and business may seem like worlds apart, Sally has found common ground with her two passions.
“Being an athlete has taught me discipline, the commitment, the work ethic. You have to start from scratch with something,” she says.
Proving her prowess in the business world, she is currently affiliated with brands including Samsung, Tag Heuer, Piping Hot and Solar D Sunscreen. Sally was recently named a Canon Ambassador and the company has launched the Canon Dream Squad with Sally Fitzgibbons. The Canon Dream Squad aims to inspire young Australians to turn their passions into their career through a content creation competition. One winner will have the opportunity to shadow creatives such as surf photographer Eugene Tan and Sally herself to learn the art of content creation, social media, strategy and how to be a successful entrepreneur. She’s also employed those learning into her Drop Everything and Move health initiative, which hopes to educate young Australians about the benefits of exercise and to inspire them to literally drop what they’re doing and move for just 30 minutes a day.
“I was learning along the way, all through my teens,” she says. “As a surf ambassador doing lifestyle shoots and creating content, I was gathering all of this knowledge and know-how, how to shoot products and market them,” she says.
While she cites Michelle Bridges and Kayla Itsines as inspiration for her entry into the fitness app market, Sally says 92-year-old fruit and vegetable distributor Frieda Caplan has been a huge influence in her decision to become an entrepreneur. Freida was the first woman in the US to launch, own and operate a US produce company (she was once called the “Mick Jagger of produce”) and is known as the first person to import and popularise speciality items into the US such as kiwifruit and sugar snap peas.
“She went into a space where it was very male-dominated,” says Sally, “and she went out on a limb and started importing all of these exotic fruits. Everyone told her ‘no, no, no,’ but she redefined that space.”
As her interest in Frieda suggests, Sally is as passionate about empowering women and creating a more level playing field in the surfing world as she is in the business world.
“Women’s surfing is growing at a rapid rate, even more so than the men’s, and we’ll continue to work on things like getting that fair call when it comes to wave conditions when we share the same locations for world tour events,” says Sally, referencing the priority often given to male competitors at competitions when the surf conditions are good. “The prize money is gradually increasing, so it can’t all change at once but we’re really happy to have that voice and continue to try and create that platform for the next generation.”
Read the full story in Issue 32, out now.
All images via Steve Baccon/Sally Fitzgibbons, Canon Ambassador.