A day with: Sally Fitzgibbons – making waves for women in surfing

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Sport360 spent the day with the world's number three ranked surfer.

Invited by XDubai – the parent company of Skydive Dubai – to tour the emirate as an ambassador, enjoying stand up paddle boarding, desert hiking and wind tunnel inflight to show the wide variety of sports on offer here; then practically spending the bulk of the year chasing good waves and good weather… it’s safe to say there’s plenty in world No3 pro surfer Sally Fitzgibbons’ life to be envious about.

Just for a day we wanted to live vicariously through the 24-year-old Aussie, and here’s what we learned.

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Congratulations on winning the 2015 Fiji Pro recently. A Dubai tour must’ve been a fabulous reward following the feat. What was the best part of the trip?
When the opportunity came up to partner with XDubai, I saw it as an amazing chance to experience more of Dubai. I had been to Abu Dhabi’s Wadi Adventure to train and better my surfing on a couple of prior trips, and I’d always leave the UAE thinking there is a lot more to this city that I must explore.

This time, linking in with the local surf community and like-minded people gave a great connection not only to Dubai but to a culture that shares similar values and ideals on all things healthy living, being active and making the most of your day.

The best part of this trip was realising that I am only just scratching the surface and I have so much more to see and do, which will keep me coming back for years. 
Indeed, there is a lot to do but, as you must’ve realised, it’s not the best or most likely place to find waves. 

Where is the most random place you’ve gone to surf?
Wadi Adventure in Al Ain actually. I couldn’t believe I was surfing in the middle of the desert. There was a mountain behind the pool which made it all the more surreal. It was perfect for the project and I got to surf more than 700 waves in two days working on a new manoeuvre. It was a crazy cool experience. I can’t wait to see the future plans for one in Dubai.

Fitzgibbons is world number three in the rankings.

Where’s been your absolute favourite place in the world to compete?
Every trip back to Fiji for the Fiji Women’s Pro is a learning curve and that’s something I love, always having a crazy challenge in front of me to inspire and push me to my next level. I have broken my wrist, burst my eardrum and have numerous cuts from the sharp coral reef… It is a wave of consequence which makes it such a challenge.

Do you have any interesting competition preparation methods?
It is really important to have variety in your training. Travelling the world you need to adapt to what is available so I like to use my surrounding environment and I tailor my training programme to suit that particular event. It makes preparations for my events super exciting because I never know exactly where I will be training next.

Let’s talk about the gender gap… What is the best, as well as the most difficult part of navigating a male-dominated sport like surfing; and competing in pro events where the overall prize money for women is just half of what’s offered to men? 
Conditions and pay have improved since the change of ownership was made to the World Surf League (WSL), our governing body… The men’s prize money is still double the women’s but we continue to gather momentum and change in this area. Seeing as the men have more surfers in their draw, I personally see it as being fair by basing the prize money on a percentage-based system relative to the number of competitors in your draw.

There are many inequalities in our sport but we have grown up knowing these and it’s a credit to all the top female surfers around the world that they make the absolute most with every opportunity that comes their way. 

These setbacks drive me to better myself, knowing nothing comes easy and knowing how hard I had to work to get every single wave out there. 
A positive side is having the top male surfers defying the limits of the sport and always setting a benchmark to aim for.

On the flip side, are the females all friendly or that much more fierce because you’re a small group?
There are only 18 women on the elite tour and we all have a pretty similar approach where we are all striving to become No1 in the world. We all give each other a respective amount of space when the contest jersey goes on, but we also share in some pretty cool experiences around the world away from the contests.

Regardless of gender, what tips can you give aspiring surfers here wanting to eventually compete?
1) There are no shortcuts, you have to work as hard out of the water as in the water.
2) Set goals and don’t be deterred by setbacks and road blocks. Believe you can find a way to achieve what you set out to do.
3) Enjoy the journey and all the ups and downs of competing. Learn to be a champion in victory but more importantly in defeat.

The 24-year-old recently claimed the 2015 Fiji Pro title.

Are you working on any projects these days?
I launched my business brand Fitzgibbons International this year. It will provide marketing services to my partners and will produce a range of ‘Live Like Sally’ commercial products like Health & Fitness Apps, books and calendars.

What are you excited about in 2016?
The European leg of events which is up next. I really want to push my surfing and bring a really creative approach to the next events. Away from my sport, I can’t wait to be home to spend quality time with my loved ones and enjoy some Aussie summertime together.

Three things you always have in a carry-on when headed to competition?
My FCS SF signature fins, my Samsung Galaxy phone to reach loved ones when I finish competing, and my lucky pink tennis ball that has been around the world with me for six years – I use it in my warm-up.

Your go-to motivational song?
Any songs from the training montages in Rocky movies.

Fitzgibbons revealed tennis legend Martina Navratilova offered her great advice.

How you spend “me time”?
I love running. 

Something no one knows about you?
I love playing chess.

The best advice you’ve received from a non-surfer?
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova once told me that champions adjust no matter what. You find a way to be the best you can be in that moment.

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First group complete Oman Sail initiative aimed at empowering women

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The women participate in the programme.

Occidental of Oman, Inc (Oxy Oman) and Oman Sail have completed the first phase of its vision to empower the sporting ambitions of women in Oman, successfully training six Omani women to become certified sailing instructors.

The women’s programme will now move to the second phase of the programme which hopes to train 40 girls from government schools across Muscat, Sur and Mussanah.

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“The programme we developed with Oxy Oman was designed with two clear goals, firstly the training of women and then using them to inspire and mentor a new generation of female sailors to realise their potential,” said David Graham, Chief Executive Officer of Oman Sail.

“We anticipate our partnership will pave the way for other women to engage in sports, and by doing so expand their horizons and open the doors to greater and more varied career opportunities.”

Hussam Al Nabhani, vice president of corporate and external affairs at Oxy Oman added: “As a responsible corporate citizen, we aim to leave a lasting legacy by contributing to establishing platforms on which communities can mutually benefit, develop and thrive.

“We carefully choose our partners to support local communities, and create innovative partnerships through which we can accomplish our objectives. Working with Oman Sail to realise the dreams of women across the Sultanate will help develop a passion for sport and shape role models for Omani girls to emulate.”

The six recruits were selected after demonstrating both their ambition to learn the craft and their physical capabilities.

They have completed a series of training sessions to develop essential skill sets including technical knowledge, leadership and coaching capabilities, while gaining international experience by racing among accomplished sailors, most recently during Cowes Week and Normandy Week.

The trainees were also chosen to participate in Oman Sail’s EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2015, the regional sailing regatta aiming to reignite the Gulf’s maritime heritage.

Inductee Marwa Al Khaifi, said: “Not only did our training encompass theory and practice but we got the chance to work with people who supported both our personal and professional development.

“In addition to our trainers, we were inspired by Mohsin Al Balushi, the first Arab to sail around the world, who encouraged us to dream big, and we met double Olympic Gold Medallist, Sarah Ayton, who shared her experiences sailing as a woman.

"The programme was more than just training us to get certified, it started to mould us into the women we hope to one day become.” 

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Al Mussanah Sports City to host World Sailing Championship in October

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The top 50 ranked athletes will be competing in Oman at the championships.

The world’s top-ranked windsurfers will descend on Al Mussanah Sports City, Oman, in October for the 2015 RS:X World Windsurfing Championships, the final major meeting before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August 2016.

The top 50 ranked athletes, including 24 women, will be sizing up the conditions in Oman to prepare for the competition in Rio where the winds and tides are likely to be similar, making this event the perfect warm up event.

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Amongst the contestants is Dorian van Rijsselberge from The Netherlands who won the RS:X (Mens) gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics and Bryony Shaw from Britain, the world number one’s woman windsurfer who won bronze at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.

“With the Olympic Games just a few months off, the RS:X World Championships will offer a chance for the world to see who could be winning medals in Rio as well as what Oman can offer as a world-class racing venue which is of Olympic standard,” said David Graham, CEO of Oman Sail, which has recently also established a Youth Windsurfing Club.

The World Championships will start on October 19 at Al Mussanah Sports City.

Oman’s top windsurfer, Waleed Al Kindi, who is campaigning to be part of Oman Sail’s first ever Olympic squad in 2020, will be watching closely though a recent back injury means his focus is on recovery, shifting his attentions to the ASAF Asian Championships 2016, an Olympic qualifier which will be held in Abu Dhabi next March.

The World Championships will start on October 19 at Al Mussanah Sports City, which was completed in 2010 in preparation for the 2nd Asian Beach Games. It is part of the Millennium Resort Mussanah which was specially-designed to accommodate world-class events and expand Oman’s tourism industry.

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