Leo Fio Shepherds Steph Around Rome & Sardinia Pre-Gr8 Eighth World Title - Stab Mag

Watch 'Wildcard: The Moana Jones-Wong Story'

Recipe for an eighth world title: miss Pipe, barely make the cut, elope to Sardinia mid-season for a week of pasta and wine with Leo Fio, win every single heat on Finals Day as the lowest seeded surfer, become the winningest female surfer of all time. Bellissimo!

Leo Fio Shepherds Steph Around Rome & Sardinia Pre-Gr8 Eighth World Title

RedBull No Contest: Italy answers age old Q of how many boards you squeeze on the roof of a Fiat 500.

cinema // Oct 12, 2022
Words by stab
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Italians are perfectionists.

They care deeply about craft and attention to detail. On our tour of Italy, the latest CT re-qualifier, CS winner and poster boy of the Italian surf scene, Leonardo Fioravanti, lined us up with local surf legends Roby D’Amico, Lorenzo Castagna and Maurizio Spinas for some culture immersion along Rome and Sardinia’s ~9250km of charming Mediterranean coastline.

Interesting to note: is Steph becoming a food-blogger shortly before rinsing Carissa Moore at Lowers for her eight World Title (it’s not everyday you see A-listers in regions so far removed from the staple tour venues), Leo’s rockstar status among Italy’s rich and famous, the myriad of fun beach breaks that net swells generated by the Tyrrhenian Sea’s 275,000 km2 of brine, and the number of board bags you can fit on the roof of a Fiat 500X.

This is the third stop on No Contest Off Tour, after our hitting NYC and Fiji in weeks prior. Next, we will be crossing the Med to the Middle East, landing in Tel Aviv. It takes a second to get used to checking the waves next to gun-toting teenagers and gabardine-clad orthodox old men, the scene you see today would be surprisingly familiar to a surfer from, say, Southern California: with esteemed local shapers, shop owners-turned-folk-surf historians, tattoo-studios that double as surf shops and galleries, mysto tube hunters, international event organizers.

Below, Leo elaborates on having 8x World Champ, Stephanie Gilmore come to town.

How to win your eighth world title: miss Pipe, barely make the cut, elope to Sardinia mid-season for a week of pasta and wine, win every single heat on Finals Day as the lowest seeded surfer.

Chris Binns: Leo! Talk to us about filming for No Contest at home in Italy.

Leonardo Fioravanti: It was amazing! Ashton Goggans and the Stab crew were great, it was like taking a trip, it didn’t feel like work or a shoot. Going to where Roby and I grew up was awesome, and I’ll take any chance I can get to go to Sardinia, I love it. The waves were okay. It was a bummer we didn’t get to show everyone the best that Italy has to offer surfing-wise, but we had a really good trip all the same.

I know Steph was stoked, and being able to take someone of her stature to Italy was really cool too. I know she was psyched because we have so much energy that it has to rub off. We surfed every day, ate a lot of food, and maybe it was the reset she needed to win her eighth world title! She started the year slow, then came here right after Portugal and before Australia, where obviously she’s always happy to compete at home.

Leo Fioravanti does an aerial, surfing in Italy.
Mediterranean hop. © Stab

Whose idea was it to invite Steph?

It was my idea! Ashton wanted me to ask someone to join us, and at first I was thinking maybe Griffin Colapinto or someone like that. Then in Portugal, a few days before flying out, I was surfing with Steph and her boyfriend Harry (Henderson) and it hit me… Steph! She’s actually been to Italy a few times on holiday but never to surf, so I asked her what she was up to that week, and when she had no plans I just had to get her to join us.

Steph said ‘yes’ straight away, but you’re never sure because people get excited, so I texted later and she was still keen. I told her the flights we were booking, she said ‘no worries,’ and that was it, we were on. Next minute we were in Rome, getting picked up at the airport and heading off to eat a big plate of pasta!

Steph Gilmore surfing in Sardinia, Italy.
Dutz! © Stab

Growing up in Italy did you like eating more than surfing?

Of course! I’m lucky, I can pound food without putting on weight, and with no shame. And maybe Harry is the same, he ate at least nine tiramisus the whole time we were in Italy. You have to capitalise when you’re home, because it might be a few months before you’re back there again.

Leo Fioravanti surfing in Italy.
Nine tiramisus! Leo at home, sweet home. © Stab

Are there vegans in Italy?

It has to be rare doesn’t it? Maybe in Milan because that’s the fashion capital, but I doubt it in Rome, where it’s more of an old school mentality.

How fun is it hosting a crew in Italy and showing them around?

It’s the best, I love it. When I travel I always hope the local people will take me to the best restaurants, the best surf spots, wherever I can get the best experience. I also know how it feels when you’re lost, or don’t know where to eat; the experience isn’t as great.

Italians are very proud, especially someone like Roby, so we really wanted to give Steph, Ashton, everyone the best possible experience. Even though the waves weren’t amazing, I know if we asked Steph if she wanted to go back again she’d say yes, 100 percent. Italy’s so much more than surfing, it’s not just about the waves, it’s about the culture, it’s about the food. Surfing’s a bonus, if you go to Italy and you get to surf that’s a little cherry on top of the cake.

Leo and Steph and Vespa. © Stab

Tell us about Roby.

Roby’s about four or five years older than me and growing up he was one of the best surfers to ever come from Italy. I looked up to him so much as a kid, we grew up in the same place and eventually we started travelling together. He competed as a junior, and then on the Qualifying Series a little bit, but then he went more into surf movies, that kind of thing.

Roby’s an amazing person, one of my best friends. He’s a very proud Italian, he lives in Italy year-round, whereas I travel a lot more, so he knows the waves as well as anyone. In Italy we spend so much time driving that when you find waves you surf all day, so he’s always motivated, and he rips!

Roby D'Amico surfing at home in Italy.
Italian power merchant Roby D’Amico, washing off the Pancetta sweats. © Stab

Who’s Maurizio Spinas?

He’s a pioneer of Italian surfing. The first few times I ever competed overseas for Italy I was travelling with Maurizio and the Italian Federation. He knows everyone! I had dinner last night with a bunch of Brazilians from the tour, and one of their coaches was telling me he’d been to Sardinia and surfed with Maurizio, and how they’re really close friends. Everyone knows him!

Every surf spot has that one legend and he’s that guy in Sardinia and in Italy. He’s one of the most warm, generous people you could ever meet. For him to see Steph Gilmore, then seven-time world champion, come and see his hometown, at 65 or however old he is, I can’t imagine how happy he was!

Steph Gilmore surfs in Italy.
65-year-old style icon, coach and pioneer of Italian surfing, Maurizio Spinas. © Stab

You’ve just put out a great new SEOTY clip called ‘The Cut’. Obviously it was tough not getting to surf in the back half of the Championship Tour, but you clearly have a great perspective on life, and made the most of your year.

Ah thanks, not making the mid-year cut totally sucked, but to do a surf trip I normally wouldn’t have the time to do and score such incredible waves, was a pretty nice payoff. I didn’t do well in the first five events, but that doesn’t mean the year is over. Working on a video part was something I hadn’t done in a few years, I only had three months to do it, but I’m really happy with the outcome, and the way I pushed my own surfing.

Leo Fioravanti comes in from surfing at MEO Pro Portugal.
God he’s dreamy. © Stab

And you screened the movie in Italy?

That was the coolest thing about The Cut! We premiered the movie just outside of Rome, where I grew up, where I started surfing, and had about 600 surf fans show up on the beach to watch it. I have so much support, so many people who follow what I do and always back me and this was my time to try and give back. It was a really cool moment to try and give back to the Italian surfing community, be present, and have a great night. The feedback was incredible! Everyone was going crazy, asking me questions, chasing signatures and wanting to buy t-shirts or get to know me, it was amazing. And it was something we should do more of in surfing.

We also premiered No Contest, and it ended up being the night that Steph won the world title! I’m telling you, there’s a connection between the Sardinia trip and that happening. I can’t wait to talk to her about it, everyone needs those little moments that clear your mind and I truly think she did that. Everything Steph has achieved in her career has been incredible, and this year was truly special. It’s cool to know there’s a little Italian connection there.


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