Surf Champ Is Real-life Wonder Woman

30 March, 2017

As a three-time Australian ironwoman champion, Karla Gilbert achieved legendary status in her sport wearing nothing more than a pair of togs and a lifesaving cap.

Now as a wife and mum of two daughters – Ella, 9, and Summer, 6 – the 42-year-old jokes that her wardrobe these days is “full of different capes”.

Karla still leads an active lifestyle, competing internationally in the new sport of stand-up paddling (SUP) as well as running her own wellness coaching and consulting business.

“I am out training early in the morning SUP paddling then I come home and throw off that cape then I throw on the mother cape and start making lunches and getting the girls to school,” she says.

“Then I throw off that cape then I am in the office, talking to clients about wellness then I throw that cape off and I am into my blogging . . . it just keeps going on for the entire day and night.

“I feel like I have so many different capes going at the moment but I just love being like that.

“Diversity is what really keeps me excited and thriving in life.”

It has been nearly 30 years since Karla won her first professional ironwoman race as a 15-year-old against much older opposition.

What followed made her a Hall of Fame legend in her sport and earned her a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2009.

In addition to her three Australian titles, Karla also won two ironwoman world championships and seven ironwoman series crowns.

She amassed 16 Australian surf lifesaving gold medals and three times was named top competitor at the Australian Championships.

Since retiring from ironwoman competition, Karla has taken up stand-up paddling and, perhaps not surprisingly, has won four Australian titles in the new sport and has contested the world championships twice, most recently last November.

Married to fellow SUP paddler Andrew James, the family lives at Palm Beach on the southern end of the Gold Coast.

While mostly a residential beachside hamlet, trendy cafés and restaurants have opened in recent years as part of a quiet but growing transformation of the area.

It's also is an ideal location for Karla's strident commitment to a healthy lifestyle and wellness.

A few kilometres to the north is the scenic Tally (Tallebudgera) Valley and about the same distance south is the lush Currumbin Valley.

While she regularly paddles and swims at her local beaches and creeks, one of Karla's favourite “relaxation” activities is to ride her bike among the farms, trees, creeks, waterfalls and wildlife found abundant in both valleys. 

“There is no excuse not to live fit when you live on the Gold Coast,” she says.

Interesting, it wasn't until Karla first stepped away from her sport that she realised how many people struggle to eat well, stay fit and enjoy good health.

After retiring from ironwoman competition, she travelled around the country with a friend.
“I kind of retreated from the spotlight in a way . . . it was great just to get away from sporting endeavours and see the world from the other side, catch up with myself for a while,” she says.

She also discovered for the first time that the total commitment to healthy eating and fitness that had become her way of life was not the norm.

“That's when I decided to try and help others to change bad habits and live healthy,” Karla says.

While nurturing her two babies, Karla developed a one-on-one online program that helps people find out why certain lifestyle choices and patterns exist. She then devises strategies to permanently disable those triggers.

“It comes down to a mindset change,” Karla says.

Karla believes next year's Commonwealth Games (April 4-15, 2018) in her hometown will motivate people to get outdoors more and get fitter.

She plans to take her daughters to see as many sports as possible and urges other mums and dads to do the same with their children.

“To be able to show them different sports live is really going to inspire them,” she says.

“You can tell them as much as you want about something but until they see it or get into the atmosphere of a big sporting event, they can't feel it.

“Gold Coast 2018 is going to be a great opportunity to do that.

“It's the chance to not only inspire our next generation of sporting stars but to get everyone thinking about a fitter and healthier lifestyle.”


  • Healthy living should be a lifestyle not a trend
  • We are all individuals. The same things don't work for everyone
  • Find the right balance Between nutrition, exercise and healthy habits that works for
  • Put in place a support network to ensure that lifestyle changes are permanent



Word Count: 796
Author: Geoff Stead

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