To celebrate the return of Australian summertime, we caught up with Felicity Palmateer, a professional surfer, artist and conservationist who made history in July this year by being the first Australian female to take on the largest ever wave at Cowaramup Bombora (Cow Bombie) in south western WA. We were thrilled to chat to Felicity recently about her surfing, art, what she does in her downtime, and her plans for 2016. Here’s what we learned...
Hi Felicity, thanks for chatting with us today! You made history back in July as the first female to surf big at Cow Bombie, how did you prepare yourself for that experience? To be honest I didn’t really do anything too different to what I usually do every day. I told Antman (Paul Paterson) at the start of the year that I wanted to start surfing bigger waves and to keep me in mind if there was a swell. So he sent me an email on the Tuesday before the swell asking if I wanted to surf the biggest wave of my life on Friday. I’d been doing a little bit of training in preparation for bigger waves – breath training, meditation, drills, pool training - so I felt somewhat prepared. Plus, growing up in WA I’m pretty used to surfing waves with power and size... But still, in saying that nothing really could prepare me for Cow Bombie. It was so big, so loud when it breaks and the swells moved so fast. It was a real eye-opener and something I’ll never, ever forget.
Where do you currently base yourself? How do the waves compare with the West? There will always be a place in my heart for WA, born n’ bred! But right now I’m based at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast. I love it! It’s close to my main sponsor, Billabong. Close to airports (I’m lucky, always travelling!). The water is so warm and it only gets cold-ish for about two months of the year. Burleigh’s a really fun point break too and living right on the Point I get to surf it all the time. I do miss WA though and all the good lefts over there. I’m never away from home for too long.
We're enjoying our first taste of summer right now, how did you spend the winter? Do you escape to a warmer climate or enjoy the winter waves on the East coast? I definitely tried to escape a bit of winter. I was lucky enough to spend three weeks in the Seychelles which are off the coast of Africa, north of Madagascar, and are some of the oldest islands in the world. I was there with photographer Ming Nomchong and fellow Billabong team rider Lauren Hill. The three of us spent three weeks hopping between five islands, documenting/pioneering surf spots (some of which we hear may have never been surfed before!) and taking in the incredible beauty the islands have to offer. Some of the scientists we met are also pioneering a reef-regeneration process which was a key reason for our visit. I also spent time with some wonderful people from Tropical North Queensland – I was invited to the Great Barrier Reef to check out first-hand some of the work they do rehabilitating marine life, turtles in particular (which I love!) and to visit the reef and stay in an Eco resort at Thala Beach near Port Douglas. Stunning!
Do you have a favourite summer surf location or getaway destination? I’m open to anywhere really, as long as there are good waves and not crowded! Some of my favourites so far are Moorea, Tahiti and late season in Hawaii when the circus leaves town and there’s still fun swells, less crowds and a really beautiful place.
Your career as an artist has really taken off, how do you split your time between surfing and creating? In February of 2015 I had my debut solo art exhibition in Paddington, Sydney and I was working really hard on my art to get it all done on time, plus I was still training and I was competing in the Australian Open. That was stressful! But I pulled it off, with help of course! The response was fantastic. The response was so good in fact I had a second exhibition at home in April at Cape Mentelle Winery in Margaret River. I had around 100 friends and family show up, maybe more, which was flattering and overwhelming. It was also the first time Cape Mentelle had hosted an event like that so they were happy with the outcome too. But aside from that, the usual plan is to do art when I’m not surfing; and there are plenty of days without surf.
What lies ahead for 2016? I’m off to the Cook Islands first, then thinking about an extended stint in Hawaii to try and surf some of the big wave spots I’ve never tried, then a sneaky mission to visit north of Australia – on a bit of a reconnaissance/surf mission to some foreign waters north of Oz. I’ll continue to evolve my current commercial product collaborations with iBark and Billabong, I’ve got some new stuff in the works and of course I’ll focus on combining surf and environmental missions wherever possible. That’s my real passion!
Thanks Felicity, and enjoy your travels!