Felicity Palmateer last year broke the world record for the biggest wave surfed by an Australian woman. The pro surfer is also an ambassador for Aussie Bodies and Billabong. Her Instagram account, which has 121,000 followers, describes her as a “pro surfer, artist, conservationist and gypsy”. The 23-year-old talks to me about life on the road, her love of art, and her secrets to mentally preparing for waves up to 10 metres.
How did you get into surfing?
My dad is a really keen surfer, so I grew up a bit of a beach baby. I remember Mum and Dad would take us out of school if it was a good day at the beach, and just let us play down there all day.
What are you up to at the moment?
I’ve been an ambassador for Billabong for 10 years and I have just re-signed with them. I’m getting more involved in the design process and will hopefully do another collaboration with a surf range and nice-cut wetsuits. I’d love to get some of my [artwork] prints on them, too. I am also putting more time into being a lifestyle model and just travelling and creating cool content [for Billabong]. I did a big mural down at Bondi last year on the promenade down there for World Oceans Day. Last year, I took the year off competing, went travelling, focused on my art and started surfing big waves.
How did you get involved with big-wave surfing?
I told one of my friends from Western Australia to keep me in mind if there’s ever a swell at home. He sent me an email saying that the biggest forecast in 20 years was about to hit back home. It said: “Do you want to surf the biggest wave of your life on Friday?” I wasn’t really thinking this would be my introduction into big-wave surfing, but I just thought to myself: “The worst thing that could happen is I get over there and I get too scared and get to watch the best guys in the world do their thing.” So I went over there and I ended up catching a 30-foot wave and breaking Layne Beachley’s record for the biggest wave surfed by Australian female – which wasn’t my intention at all. I wasn’t comfortable with taking a title like that without even consulting Layne, as I’m friends with her, so I called her up.
What did Layne say?
My manager and I called her and she said: “No, give it to Flick. She earned it. This is hers.”
Are you scared when you’re riding a 30-foot wave?
As a big-wave surfer, you have to have a bit of a crazy side, because you’ve just got to be able to commit. I was towed in behind a jet ski into the wave, so you don’t really know where the drop is. From that angle, you can’t see how real big it is until you get to the bottom of the wave. I couldn’t even comprehend how big it was until I saw the photos.
There’s so much danger involved. How do you mentally prepare for big-wave surfing?
I’ve been doing a lot of physical and mental training. I am learning from Mick Fanning’s coach that you have to calm yourself down using different breathing techniques.
What else would you like to achieve?
There’s been a massive season in Hawaii. They run a contest called Eddie Aikau, which only runs every five or six years and it has to be absolutely massive to run. There’s been a lot of footage of this wave Jaws. My goal is, at the end of this year, to surf that wave.
What are some of the perks of your job?
I get to see some amazing places and stay in exotic locations such as Morocco. In the Maldives, I went on one of the most luxurious boats in the world.
Are there any disadvantages to your job?
It is hard not being able to see friends and family and, obviously, living out of a suitcase isn’t easy. But it’s an amazing job and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
What would you be doing if you didn’t become a surfer?
I would have followed in Dad’s footsteps and focused more on my art, probably in ceramics.
What sort of art are you into?
Dad is a ceramicist and my mum studied fashion design, so growing up, I was just always encouraged to do that. I do a lot of pattern work and I’m trying to get my designs on to the Billabong clothing more. I create mandala sort of patterns and I use water colour and inks a lot. So whenever I have a down time, it’s nice to set my mind off surfing a bit.
You have a really big social media following. Is it a great tool for you?
I find it is a great tool to get messages out there to my 121,000 followers. It is great for people to know the intimate details about what I’m doing.
What’s off-limits on your social media?
I am pretty open on it, but I don’t share some of my personal details, such as my boyfriend.
Who do you look up to and admire?
I have always looked up to Layne Beachley and Steph Gilmore. It is such a weird feeling seeing people that I admire so much.
How did you get involved as an ambassador for the Marine Stewardship Council?
I got tied up with them to raise awareness for Sustainable Seafood and World Oceans Day last year … I’m in the ocean every single day and wanted to be the voice to promote seafood which is sustainably caught.
Do you follow really a healthy lifestyle?
Yes, over the last year I’ve taken a massive turn in my diet, trying to eat really organic. It’s kind of a mixture between raw paleo and vegan. It can be hard sometimes when I’m travelling, because I’m always on the road. I haven’t been home, in one spot, for longer than three weeks, since I was 16.
What’s next for you?
I’m doing some work with Tourism Western Australia. We’re going to Rottnest, which is where I used to spend a lot of time … as a kid. This time we will have boats and helicopters, so it should be a great experience.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Hopefully, I will have surfed a lot bigger waves and maybe [set] some more records. It would be pretty fun to surf the biggest wave ever.
WE WENT TO Bather’s pavilion, Balmoral Beach.
WE ATE a fruit platter and poached figs with citrus’ mascarpone shaved raw pear and puffed quinoa granola.
WE DRANK freshly squeezed juices.
FELICITY WORE Billabong top and skirt.
KATE WORE a Tome dress.