Charging ahead for women’s big wave surfing

Felicity Palmateer doesn’t like to label herself a “slashie”, the term used for the new generation of multi-skilled, professional life jugglers who bind hobbies and career into one and make viable incomes from everything combined. But there is certainly nothing to be ashamed of in chasing your dreams and living life on your terms. Besides anyone who can juggle surfing competitively in 20ft waves one day and look good modelling swimwear the next, deserves credit in our eyes.  Mella Lahina reckons it’s time Felicity added “big wave” surfer to her already impressive resume.

What brought you to the Gold Coast?

Before the Gold Coast I was living in Sydney and before that I was in Margaret River which is where I am from and I kind of moved to the East Coast of Australia mainly for surfing. Western Australia is quite remote  and far away from everything and there are so many opportunities here on the Gold Coast especially for women’s surfing, there are so many girls surfing, more contests, amazing waves, warm water, it’s pretty enticing.

What was your first impression of the Gold Coast when you got here?

I remember coming here when I was about 14 years old and it was the middle of winter and I came here expecting to wear a steamer and I was looking at all these kids at D’bah wearing steamers and short arms and I was thinking it must be cold out there.  I remember going out there and thinking OMG this is the best place in the world, the water’s so warm and I was like wearing bikinis and all these other girls and boys were like what is this chick doing. Warm water and tropical weather all year round, I was like sign me up!

Have you surfed many coldwater places apart from Margaret River?

Western Australia is cold for like six months of the year and then the other six months it’s extremely hot, but I’ve been to Tasmania for the Australian Junior Surfing titles like ten years ago and that was freezing. I remember it was summer but the water was still so cold in November or December it was like 11-12 degrees in the water… ice cream headaches every time you were duck diving.

How would you describe your surfing career right now? Surfer/model/artist/..?

Yeah I’m a slashie ha ha that’s a term I’ve heard, it’s a ‘thing’ that people have made up but I don’t know if I want to call myself that. I don’t ever want to be defined as just one ‘thing’ because I think it’s quite easy for people to be like ‘oh she’s just this or she’s just that’ I mean why can’t I just be whatever I wanna be? If I’m feeling like I want do be doing more art, then I’m an artist at that time, if I’m surfing I’m competing, I mean I just try and do it all at once and it’s working so far so I’m gonna keep going for as long as I can.

How does Instagram work? Does it help you sustain your living?

Social media in general has changed the industry and because I have a bit of following I can help raise awareness and campaign for things that I believe in and I use social media as a platform, which is a positive thing. I also get approached by different brands about 5-10 times a week asking to do paid collaborations.  But I’m very careful and selective in what I say yes to and I just want to make sure it’s something that I believe in and something that I would use so I’m not just selling out. I’m aware that I’m a role model so I don’t want to be selling teeth whitening to girls when I don’t use it myself.

How often do you compete? Are you selective in that sense as well?

I competed heavily when I was a junior and I had a pretty successful junior career and then I went on to the WQS and I finished one spot off qualifying two years in a row. One of those years Chelsea Hedges got pregnant so I get to step up because I was the next girl in line so I got to surf half the World Champion Tour.  And then after that I just went through a weird stage in competing and I felt like for me it was quite a selfish sort of act, going out there and competing, I always felt shit after a heat, even if I won I felt bad for the people who lost and if I lost then I’d be like shit this sucks. No one ever feels good and I thought if I can just make a career out of surfing and doing art, I mean it’s working at the moment and I’m loving it. I am competitive and when I was a junior I loved it, I love to win and at the end of the day there is only one winner but yeah I do compete selectively and I’m going to do a QS (WQS event) at the end of the year in Sydney and next year I’m going to do the Australian QS events so I’m keeping one foot in.

Any advice for girls who are going into competition?

Honestly, the more you do it the better you get. That’s why board rider comps are so good, they are like the footsteps for getting onto the QS or the WCT because these junior club rounds instil that competitive nature from such a young age. So by the time you’re surfing state rounds and then Aussies or ISA or juniors it’s like second nature, the more you do it the better you’re going to get.  The more experience you can get the better.

How nervous were you before the first ever women’s big wave Pe’ahi event?

Probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. There were a lot of firsts that day, first big wave women’s competition, first time I’ve ever ridden a 10ft board, first time wearing a V1 (big wave flotation wetsuit), first time I’d seen that wave let alone surfed it.  I had to adapt really fast. So yeah it was pretty nerve racking.

What’s it like to throw yourself over the edge of a 20ft wave?

I really don’t know I was paddling in blind most of the time because the wind was so strong ! No I must be crazy because I love it. I’m chasing the feeling all the time. It’s amazing – I love that adrenalin feeling. And I was stoked to make the final and come third.

Will you be surfing more big waves in the future?

Definitely I’ve been surfing bigger waves since I was young and coming from Margaret River I’m used to surfing waves with power. Next time I want to be more prepared so I’m working on my fitness. I want to be ready next time.

Follow Felicity on Instagram.


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