Felicity Palmateer is a professional surfer, artist and a marine conservationist who made history earlier this year by riding the largest-ever wave surfed by an Aussie woman.
So when we were given the opportunity to pick Felicity’s brain about her art, activism, surfing, what she does in her downtime, and how she looks after herself, we were more than a little excited. Here’s what we learned.
You rode the biggest wave any Aussie woman has. Ever. What was that like?
“I grew up surfing heavy reef breaks and powerful waves, but because Cow Bombie breaks three kilometres out to sea I didn’t really know what to expect until I got out there. I knew it was the biggest swell of the year, it was being called an ‘XXL swell’ so I knew it would be huge, but nothing really prepared me. When a wave broke, it sounded like a bomb going off and the swells were moving faster than anything I’d seen before. I caught four waves … the guys watching me said the first one was the biggest, and that was about 25-30 feet!”
Did it teach you anything about yourself?
“It taught me that one of the most important things you can do as a person is to overcome your fears. I had thought about the best and worst possible scenarios before I did it; it wasn’t something I just did without thinking it through. And in the end I decided that it was worth it and I believed I had it in me to do it. So I did it!”
I have a friend who surfs, and she's often hesitant to go out when there are lots of men around. Have you felt unwelcome in the surf?
"Yes — it’s a male-dominated sport, and in addition to that a lot of spots are heavily localised. It takes time to be able to gauge situations, to read pecking orders and some days to realise who is trying to bluff who. That aspect of surfing can be annoying, but it can also be essential because it stops some of the best breaks becoming completely unruly. If I have a bad surf because someone is being a certain way, I just try and shrug it off."
You've been surfing for years. Do you think the sport is more accepting of women now, compared to when you were younger?
"I think the sport is definitely more accepting of women now. Prize money has doubled in recent years, women are competing at amazing breaks, there are some great female role models, there’s nothing available to the men that isn’t available to women." (Post continues after gallery.)
You've partnered with Venus to inspire women to challenge the one-dimensional labels we can get branded with. Have you experienced this stereotyping?
"This is a project that’s close to me, as I want women to feel empowered to decide who they are and not let other people put them into boxes. As someone who has lots of passions, people often ask me what I am: a surfer or an artist. Well, I’m a surfer and an artist. I shouldn’t have to be one or the other."
What are some of the ways women are pigeonholed?
"There are so many ways that people are put into boxes that don’t truly reflect the multi-dimensionality of our passions, talents and personalities. Some people think you can’t be beautiful and clever; strong and compassionate; a scientist and a girlie-girl or a mother and a free spirit. We’re all so many things – why should we have to conform to labels?"