How big-wave Renaissance woman Felicity Palmateer balances it all

“In a few days I’ll leave Mexico to go on a boat trip in the Mentawais with GoPro on the Indies Trader,” Australian surfer Felicity Palmateer tells GrindTV. “Then I get back home to the Gold Coast before traveling to Oceanside [California] for the next [World Surf League] Qualifying Series event.

“After that I’ve a swimwear photo shoot with my sponsor Billabong in Hawaii, and then I’ll head to France, Spain and Portugal for more competitions.”

At that point the 24-year-old pauses to check her calendar for the rest of the year, giving me some respite from the case of jet lag and jealousy I was fast developing. Who knew being a model, professional surfer, big-wave rider, environmental activist and artist could make you so busy?

Palmateer grew up in Perth as the daughter of a keen surfer and surfed her first wave at age 6. However, it was on the frequent family surf trips three hours down the coast to the wave-rich haven of Margaret River where she honed her talent and developed a love for big waves. After a successful junior career that featured numerous state titles and a final in the ISA World Championships, she hit the 'QS in 2011, at age 18.

In her very first year, she missed qualifying for the elite World Championship Tour (WCT) by only one place. However, when 'CT competitor Chelsea Hedges withdrew due to pregnancy, the regularfooter took her place for half of the events in 2012.

Have board, will travel. Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Steinglen/Billabong

“That was bittersweet,” Palmateer says. “I was surfing on the 'CT, but not full time, so I only got a taste.” Surfing on both tours also took its toll, and after a few years she fell out of love with competing. Instead she packed up her array of big-wave guns, fun boards and her paints and traveled the world for her sponsors.

Along the way, she also amassed a healthy social media following, as her athletic good looks and ever-present smile went well with her travels to exotic locations.

“I still really love that whole side of it,” she says. “The photo shoots are so much fun, and when I think that I get paid to go to the most exotic locations in the world with my friends, well, it’s pretty surreal. It seems mad not to share my experiences.”

In between swimwear shoots in the Seychelles and modeling in the Maldives, Palmateer kept indulging her passion for big waves. In 2015 she became the first female to surf the Western Australia big-wave spot of Cow Bombie. A wave ridden there earned her a nomination in the Billabong Ride of the Year category of the 2016 XL Big Wave Awards. Then, in November 2016, with just 48 hours to go before the first-ever Women’s Big Wave Tour event at Pe’ahi, Palmateer found herself a last-minute invitee.

“It was a great opportunity, and with so many people watching your back, it was as safe as you will ever surf it,” she says. “Loving bigger waves, I thought I’d be crazy not to try.” It was her first-ever time surfing the infamous big-wave spot, also known as Jaws, and she went on to finish third in the final.

That event further shone a light on Palmateer’s extraordinary talents. While the bikini shoots provide the glamour, to paddle out in giant Jaws for the very first time and take off on 50-foot waves takes immense talent and even more bravery. The experience reignited her love of competing, and Palmateer is now keen to both get back on the 'CT and compete on the Big Wave Tour.

Palmateer takes a leap into the great unknown at Pe’ahi. Photo: Courtesy of World Surf League

“I feel fitter and more prepared than I ever have in my career,” she says. “I’m going all in and can’t wait to get back to Jaws and also try to qualify. I want to try and have it all.”

It seems she may have already achieved her goal.

Palmateer, keeping her head above water. Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Steinglen/ Billabong

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