A love of the ocean led Felicity Palmateer to both surfing and creating art. By Richard Cooke.


Making waves: Felicity Palmateer, 22, surfer

I started surfing because I fell in love with the ocean. I’m a professional surfer, I compete in the World Qualifying Series, but now I’m trying to branch out into my art as well. Become a surfer/artist basically. I work with watercolour and inks and illustration. I’m working on an exhibition that is going to be this year in Sydney. I’ve had these amazing opportunities to travel the world, and that’s where most of my inspiration comes from for my art. Like Mexico: the colours and the different beaches. I go to Indonesia a lot, too.   

I’m a massive fan of [American artist] Jean-Michel Basquiat. I just like how wild everything is and expressive. I’m also a huge fan of Jai Vasicek, up in Byron Bay – he’s really cool.

I think about a wave being a canvas. This is a bit silly but you can kind of paint whatever picture you want with whatever turns you do. So there’s a really good relationship there. Because I work with watercolours, it really transcends that fluidity, and no one can tell you what’s right or wrong, too. Art is open to interpretation, the same as surfing. 

I’m a bit different to the competitive style.  I understand that there’s technique in the way that you surf, but it perplexes me a little bit as to how someone can surf a wave “better” than someone else. I think the person surfing the best is the person who is having the most fun.

I love to jump on different types of boards. I love Fishers, I love longboards, I love shortboards. I’ll have a go in big waves, small waves. It’s just all about changing it up, and the more I change the more I learn.

Like me, my dad is a surfer, and he’s also an artist. He’s one of the best ceramicists in Australia. He really has influenced me and taught me to believe in myself and be true to myself and just go with whatever feels right. And he really has had the biggest impact on my life.

When I was still living at home my dad was my father and also my coach. Now that I’ve moved out of home it’s the weirdest time in our relationship because we’ve kind of come to this middle ground where it’s a balance. Before it was all or nothing and now it’s just like this middle ground. It’s really nice. And we’re able to enjoy surfing together. Before, he’d get so involved, and he’d really want the best for me, but he himself wanted to be a professional surfer and he didn’t quite achieve that. I think he kind of tries to get what he wanted through me.

There’s a huge difference between going out and practising for competing and just surfing with your mates. You might go out and do a hundred drills, but you’re going over the same thing a hundred times, and for me that’s not really surfing. When you start surfing you start because your friend did it. It’s a hobby. It’s a lifestyle. 

Surfing is not like other sports. It’s not like a track-and-field star saying: “I want to run a hundred metres as fast as I can.” It’s because it’s beautiful. Then the competitive thing develops.

You never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at you. I find it really hard that you’re given this specific block of time that you have to compete in.

The Gold Coast is very different from Margaret River. You can tell how busy a city is by just listening for 20 seconds to the noise and the sound and how many people go past. The Gold Coast compared to rural Western Australia, where I’m from, is crazy. It’s basically a career move, but I do love it. The water’s warm and the beaches are beautiful.

Social media is complicated. Now you can create whatever you want – it’s been amazing because I’ve been able to create my own profiles, not only as a surfer but also an artist. And I’ve been able to promote and sell my art through Instagram, and Facebook. It’s a great tool – I just try not to get too wrapped up in it. You’ve just got to be aware that it can be negative, and it doesn’t always feel real.

I’m quite a naive artist. I haven’t studied fine art. I haven’t done any of that. I’ve just gone straight into it.

1 . This week’s highlights…

• Cricket: ICC World Cup – India v Zimbabwe

Today, noon AEDT, Eden Park, Auckland 

Australia v Scotland

Today, 2.30pm, Bellerive Oval, Hobart

• NRL: Sea Eagles v Storm 

Today, 7pm, Brookvale Oval, Sydney

• Netball: NSW Swifts v Queensland Firebirds 

Tomorrow, 12.18pm, Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre

• Motorsport: Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix

Tomorrow, 4pm, Albert Park, Melbourne

 • AFL: NAB Challenge – Collingwood v Carlton

Tomorrow, 4.40pm, Queen Elizabeth Oval, Bendigo

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 14, 2015 as "Making waves".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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