Flick Palmateer on Women´s Surfing and the new WSL

Flick Palmateer

Finally the sports decades-old legacy of sexism is slowly, but yet faster than ever crumbling into dust. Around 30 years ago women only accounted an estimated 3 to 5 percent of the surfing population as stated by Matt Warshaw in his 2008 NY Times article. Ten years later, today the number must be somewhere around 35 percent - if we believe in the previous guesswork in surfing demographics. We recently chatted with one of the most influential woman –Flick Palmateer – about the progression in Women Surfing. 

„It wasn’t long ago, maybe five or six years that men walked off the beach during a women’s heat. Not now.“ - Flick Palmateer

It has been a ground breaking year in Women Surfing and this is only one reason, why we set up this Mag. The sport is flourishing on both sides, Men and Women´s surfing. We are  likely right in the middle of Surfing´s 4th boom just now. The WSL is forming new structures - some of them are considered good, others however struggle to find approval by the consumer: With Sophie Goldschmidt the WSL is now lead by a woman. The women´s price money got adjusted. There will be a wave pool event at Kelly Slaters Surf Ranch added to the 2018 Tour. Fiji and Trestles wont be held next year while a new tourstop at Keramas (Bali) has been added. And: There has been a Women´s Big Wave invitational!

It´s safe to say part of the changes and adjustments on the Women´s side of surfing are thanks to brave hearts like Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms, Silvana Lima and Flick Palmateer who have been pushing the popularity of women´s surfing up to never-before-seen heights. And according to Flick Palmateer, there is still much more to come!

Felicity first established herself as a big wave charger when she became the first female to surf Western Australias Cow Bombie. The Western Australian was also one of the ladies who surfed in the first-ever big wave invitational in 2016 where she finished up third. When Flick is not dropping into massive Waves she also likes doing art and already had two solo art exhibitions in Sydney and Margaret River.

„I’ve been doing art before I was surfing, my Dad is a ceramicist and my mum studied fashion design so they always encouraged me to do art growing up.“ Flick told WMNSurfMag.

We have reached out to Flick to learn a bit more about her and her opinion on the progression of women surfing.

You are one of the still very few Women who are into big wave surfing. What´s your opinion on its progression? 

I think the inclusion of the Women’s Big Wave Invitational and the bump in prizemoney on the women’s CT are two obvious examples of increased support and inclusivity, both products of the recent transformation of the ASP to WSL and the large financial injection that has taken place. So that’s been fantastic, and it’s enticed many women into the sport and also inspired some to return to the sport – eg: Silvana Lima and Claire Bevalacqua. And you look at Tyler Wright’s success last year, she earned as much as many of the men in the top 10 in terms of prize money, so that’s an enviable pathway for others to follow. There is a bonafide, successful and financially rewarding career for any woman in the top of the rankings now and obviously that will drive competitive performances, help push boundaries and drive new generations to be greater still, so that’s great for all involved. I love it.

It wasn’t long ago, maybe five or six years that men walked off the beach during a women’s heat. Not now.

What changes do you think are still to be made to it? 

I think as long as opportunities are there to perform in front of an audience, the sport will progress in terms of performance. But is the WSL’s financial model sound? I’m not hearing that it is … I also wonder about the allocation of marketing dollars by brands. I think better outcomes can be achieved by the better telling of stories, and focusing the money on key athletes rather than trying to own so many surfers and spreading the dollars too thinly. It’s rare to see a surfer under the age of 10 who doesn’t have a sticker on their board. That seems a bit flippant … And if a surfer is doing double-corked airs and pulling in on 30foot barrels, shouldn’t they be the best? Shouldn’t that person be the highest paid? The allocation of dollars just seems so misguided … many brands are stuck in old marketing models if you ask me.

Mavericks is one of the upcoming Big Wave events, how will you prepare yourself? 

Ultimately, the best preparation would be to get over to Mavericks and get as much time in the water there as possible. I’m not sure how likely that might be. I have some sponsor commitments in Hawaii and some family stuff I have to attend to. But we’ll see. When I finished 3rd at jaws, that was the first time I’d been to the break and laid eyes on it. It’s not the ideal preparation by any means, but there is something simple in that approach that works with my brain – having no option but to just paddle out and charge it – it’s a less desirable way to win, but might be better in some aspects. If I’m fit, I’ll be feeling more confident, that’s for sure.

What would be the best-case scenario at mavericks/worst case scenario?

Best case scenario, I ride a couple of fantastic waves, come out completely unscathed, and win. Worst case scenario, I drown on live TV and no one comes to my funeral.

Why Big wave Surfing, what drives you to paddle out into a 20 foot wave?

I think fear of regret is what really drives me most.

To be included in the first ever Women’s Big Wave event at Jaws was something historical, I mean. How could I say no? Having such an impressive, experienced water safety team in place is a massive incentive. That kind of support does not exist outside of the competitive environment, so if ever there was a time to charge it and have a crack, that was it. That’s not so say something bad, dreadful could not still occur, but the odds of drowning or whatever, must be significantly reduced. And I think if I said no, I would not have been invited back again this year.

And like anything, as you gain experience, then more opportunities arise – and it’s tackling these things and facing your fears allows you to grow.

And there is no doubt, adrenaline pays a big part! It’s addictive.

Do you ever get people saying things like „you shouldn’t be doing that, that´s to heavy..“ or similar?

When I was in the car park, at the boat ramp about to head out to Cow Bombie, I had a couple of other surfers looking at me strangely, like “what’s she doing?”. Obviously, I was the only girl there and they couldn’t quite work out why I was in a wetsuit with a board – even though there could be no other explanation! Ha ha

What Big Waves spots would you like to have on tour?

Somewhere in my backyard in Western Australia please!

You can’t beat home field advantage when it comes to competitive surfing. Somewhere I know as well as Paige knows Jaws would be awesome.

What´s your plan for the winter months besides from mavericks? 

In about a week and a half I’ll be heading back over to Hawaii. I have a few shoots for Billabong to do and I’ll hang out and watch the last event for the men at Pipe. After that I’ll head back to Australia. It’s coming into summer here! Which is one of my favourite seasons and that means warm weather, Christmas, family and friends.

But I’ll also be training quite heavily because you never know when the next big swell might be!

My goals for next year are to Qualify for world tour and to win a Big Wave event. There’s also a few surf spots in my list that I’d really like to surf, big cloud break, g-land, I’d like to go back to the Mentawai Islands and there’s a couple of others too...

You are traveling a lot to chase down big swells, but you still seem to find time in between to be creative and do amazing artwork.

Thanks! A few years ago I was doing a lot more art - before I started to take Big Wave Surfing and the qualifying series more seriously. I had two solo art exhibitions one in Paddington, Sydney and the other in Margaret River. The last year it has been hard for me to try and find the time to do art because of all the travel and training that I’ve been doing but when I have found the time my style of art has really started to change and I like it. I’m now painting a lot more abstract acrylic pieces. Still in the experimenting stages but I like where it’s heading!

So it’s definitely a balancing act… but my goals right now are to win a Big Wave event and qualify for the World Tour so I think art might take a bit of back seat till one of these happen.

What is the connection between big wave surfing and art for you? Do the two go together?

Ha ha! I think they do go hand in hand.

I’ve been doing art before I was surfing, my Dad is a ceramicist and my mum studied fashion design so they always encouraged me to do art growing up. Some of my fondest earliest memories are of me doing art with my family so it definitely puts me in a good head space.

The ocean for me is my biggest inspiration. I’m constantly inspired by it, every day it looks different and every time I surf I am humbled and inspired by it.

Is art something you could imagine doing as a job? What kind of job would it be, what type of art? 

Definitely! I’ll keep doing art for the rest of my life. Right now I don’t have enough time to invest into it but at some point I would love to do it full tine and see what I can produce!

Thanks Flick, for taking the time!

Check out Flick´s Art and Instagram: