Felicity Palmateer’s latest project continues surfing’s long relationship with nudity.
In a half-decade of working in the Tracks office I saw some truly shocking images. I once transcribed a whole Dave Reardon-Smith interview with a colleague’s testicle unknowingly resting on my shoulder. There was a pair of communal socks that had lived in the office since MR was a World Champion that could walk on their own. Once a month someone from accounts would try the balancing Indo board and second later would be lying on their back, crying in a mix of pain, possible paralysis and humiliation.
But one of the more scarring, lingering images that imprinted in my brain was when a new coffee table surfing book was delivered to the office. It was of book of portraits of surfing legends. Surfing legends that were not wearing any clothes. Now no one has more respect for what Terry Fitzgerald has done for surfing than me. However I still don’t want to see a full-length portrait of the then 55-year-old staring at me, bollock naked. And Barton Lynch is a legend. World champ, erudite, charming, funny, passionate. However I felt, and still do, that I didn’t need to see his white buttocks and boardshort tan to appreciate his contribution to our sport. Pam Burridge ... well, you get the drill.
Yet, surfing, perhaps more than other sport, just can’t get away from nudity. Felicity Palmateer is the lasted to dip her, uhm, toe into the water. She has dropped just a teaser for Skin Deep; a film and art project that we are told has been three years in the making. As part of the project the West Aussie born, Gold Coast residing big-wave charger surfed nude in Fiji, and had it filmed (with RED cameras for maximum exposure) which will be a part of a four-minute short to be released in a few weeks.
Of course this isn’t new. Rabbit Bartholomew got his bits out for a Tracks cover more than four decades ago. Bondi’s In The Nude club were one of the best boardriders in country in the 1980s and its members often surfed heats with their tackle out. Wendy Botha did a Playboy shoot in 1992, Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore, Coco Ho and Courtney Conlogue have all posed nude for ESPN The Magazine's "Body Issue.” My personal favourite though was when Sydney charger Karl Atkins surfed quadruple-overhead waves at Shipsterns Bluff in 2013 starkers. Add your own balls to wall analogy here.
A body is of course, just a body. And if Felicity wants to surf without society’s constructs placed upon her, well thats her right. She also sees it as a creative process and she has created art that will be exhibited along side the film throughout 2019 in Sydney, Western Australia and California. Still the point, of course is why?
Or as Lauren Hill (the surfer, not the rapper) who is a person in a way better position to ask the questions than me, once said; “How do we celebrate women as athletes without neutering them? Where’s the fine line between celebrating womanhood and outright objectification? When will ability be rewarded as handsomely as nudity?”
Wendy Botha answered Lauren emphatically when she said of her Playboy shoot, “For me it was a statement, “This is me, I’m loud and I’m proud.” (laughs) Suck on that…. And I paid my mortgage off!” Rocking out with your muff out never seemed so justified.
Yet no doubt Palmateer's latest clip will raise the questions of objectification verse art, even if the answers are beyond my pay grade and my gender. I’d hazard a guess though that it isn’t the art that has led the worldwide titillating, gossip and hate peddling site like the Mail Online from picking up the story and running with it. Heck, isn’t Felicity’s nudity the very reason I’ve just written this article. Just as Rabbit caused a willy-willy of controversy with his Tracks cover in 1974 someone surfing nude seems still to be of interest. Weird huh?