The Life of a Pro Surfer: Mitch Crews, Brett Simpson and Felicity Palmateer

25 Jan

Mitch Crews Felicity Palmateer Brett Simpson

The life of a pro surfer

“That’s just one of the sacrifices you have to make. I miss my family when I am away, but I have to deal with that otherwise I can’t do what I love.”

Mitch Crews, an Australian Pro Surfer spoke to our group of travel bloggers about the challenges that come with his life travelling the world riding waves. I understood what he was talking about as we have made similar sacrifices to live our life of travel.

Professional surfing is a job he has had since he was 14.

“I really learned how to be independent and look after myself from an early age. Sometimes I think about what I’ve missed out on, as in high school education, but I have learned so much about life through travel because of my surfing and you just can’t beat that.”

Mitch was competing at the Australian Open of Surfing for the country’s biggest-ever surf, skate and music event. The event, a first for Australia, is an extension of the annual US Open of Surf held at Huntington Beach.


We walked down the water’s edge with Mitch to take some photos. Groups of teens gathered giggling and tossing their hair at their bleach blond boyfriends, grommets ran around bare foot, the peaks of their caps turned to their sides and oversized cameras swinging from their necks as they run to meet their surfing idols coming back in from their heat.

“Hi Mitch! Saw your heat out there today.You were great”

Girls in bikinis call out to Mitch, he shouts out their names in a friendly hello, stopping to give them a kiss on the cheek.

“I’ll come chat to you later.”


Sometimes surfing has it’s down times as Brett Simpson recently  discovered. The only surfer to have won the US Open Surfing Event two years in a row, an accomplishment that landed him some big name sponsors, entry into the World Tour, and a 16th and 19th consecutive world ranking,

When asked why he thought he was able to win the event twice in a row he replied “I think it had a lot to do with confidence.”

Huntington Beach is his home town, so every stroke of his arms and snap of his board with done with the confidence of a person how who knows how to find their way home in the dark.


The second year winning was Deja Vu for Brett. Everything that happened was exactly as it was the year before:

“I knew what to do and what I was doing. It’s about finding your comfort zone and knowing what to do in the moment. There is not a lot you can do to prepare for a surfing event because the waves are never the same.”

A point that Mitch enthusiastically conveyed to us. “Surfing is a sport where nothing is ever the same. It’s not just the ground underneath you that is moving differently every time, but the conditions are always changing too. You have to learn how to surf on all conditions. Some surfers prefer big waves, others small, but the best you can do is be good at all conditions.”

Adapt so you can best handle the moment.

Practice and Preparation

Learning to adapt is something Mitch has learned through many years of practice and competitions. “You have to surf every day. It’s the only way you get good at it. I am much better at reading the waves now. When I was younger I just wanted to jump on my board and get out there, now I take a bit of time to analyse the conditions, and read the wave more. It helps me prepare.”

These professional surfers now have coaches, a benefit he sees as being more as a motivating factor and a great second-hand opinion. “Sometimes I might get a bit stuck about what to do so it is great to have that other voice giving me advice or even telling me that my choice is not a good one at this time.”

Clean Cut Professionalism

Both Brett and Mitch spoke about the growth of surfing and how much more professional and competitive it is now becoming. Surfing doesn’t hold that image anymore of boys gone wild taking drugs and partying hard.

“Sure we like to enjoy ourselves, but we are more focused on being professional athletes. We have trainers and managers and of course coaches.”

Professional surfers receive a lot of their income from sponsors and so have to maintain that clean-cut image. Traveling the world is not cheap, it’s the sponsors who help them spend their days doing what they love, they have to give back by performing and maintaining a good reputation.

A point that Felicity Palmateer discusses with me at length and the road that took her down to last year becoming part of the women’s world tour.

A Lonely and Competitive Sport

With sponsors to perform for, the bars of skill and competitiveness raised, and big prize money, winning is never too far from the surfer’s mind. While they have teams in regards to their sponsorships, surfing is a lonely sport as the friendly atmosphere ends once it comes time to paddle out to greet the sets.

The thought in their minds, that their competitors come with the same intention to surf best and win.

Dealing with Loss

Brett understands the focus required to win, but he also knows that it is equally important to learn how to lose.

“Loss is something you have to learn to live with in surfing. It is a sport where you usually lose more than you win.”

Brett’s father played professional football, a sport where you win more than you lose. At first he was unsure of his son’s decision to become a pro surfer, but has now become the world’s biggest surfing fan, enthusiastically following his son’s success and sharing this new passion with him.

Brett was excited about surfing in the sister surfing event in Australia, but unfortunately the sport comes with many hazards and a stitched up foot knocked him out.

He’s grateful it was not worse; an injury that could take him out of a whole season.

He’s at peace with the setback; healing is priority now as he prepares for the major 6 star event Quicksilver Pro At Snapper Rocks, Queensland, held the week after the Australian Open.

It’s not just 144 men dominating the waves at the Australian Open of Surf. 66 women, or really what seems to be young girls are slashing up the waves. Although they’ll never be able to match the strength and flair of the men, it is a competition that is quickly increasing in skill levels as girls like Laney Beachly, Steph Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbon keep raising the bar.

Felicity, a young 19 Australian surfer from Margaret River understands this so well. Last year she entered the women’s world tour halfway through after another surfer fell pregnant.


“Surfing has given me so much. I get to travel the world and do what I love to do. Every day is so exciting, and I am so grateful for it. But the biggest thing it has given me is such a close bond with my dad.” Felicity’s father introduced her to surfing and took a year off to travel with her as her career took off in the pros.

She’s cute and bubbly, with a smile that could be seen by those board riders doing their best to carve up the small waves in front of us. She’s well aware of her life of a surfer as she follows in the footsteps of her idol Stephanie Gilmore, a girl to her who seems has worked out the balance of life as a surfer and a woman.


She hopes that the next time she meets Steph out in the surf, she will hassle more. Last time she didn’t, she felt to in awe to be in the water with her idol to assert herself on the waves. She has now learned that you can’t win without the hustle, and she wants to win. Hustling to win doesn’t mean she has to lose the respect of the one she most aspires to be like.

Normalcy away from the Waves

Felicity is a girl at heart, and loves spending time with the other surfer girls on tour. When they are not riding the waves, you’ll find them shopping till they drop and donning heels and make up for a night out on the town. She loves the travel part of her job and is excited at the possibility of visiting places that doesn’t even involve surfing like Ibiza and the Greek Islands.

Casual Cool Factor

What struck me most chatting with the three professional surfers was how open, friendly and casual they were to talk to. It was like they were sitting down with a friend. They were happy to teach us the rules of surfing, how the riders were judged and what their life was like living their passion.

At times it felt like I was sitting down chatting with my first surfer boyfriend again, their lingo and mannerisms were just the same. I spent my teenage years hanging with a surfie crew, and that casual cool factor of that culture runs true no matter where you are in the world.

I was so inspired by the fact that every day they spend it doing what they love – catching waves. No wonder it’s addictive.

Could you live the life of a surfer?

Image of Felicity taken from her tumblr account

The Life of a Pro Surfer: Mitch Crews, Brett Simpson and Felicity Palmateer ,


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