AN INTERVIEW WITH SALT WATER SIREN IMOGEN GALDWELL
Imogen Caldwell was always destined for a life doused in saltwater. Having grown up at Red Bluff in Western Australia she was never going to have the same kind of childhood as most girls her own age. It's no surprise then to learn that days spent surfing over razor sharp reef, catching crays and fending for yourself in one of Australia's harshest environments were common place for the bubbly 18-year-old. The transient nature of The Bluff has also enabled Imogen to meet many people from all walks of life. Most recently Imogen was offered an opportunity to head to Indonesia to work as a surf guide aboard the Saraina in the Mentawai Isands. For a young surf-crazed gypsy, it was an offer too good to refuse. Do you feel that living at The Bluff has shaped the person you are? Most definitely. I feel I have been very lucky to live the existence that I do. We have travelled a lot as a family and I have been adventuring on my own a lot this year. The crew that I meet on a daily basis that come through Red Bluff all have their own experiences and stories to share and I think in a way that has shaped the person that I am today. It can also be a pretty harsh environment, with very little rain, no air con or TV, a quick town run every week or so and what you think is a lot of flies times 10, thus resulting in me being a little rough around the edges. Describe for me what it was like growing up. I imagine your typical day was very different to most girls. Yeah I guess you could say that. Growing up out here has its positives and negatives, we have all been home schooled with a private teacher, and instead of being given expensive toys we'd spend hours amusing ourselves trekking k's through the desert, fending for ourselves and learning to surf, dive and fish. I've lived in a small caravan with my sister alongside the family house. My bed is a few metres shy of the beach and I can't complain about the view. A normal day involves surfing and the standard gathering of critters; fishing, diving etc. Rarity activities are those that conclude with me ending up in the middle of a dusty sheep paddock or on the back of a motorbike assisting the boys in the yearly muster and lamb mark. Has there been anyone you particularly looked up to that has inspired your journey so far? My parents have inspired me to travel, to surf, to enjoy life and to create my own unique path. I admire them for the way they committed to spending their younger days raising five children in a caravan they towed around Australia, and then to end up managing the camp at Red Bluff leading a new dusty desert life. The last time we spoke you told me travel was at the top of your priority list. You're now a surf guide aboard Saraina in the Mentawais. Tell me how that opportunity came about? Because there is a constant stream of people coming through here, it opens up an avenue for networking, which can lead to opportunities. That's basically how I formed a friendship with the team at Saraina, I'm now in the process of learning absolutely everything the current surf guide Dedi knows about the breaks of the Mentawai. What is it like being a young girl in an environment of predominately male surfers? When there's a swell there aren't usually a lot of girls
out and you can end up being the only chick in the lineup. It's intimidating when they refuse to let you have one and sometimes I lose it. Until you actually prove yourself and go something worthy of a place in the lineup, they just paddle circles around you. Have there been times where you showed up the boys with the skills you have learnt from growing up in the North West? Haha, I wouldn't say 'showed up' but I guess it isn't an every day occurrence to see a midget girl out at 8ft Greenbush and who is not just there to flounder around or to get the arse out. What have you most enjoyed about being a surf guide? Probably one of the best experiences is you surf an outrageous amount of waves and meet some pretty loose characters along the way. I enjoy the boat life, falling asleep every night to either a gentle rock or having an angry ocean throw you from one side of the cabin to the other. Tell me about the perks. I'm sure it's not all work and no play. Have you scored some epic sessions so far this season? Yeah first day I got to the Ments we scored a solid swell that made the place seem like God's country. The best session I had was with photographer Ray Collins at the north end of the Mentawai, it was the biggest swell we'd had yet and we were adamant we were going to get a few good shots. With only myself and one other guy out we waited a good half an hour between sets. If one caught my eye I'd wait for Ray to yell at me to go and then I'd commit to something I wasn't even sure I was capable of. I must have done something right after a couple beatings, as when I paddled back out after pulling into a solid one, Ray was grinning and gave me a death roll hug … I think he does that a lot. Have you found many similarities in the waves at home to those in Indo? Yeah, the heavier lefts are a lot like home. Tombstones is the meanest wave I've ever surfed so going out in some of the waves in Indo felt pretty comfortable. The reef is a lot like home, sharp and unforgiving. There are a lot of female surfers that have taken to social media to market themselves. What do you think about it all? Each to their own, social media is pretty good for selfmarketing but it's up to you how you wish to be seen by the rest of the world. A little bit of mystique goes a long way.
“I guess it isn't an every day
occurrence to see a midget girl
out at 8ft Greenbush and who
is not just there to flounder
around or to get the arse out.”
What sort of advice would you give other girls out there trying to create a career around chasing perfect waves? I'm not really one for inspirational quotes, but I guess the best advice going round these days and the advice I have received is; stay grounded, stay focused and stay off the crack. Would you like to one day captain your own boat and sail off into the horizon? Who wouldn't! I don't know about sailing off into the horizon that seems a little too clichéd, I'd live anywhere on anything but you'd never in a million years find me in the overpopulated, rat race and sophistication of the city.
Imogen taking a break from her gig as a surf guide on board the Saraina in the Mentawai Islands.