Michele Lockwood is a hyphenated girl—she paints, draws, sews, writes, shoots pics, shapes boards, and is now on her way to becoming a scientist. I met her in the late ‘90s when I was the editor of Surfing Girl. We sent her on assignment to Hawaii and she came back with an A-grade story and photos of the women who were on the tour back then. Soon after she moved from SoCal to northern New South Wales, Australia. She’s there now, living at Big Sky with her partner, Andrew Kidman, and their kids, Bella and Gus.
I visited them a couple years ago—and walked away jealous. They live amid rolling green hills as far the eye can see, not far from the creative/spiritual/surf hub that is Byron Bay. Their home oozes a warm, cozy, follow-your-bliss spirit. Fifty steps from their front door is a shaping room. Next to that is an art studio. They had a pet cow named Mingus, but Mingus has since passed away. On an average weekday, Andrew might emerge from the shaping room, and Michele might emerge from the studio, and they might jointly decide that you know what, let’s head out to the coast for a wave. There they might meet up with their close mates Beau Foster, Ellis Ericson, or Derek Hynd and surf a few uncrowded waves before heading back towards the hinterland as night falls.
I caught up with Michele via phone. I was sitting in my car in a parking lot in Los Angeles and she was watching a large flock of black cockatoos drink from her birdbath.
On living in the Lucky Country (and, more specifically, northern New South Wales): “It’s not about what kind of car you drive here or how you economically compare to others, and it’s so refreshing to take all of that out of the equation. Australia is a lot like the Scandinavian countries—there’s a lot of social support here in terms of the government helping people, so there’s not a lot of homelessness, and there’s good health care. So we get to enjoy a pretty healthy, supported lifestyle, and as a collective consciousness, it really does help you to feel good.”
On being an ex-pat: “At first it was hard to adjust and transition because I was so attached to home and really missed my friends and family, I still do. Right after buying our house, I had a baby and found myself living in a very isolated place, no one around and everything was so foreign—it was a bit of a trip. But now I’m very grateful to live in Australia, and to be raising my kids here. There’s a lot more freedom in how you are able to move and what you do than back home in the States.”
On Big Sky: “Big Sky is the name of our place where we live, a 13-acre property in the bush looking out on Wollumbin, which is an ancient shield volcano and a significant Aboriginal spiritual landmark. It’s a really special place—everyone who comes here feels it. And so we’ve named this company that we’re doing Big Sky. At the moment it’s a pretty amorphous thing. We’re doing some handshaped boards through Andrew and Beau Foster. Lee-Ann Curren is riding them and Creed McTaggart got a few too. I get to paint on them occasionally. Bug (Beau) silk-screens the tees when we make them. We’ve just put together a newsprint magazine called Acetone that was another collaboration between a group of friends. So Big Sky is like a hub or umbrella for a lot of creative pursuits. We’re all working together, and it’s mainly local, and it’s custom, and it’s handmade, and it’s very grassroots, and it’s good fun.”
On painting surfboards: “I started painting boards for Andrew ages ago. Surfboards are really fun to paint on because you get one shot at it, you can’t erase your lines, you have to commit. And the shaped blank has a really beautiful texture—moving the brush across that foam is a very addictive feeling. I prefer painting on boards more than anything else. I think of the board as sculpture, a three-dimensional object that’s going to be used to ride waves and so that makes them so much cooler than just an ordinary painting sitting on a wall.”
On going back to school to study environmental science: “The one downfall about living here is that there are a lot of creative people here, and there’s a lot of creative energy, but there aren’t a lot of patrons to support that, and so there’s not a lot of economic flow. For the last 15 years, I was finding it difficult to find work doing creative stuff. Also, living where we live, I’ve become so connected to nature, and I realized that it is something I really craved as a kid growing up in the concrete of Queens in New York. So living here now in Uki, a natural interest in studying birds and trees and clouds and just sort of patterns of nature around me really developed and took over. I thought, I want to give something back, and I want to educate myself, and use my brain because it felt like it was getting a bit flabby. And I definitely have done that because doing this degree involves a lot of math, something that does not come naturally to me, and so to do well, I’ve had to be very diligent with my study and really push myself to understand some really complex concepts. So it’s been a great challenge. I’ve got another year and a half to go and then I’ll be a certified scientist, so that’s a really exciting thought.”