Siren of the surf: Imogen CaldwellImogen Caldwell – model, big-wave surfer and pilot-in-the-making – shows us the little piece of paradise she calls home
There’s only one road into Red Bluff: a dusty, bumpy stretch of gravel that’s only recommended for 4x4s and those with a strong constitution. The Bluff, as it’s commonly known, is a 12-hour drive north of Perth, Western Australia, about 130km from the nearest city and a short stroll from the holiday camp managed by Imogen Caldwell’s parents.
Just two families lived at The Bluff when Caldwell was growing up. Between the two families there were 13 children who made the most of their natural playground.
“Mum would send us outside in the morning and tell us to be home by sunset,” says Caldwell. “We’d spend our days fishing, diving and surfing. There were eight girls and we all surfed. People would rock up to surf The Bluff and see this line-up of young girls. It must have looked pretty odd, but we more than held our own.”
Three years ago, Nathan Webster, a former Aussie pro surfer and the head honcho for apparel brand RVCA in Australia, rolled into The Bluff on a road trip. “We drove into the desert and I saw this little mirage sitting, perched on a rock,” says Webster of his first impressions of Caldwell. “Then I saw her surf and some pictures and I knew it was a big story, such an incredible girl.”
Since then, Caldwell has travelled the world as a brand ambassador/model for RVCA, but this year she’s determined to prove her surfing credentials by chasing some of the heaviest slabs of water in the world.
THE RED BULLETIN: Would you describe yourself as a surfer first and a model second or the other way around?
IMOGEN CALDWELL: Definitely a surfer first. If you met me you would not think I was a model. I am as far from a model as you can imagine. People who know me and know how active I am can’t believe that I’m able to sit still long enough to get my make-up done.
The modelling business must be a stark contrast to the world you grew up in. How have you managed to cope with life in the fast lane?
I struggle sometimes. I don’t like to be surrounded by lots of people. I’m much more at home in the great outdoors than in a big city. If I’m outside, I’m happy.
When did you first realise that your childhood was very different to the kind of upbringing most people experience?
I always knew it was unique. We hung out with kids who came to The Bluff on school holidays and they would tell us how odd our life was.
We were home-schooled, but if the waves were pumping or the fishing was good, then school wasn’t a priority.
The Bluff isn’t the easiest place in the world to learn to surf…
The waves can get very big during the winter when the swells come in, so I got comfortable in big waves from a young age. My dad got me on a board when I was 10 or 11. There was nothing else to do so I learned quickly. It was the only option. I either got good or I would have been ridiculously bored. I pretty much spent all day, every day, on the water.
Sharks and whales regularly keep surfers company at The Bluff. Have you had any close encounters?
I saw a shark yesterday when I was surfing, but that’s not uncommon in Western Australia. I’ve lost a lot of skin to the reef, broken a lot of boards and nearly drowned countless times, but I’ve gotten away pretty lightly really, considering all the crazy things I get up to.
What training do you do for big-wave surfing?
I try to surf every day and I also do a lot of diving, which is great for breath training. I’ve been getting into motocross lately and that keeps me fit. I’ve never been a gym junkie or done any pilates or yoga. Salute to the Sun, that’s something people who practise yoga do, right? That’s the only move I know.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I have a bit on. I’m studying for my recreational pilot’s licence. I’m also designing a small clothing collection that will hopefully be launched later this year. That’s something I’ve been into since I was little, so it’s good to finally get it done.
Finally? You’re only 20…
I know, but I enjoy being busy. My big project this year is with my fiancé, Cortney Brown, and his brother, Kerby. We’re surfing some of the heaviest slab waves in Western Australia and I’m looking forward to heaps of adventures along the way. Hopefully I don’t die doing that. I’m excited, but terrified at the same time.