Big Wave Surfer Michaela Fregonese and Film Maker Marcelo Amaral
A Surf couple defying gender roles
She is a mother, a wife, a stunning beauty and a big wave surfer; Michaela Fregonese brings the fierce to the feminine. Two years ago, at 36 years old Michaela decided she wanted to surf big waves. And now she is one of the top female big-wave competitors in the world.
Her boyfriend told her not to surf
Born and raised in Cureitiva, Brazil, Michaela Fregonese lived a one hour drive to the nearest beach. At fifteen years old she would leave her family behind on the weekends to go stay with her friends at the beach. Her surfer boyfriend told her she should stick to bodyboarding, surfing wasn’t for girls. She said no, she wanted to learn to surf with a board. So she took his board when he wasn’t looking.
Michaela Fregonese lied to her parents in order to get more wave time
At 17, it was time for Michaela to apply to colleges. She told her parents she applied to the local college as well as a college in the island town of Florianopolis, Brazil. But she lied. She had only applied to Florianopolis and was elated to spend the next three years near the ocean. As a dual citizen of Brazil and Italy, Michaela began representing Italy in surf competitions. But she admits the contest life wasn’t for her, neither was the cold water in Europe. She moved back to Brazil where she fell in love with surfing barrels and tow surfing.
Cutting her teeth at Pipe
For the next several years, Michaela spent time in Peru learning to tow surf as well as drive the ski, towing other surfers. Soon she could see that the course of her life was to be a surfer. As many aspiring pro surfers do, Michaela set her sights on the North Shore of Oahu. A combination of luck and intelligence landed her a three-bedroom house in front of Pipeline where Jamie O’Brien’s house now sits. She rented out the other two rooms and was able to cover her entire rent plus food this way. For the next five years, she spent summers in Indonesia and winters at Pipeline. Michaela surfed Pipe circa 2000. Living right out front she could keep an eye on the wind and the crowd and find gaps where she could get waves to herself. She was living a barrel junkie’s dream.
Only six months after the birth of her son she was back to barrel riding
After five years between Oahu and Indo, Michaela fell in love with her son’s father and moved back to Rio. She stayed out of the water only the last three months of her pregnancy and the following six months after giving birth. When her son was six months old she felt as strong as ever. The relationship didn’t last but when her son was just two she met Marcelo Amaral, her now partner of eight years. Marcelo himself was a very talented surfer. The two of them took another trip to Bali together. But fate had other plans for Marcelo, when an accident left him with a devastating shoulder injury. He would never be able to paddle a surfboard for a sustained amount of time again.
When injury makes you rethink everything
Marcelo suffered a deep depression for months afterward. Surfing was his life. He and Michaela were a surf couple. And just like that it was all torn away from him. But he couldn’t stay away from the ocean. One day he stumbled across some drone images and was mesmerized. He bought himself a drone, took lessons and began sending his work to the WSL. Before long he was doing contract work for the WSL covering Brazilian competitions.
“You have to always see the good things. I have a job now because I separated my shoulder. If I hadn’t been injured I wouldn’t have this career that I love.”
Reality TV star, he films, she surfs
In 2017 Michaela came to Puerto Escondido, Mexico for the first time and fell in love with big wave surfing. Up until two years ago her focus had been heavy barrels and tow surfing but never big waves. In Brazil, the only way to get sponsorship for athletes is to be on TV. Marcelo and Michaela began working together on a reality TV show. She did the surfing he did the filming. The Brazilian Network Canal Off loved the idea and a contract was signed.
Last winter the first episode was filmed when the couple went to Nazaré, Portugal. Michaela towed into a few bombs where she received a performance of the year nomination for the WSL big wave awards. Unfortunately, conditions didn’t align for her to be able to paddle surf. Marcelo admits, it was the first time he was really scared. “Up until that point I hadn’t minded being onshore flying drones, but I knew she could die that day.”
Michaela Fregonese surfs her first competition just two years after getting big wave fever
I met up with Michaela and Marcelo for this interview the day after the Puerto Escondido Cup 2019. Michaela was reclining in her hotel room bed with a massive bandage wrapped around her abdomen. Four layers of stitches were used to close up a six-inch laceration through her abdominal wall. The accident occurred about 15 minutes into her heat the day before when she collided with another competitor’s board. The fin sliced through her psoas.
“I’m surprised at how well she is taking it.” Commented Marcelo.
“Really?” I asked. “You thought the pain would be too much for her?”
“Oh no, not from the pain,” he explained, “Because she didn’t get time to surf any big waves!”
“If I’m not surfing big waves, I feel so sad, so bored.” Michaela Fregonese told me while propping herself up. She said she was glad in a way the injury happened. She had been focusing so hard on competitive big wave surfing, spending two hours a day in the gym plus multiple hours in the ocean. It was her dream, her passion. But this injury made her realize she didn’t like the pressure involved in a competitive format. She said her nerves made her pull the trigger to go on a wave she would have never taken in a free surf.
“I don’t want to quit surfing big waves. If they invite me to a contest, I will go. But competing is not my dream anymore. I’m a different person. I am a free surfer. I’m a dreamer. What is a contest going to get me? There aren’t sponsors for big wave female surfers.” A fact that is crazy to think about considering she won Brazil’s big wave Champion award this year, and multiple entries for the Hydro flask Women’s performance award, for the WSL’s big wave awards.
Just the beginning
Luckily the doctors say Michaela can return to surfing in 45 days. She’s looking forward to filming more episodes for her TV show, paddle surfing Nararé and lots more time riding giants. We are all secretly hoping to see lots more of her in upcoming big wave competitions!
Follow Michaela on Instagram @michaelafregonese