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Talking Story with Madeline O'Donoghue

I remember the excitement of seeing Madeline's work for the first time a couple of years ago and then had the pleasure of working with her at our Sea Bones store in Byron last summer. Blending a fine arts degree & illustration with words & poetry, Maddy's building a strong portfolio of work inspired by the coastal surf towns of Venice Beach, Byron Bay and now back in the homeland, New Zealand. We love Maddy's fresh take on the pockets of women's surf culture she observes around her and are stoked to have developed our newest Hibiscus print range with her.
In her words....


Obviously we love your work and art practice Maddy but has surfing and vintage-vibes always informed your work? Thank you! When I first began drawing again (I had a good chunk of time not doing much creative stuff after completing my Fine Arts Degree - a whole story for another time!) I was living in Los Angeles, in Venice Beach and had just begun learning to surf and visiting infamous spots such as San’O and Malibu. So, I think the surfing and surrounding vibes just really took hold and organically came out in my work.

I also grew up in New Zealand with parents who grew up in the golden beach era, one hailing from the East Coast (Gisborne) and the other from the West Coast (Taranaki) so I always had vintage-y photos around the house of beaches, 70’s dresses and old cars. My dad was a surf lifesaver back in the day, too, so he got me out body-surfing from a young age with a deep appreciation of waves. 

I think generally, my work is about appreciating nature, being at one with yourself and finding joy in the journey or process rather than focusing on a static end-point.

Where are you from and what's the female surf community like? I originally grew up in Wellington, New Zealand, however I’ve moved around a ton. I’ve lived in Auckland, Melbourne, London, New York, LA and Byron Bay. Now I am back in New Zealand, it’s been a bit of a process to decide where to “settle down” so I can’t yet comment on the female surf community here! But I hope to find some other women to get out in the water with as it’s very empowering to have a good friend or friends to surf with.    

Of all the places I have lived, Byron Bay was truly the mecca for this. The female surf community and female support system was like nothing I could have ever imagined to be possible. There is an undercurrent that runs through the entire place which just enables women to be fearless as well as vulnerable with each other and therefore shift the status quo. 

The Pass often had more women out in the line-up than men and with this came less judgement, more sharing, a softness and just generally a pretty special vibe.

You spent some time living and surfing in the States. Whereabouts were you and what was your time like there? Yes! As above, I was based in Venice Beach so I was in a pretty good spot. I was also in the rare position of not working so I had the time to surf in the mornings (mostly messing around in the Venice Break Water and trying to stay out of the way of “proper surfers”) or hike in Topanga Canyon before having a coffee and spending the afternoon drawing. 

California is a place that will forever be with me, it made its mark. I just had so many good times there and there’s so many highlights. I did so much travel by car, almost every weekend my partner at the time and I would jump in the car and go everywhere and anywhere; Malibu, Leo Carrillio, Hermosa, San Clemente, up to Portland, San Fran, down to San Diego, into the mountains, Ojai, Big Bear, Palm Springs, Yosemite - basically anywhere we could visit we’d go. 

One specific highlight was a self-created “surf camp” in Ventura which I inflicted on my partner at the time. I had read Mondos was a good beginners surf spot up the coast, so I booked us a campsite near the break and then enforced morning, lunch and evening surf sessions in a bid to improve. Sadly I didn’t actually make the progress I thought I would in just a few days, but the memory of sleeping in a tiny tent with our dog, eating sandwiches by the fire and trying to learn to skateboard around the campground will forever be with me. 


How did your US-environment feed your creative work/art practice? It fed my creative side in so many ways. It shifted my perspective on how to live life and what was important to me in a very profound way. It was the place I felt most myself and the place where I began to explore all of the things which are now so important to me.



The same could be said about Byron where we met in person! Was there anything or anyone in Byron Shire that resonated with you during your time living there? Yes, meeting in person after I had admired both Salt Gypsy and Sea Bones from afar was just so great! So, of course getting to meet a badass Kiwi woman in Byron was very inspiring!

Byron is a very special place. As mentioned it has a very strong undercurrent of empowered women running through it’s bones. I felt this really strongly in every area of life; work, home-life, in the surf. It’s where I cultivated relationships with strong, soft women and where my work started to celebrate women. I think with this liberation of women it can also be seen in the men in the shire too! In a good way!!!

Not only this, it’s a place which offers an alternative way of life. The shire is full of creativity, it’s people actively celebrate and protect the environment and it’s a different pace of life. Although everyone works hard (not uncommon for someone to have many side hustles) the lifestyle is small and sunny with a clear return to the simplicity of life. 

So, yes that lifestyle resonated strongly with me.

Favourite surf spot or destination: The Pass and I would love to go back to California and attempt to surf Malibu again haha. 


Words you live by: Funny, when I was learning to surf I kept getting up on my knees and was super frustrated so was trying to break this habit thrashing around in the white water and “Trust your Feet," just came to me. Every time I’d paddle into a wave I’d repeat it to myself “Trust your Feet" and suddenly could get straight to my feet with no knee action. When my flatmate in Byron was learning to surf I passed on this little bit of wisdom and she said it also helped her too.

So, eventually it just became a mantra for life. I tend to trust the path I’m on, let it unfold and just follow along with less worry. It’s sort of saying -  just keep moving regardless of what your head or heart might be doing at any one time, trust your feet, go with it. 



Normally we ask what are your Top 10 essential (surf) travel items but with borders closed - what would be your Top 10 tips for living through ISO: 

Woah! This is a good one.

  1. Cry if you want to cry, sleep if you want to sleep.

  2. Don’t start 4 books at the same time, it gets complicated.

  3. Put your phone away (sometimes).

  4. 10 pop-ups a day.

  5. Talk with people. Laugh with people.

  6. Make your own version of “The Rails” at home and dance with a beer or whiskey in hand. It’s ok to have fun. 

  7.  Enjoy the process of doing something with little focus on “achieving” something.

  8. Remember this time is unique, it isn’t forever.

  9. If you hate baking, don’t bake. 

  10. “Trust your Feet”. 


On this note as well, I want to say don’t put pressure on yourself. During lock-down here in New Zealand I was unable to draw a single thing (who knows why!) but instead of forcing it, I had to surrender. I had a few people reach out for some small drawings or design work and I had to be honest and turn down the work. I’d rather turn it down than be non-genuine. 

In drawings place, I collaborated with a friend of mine on some songs which were very free flowing, so I always think it’s best to follow what’s coming easy. Let what wants to come out, come out. Figure out what thing feels good, the thing that all the other things are getting in the way of, and do that. 


Shoutout to any brands or peeps you love that we need to know about:

Salt Gypsy’s togs* actually last and you can surf in them! 

Support artists & musicians if you can!

Shop local! Get to know what and who’s around you! Buy stuff that lasts!


Check out more of Madeline's work  here and here


*Togs = Kiwi word for swimwear :)