From surfing champ to Netflix star: Lilliana Bowrey is riding her way to success

August 5 2023

It's very normal for Lilliana Bowrey to grab her surfboard and paddle out into the ocean early in the morning. Less normal is doing it with video cameras in tow. The 18-year-old Queensland longboard and shortboard champion never saw acting in her future. But then her mum spotted a casting call for surfers to appear in a Netflix series called Surviving Summer, and suggested she go along. Despite never having acted before, Lilliana won the role. "Never in my life did I think that I'd become an actress and be on a series," says Lilliana. But she did have some relevant life experience for the role: she's playing Poppy Tetanui, a teenager determined to become a surfing world champion. Her Polynesian character is outgoing, dedicated to her surfing and yearns to get sponsored after her best friend gets signed — all while dealing with the death of her mother. "[Playing the character] has been such a rapid change in my life but, you know, the opportunities and meeting new people have been huge," she says.

Nod from the Logies Despite her lack of experience, Lilliana was recently nominated for Most Popular New Talent at the Logies. Although she didn't take out the award — that went to singer and presenter Amy Shark — she was excited just to be a part of the night. "I was definitely surprised [to be nominated], and I didn't expect it at all," says Lilliana. "Last year, one of the directors of Surviving Summer actually got a Logie award for one of the scenes that she directed of me. "I knew I wanted to be there [one day], and this year I [was]. And I'm so grateful."

'What are people going to think of me?' That being said, the first time Lilliana appeared on screen she couldn't bear to watch herself. Being in front of the camera was starkly different compared to her world of wetsuits and sand. "It's super confronting when you're [not used to it]," she says. "Since it was my first time, I was nervous to see how I was and what I was and wondered 'What are people going to think of me?' "But I worked so hard, and I'm really proud of myself and everyone else. "I believe if you can put your mind to it, you can definitely do it." Getting used to 'celebrity status' Lilliana still calls Noosa home and, despite being away filming for long stretches of the year, she's frequently stopped by locals who have seen her on the small screen. She is fairly used to being recognised for her surfing, but now she's being recognised as Poppy. "It happens quite often that I get new friends coming up to me and say, 'Hey I love this show', and it's really just mind-blowing because I didn't expect anyone to know me," Lilliana says. "I love meeting new people, but I never expected people to recognise me through acting."

Keeping surfing and acting side by side Lilliana is still surfing and competing, more consistently than she is acting. But the acting bug has definitely taken hold — she now has an agent and plans to audition for different series in the future. "Never did I expect to have an agent, but I just wanted to get more opportunities," Lilliana says. "Being a surfer and then getting dressed up and getting your makeup done — its fun being in a different industry. "It's also mind-blowing and it's a great experience, and being around such amazing talent people is great."