Jackson Baker admits getting caught up in the raw emotion of competing at home during difficult times over the past two years.
Now the 21-year-old hopes a new approach to surfing at Merewether, and an already successful formula for 2018, will change his fortunes at the Burton Automotive Pro 6000-point qualifying series contest, starting Monday.
Surfing to honour his mum, Tracy, who died in August 2016, Baker won his first-ever heat at the contest last year but bowed out in his next. At Surfest 2016, Merewether Surfboard Club were in mourning after the passing of life member Garry Callinan, the father of professional surfer Ryan Callinan.
“With everything that has happened personally and in the Merewether community, a lot of us, especially myself, are pretty emotional about surfing at our local break and doing those people proud, especially my Mum,” Baker said. “And I got caught up in that the past couple of years, getting too emotional with it.
“Now I can find a balance of, I want to do her proud and that’s all I can do. It’s not the be all and end all. She would be happy with me no matter what. It’s just live life and make her happy and proud.
“I want to just go into Surfest and have that home-town feeling but not use it as having pressure. It’s just a bonus having an event at home.”
Baker, 2016 championship tour surfer Callinan and 2009 women’s champion Philippa Anderson will again carry local hopes in Surfest’s main events. Wildcard Madison Poole, 17, will start in the women’s round of 48 against world No.1 Tyler Wright.
Anderson and Michelle Donoghue are the only Newcastle surfers to claim the top events. Callinan has challenged, making the quarter-finals in 2016 and round of 16 in 2017. He will start in the round of 96 next week as a wildcard after a limited 2017 QS campaign.
Baker, though, will start in the round of 144 as the Hunter’s in-form hope after wins at the 1000-point Tweed Coast and Great Lakes pros this month. He believed the victories had eased the pressure heading into Surfest.
“My aim is to get a good result, but it’s just more about keeping the ball rolling from those two wins and keep the confidence going,” he said. “It’s the first year I've come into these events with results and the pressure is kind of off almost because I’ve already had two good results.”
He said sacrifices, like a carb-free diet and cutback on beers, this year had already made a difference.
“Usually things like that don’t pay off so quick but two wins, straight off the bat, I feel like I’m surfing better than I ever had. Things are looking up.”
Clubmate Anderson, the No.18 women’s seed, trains with Baker at Trypas Athletic.
“We all work so hard so it’s really cool to see when it pays off,” she said. “I’m super stoked for him and hopefully he can carry that into Surfest and Ryan can do well.
“I’ve only had two events so far, a ninth and a third and personally I’m not very happy with it, but the boards are feeling good, so hopefully I can get a good result here.”
Baker hoped conditions at Merewether would give locals an edge this year.
“We’ve never had waves, that I know of, that have been an advantage at Merewether for us,” Baker said.
“It’s got to come sooner or later. If it’s good Merewether, then you’ll see me, Ryan and Philippa have that little home advantage of knowing where to sit and position ourselves. The last couple of years it’s been down at Dixon Park, and that’s like you’re rocking up to any beach in the world almost.”
Baker meets Mitch Parkinson, Gatien Delahaye and Elijah Gates in the round of 144.
Anderson starts in a four-woman heat featuring Silvana Lima, while Callinan has Kanoa Igarashi in his first heat.
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