IF there is one woman who exemplifies women's surfing in the Hunter right now it's Philippa Anderson, who will carry a region's hopes whenever she hits the water as a "wild card" entrant in the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup, which kicked off yesterday.
Anderson lives with, and draws from, that pressure, having debuted at Surfest in 2008, aged 15.
After three seasons surfing World Qualifying Series (QS) events locally, she's competed abroad every year since 2011.
As fate had it, she was surfing in the Corona Pro in China in early January last year, although the left-hander at Hainan Island in Riyue Bay was a good 1600 kilometres south of ground zero at Wuhan.
Fast forward 15 months and Anderson finished behind current world champ, Hawaiian Carissa Moore, in her three-person seeding round heat yesterday, sending American Sage Erikson into the elimination round.
Newcastle is backing her to ride her wild card deep into the event.
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Almost all of Anderson's surfing has been done on the QS.
The dramatic rise of women's surfing means there are now more than 300 women competing on "the grind", to use its colloquial title.
The World Surf League (WSL) recently broke the QS into seven geographical regions. Australia/Oceania, with 89 surfers listed right now, has the deepest talent pool, and Philippa is ranked #4.
The top surfers from each region compete in a new Challenger Series for six spots on the following year's top draw World Championship Tour (CT).
At 29, Anderson knows there is a new generation of ripping surfers nipping at her heels.
But those younger women also look up to her - a surfing star who calls them into waves, gives them her time and shares the experience she's garnered in a decade of international competition and travel.
Anderson came to Australia in 2003 at 11.
Elder brother Craig was already building a competitive reputation, she told the Newcastle Herald for this series. Craig eventually followed the free-surfing route and is a global surfing superstar, featured last week in our Top 10 Countdown.
"It was more for fun than for competition for me early on," Anderson said.
"When I got here, there were so many more girls surfing than in South Africa.
"My first contest at Maroubra when I was 14 had 100 girls in it. At home it was just like me and a few of my friends."
WSL statistics bear her out: today, just 3 of 303 women listed on the QS are from her home continent. Philippa would love to see more women surf in Africa.
It's a trickle rather than a rush but surfing has also become a symbol of female determination against male oppression.
Iran is one example, where a group of Muslim women were inspired by Irish surfer Easkey Britton, who took a board to the Gulf of Oman in 2010.
Iranian women have to wear full-length steamer wetsuits, and a hajib, but wetsuits hug the body, so Britton and her Cornwall swimwear sponsor designed a material "seasuit" to meet strict Muslim "modesty" codes.
Australian surfing has no such limitations, but the pressure remains, say many of the surfing women the Herald has spoken to, from the other direction.
Men also have to jump through hoops to satisfy sponsors, but the women believed they are judged as much on how they look, rather than how they surf.
"It's pretty clear to me that looking pretty is an advantage getting sponsors," Anderson says.
"It's complicated, and everyone has their own opinion. There's a quote from Serena Williams about power and femininity that I like."
We found it, and it's this: "I've learned to love me. I've been like this my whole life and I embrace me.
"I love how I look. I am a full woman and I'm strong, and I'm powerful, and I'm beautiful at the same time."
Plenty of women on the WSL compete in bikinis that are close to G-strings. Anderson will wear a bikini but you'll usually see her surfing in wetsuit shorts and top.
"I'm much more comfortable in a heat when I don't have to worry about my arse falling out of my swimmers," Anderson says with a laugh.
She's also conscious of her role as a surf coach, and the influence she could have on young charges.
Having coached for Rhys Smith - the Sanbah shop owner and son of "Mr Surfest", Warren Smith - Anderson opened her own Nobbys Beach business last October, employing high-profile surfers Sarah Baum and Ellie Lambkin to coach beside her.
"I think the young girls can relate more to having women teaching them," Anderson says. Newcastle's highest-profile woman surfer has plenty to teach them.
"You do miss home being on the road, but I never thought as a 12-year-old I would have been able to surf my way around the world. It's been fantastic."
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