Tracks recently spoke to Jackson Baker, Callum Robson and Liam O’Brien, the three Australian rookies set to take on the CT when the Billabong Pipe Masters kicks off on Jan 29. First Rookie off the rank is Jackson Baker.
If, like Jackson Baker, you are a surfer from Newcastle who has just made the CT, then acknowledgement of your achievement may come from high quarters. “There’s been a little shorey out the front of MR’s (Mark Richards) House and I actually ran into him the other day,” explains Jacko, as he’s commonly known. “We had a little chat and he said congratulations and that he was super proud of me. He said that when I lost (at Haleiwa) he thought I was kinda done. And then when finals day came around he looked at the results and he realised I was on. He called my old boy straightaway… I think we’re going to catch up before I go and have a good chat and hopefully I’ll pick his brain but just to have someone like that in your corner is incredible. ”
When Jacko made a crucial mistake on wave selection and lost in the round of 64 at Haleiwa he thought he’d blown his chance to secure the CT spot he’d spent years striving to obtain. “I just felt so empty I felt defeated because at that point it was so close and it was pretty much that one more heat and I was on.”
With dozens of scenarios at play Jacko was forced to spend the next couple of days in a miserable limbo while he waited around for other CT hopefuls to get knocked out. “I just felt like I’d let let the dream slip through my fingers. I thought at that point it was over,” reflects Jacko. However, as the event progressed the equation became more optimistic, for the affable Novocastrian natural footer. “But then every day it kind of got better and better. And people just started dropping off like flies. And I just thought holy hell I’ve never seen this before. And then yeah, I think my mum was definitely looking over me and definitely helping me out somehow that was a weird feeling. Things kind of just kept going my way.”
Jacko lost his Mum after she fought a long battle with breast cancer a couple of years ago. To honour her memory and the impact she had on his life, Jacko will wear the number 61 on his jersey when he competes on the CT. “Mum was born in ’61 and funnily enough it’s how old she would have been this year,” explains Jacko, enjoying the sentimental symmetry of his chosen digits.
In the interview below Jacko discusses a range of topics, including his extensive preparation, what it means to be a CT surfer from Newcastle and his hopes for 2022.
How is the preparation looking? What does a day of preparation for the CT look like for Jackson Baker at the moment?
I’ve kind of kept it pretty similar to preparation for any given QS; trying not to change anything too much. Although I have changed a little bit more with my training and stuff. I’m trying to get a fair bit stronger coming into Pipe and Sunset. I’ve always been a bigger guy. But it’s always good to have that extra strength to match the guys out there and show in those first two events that I deserve to be there… I’m up at 5:30 every morning and I try and have a goal when I go surfing… Always having an intention and like a meaning for the surf, not just going out for the sake of it. Because I mean every surf I have – even though it’s not Pipe or Sunset, it’s still preparation in the water and staying loose in the water.
When you say training does that involve dead-lifts or squats or heavy weights?
Me and Ryan (Callinan) both work with Adam Trypas. I’ve been training with him for a long time. We do squats for leg strength and a lot of upper body stuff as well. I won’t give away too many secrets. People would probably like to know. Ha. A lot of speed stuff too just to keep that speed out of my turns. I really want to get a whole lot fitter as well. It’s hard when you’re on the QS. Like you’re battling a bit more with funds and eating healthy. But I’ve got the chance to really look after my body. Like I mean, it’s the start of something that I could make a proper career out of. And it’s exciting that I’ve achieved the goal and only a minority get to say they’ve qualified for the CT. I don’t want to be that one year guy, I want to be there for a long time. There’ll be a lot of learning this year with my training and my eating and vitamins and stuff like that. So I’m going to try a couple new things to really make sure that I’m on top of my health and really taking advantage of the opportunity that I’ve made for myself.
Will you head to Hawaii Early to prepare?
I’ll be there three weeks before. My birthday’s on the 10th, so I’m heading over just after that. I think we’re on the road straight off the bat for like two and a half months. I kind of want to be prepared for that and enjoy the time a home; see the people that have helped me achieve this goal and let them know that they’re part of the journey as well. Even though it’s an individual sport, a lot of people, sponsors and community contributed to this so it’s been cool to catch up, even though COVID’s thrown a bit of a spanner in the works.
You’ll have to paddle out there and muscle up against the pack. That’s almost a contest in and of itself.
I mean, for a couple of days, I’ll probably be a bit of a groupie I reckon but then I’m really going to knuckle down and go these guys aren’t here to be nice to me. Like, I’ve got to show them that I deserve to be here and I’m gonna take them down when I get the chance.
…You can’t have too many expectations around your freesurfs and your training – probably just getting out there and watching John and watching Jamie – O, and seeing where they are in the lineup, where they’re taking off from. I mean, you can’t expect to go out every free surf and think I’m going to get bombs every surf. I’ll just do my groundwork and find some lineup spots. I’ll be doing some stuff with Kekoa Bacalso over there. So I’ve got a great guy in my corner. Even on the QS as soon as you to invest too much in your freesurfs you come in angry and you haven’t done what you expected. You’re just defeating yourself before you’ve even surfed a heat. I want to enjoy the whole process of it.
How do you feel about having Pipe as the first contest? It’s a baptism of fire isn’t it?
Oh, it’s not something I’ve dreamt of. I’ve dreamt of paddling out at Snapper. Ha.
… just to be able to paddle out in a WSL rashie – like Newcastle was such a cool feeling in front of everyone at home (Jacko had a wildcard into last year’s Rip Curl, Newcastle event). But to actually have my own number on the back, that means a lot to me. I’ll have my mum looking over me. I’ll have my girlfriend there and my dad there and my sister – a lot of family watching. I mean, of course, there’s going to be nerves. Pipe’s as gnarly as it gets. And, of course, I’m really going to be shitting myself, but I mean, you know that you’ve done the work and, know that you’ve proved that you deserve to be there… It’s about giving the big boys a run for their money, and yeah, going straight over on a couple and hopefully get a couple big pits… I think that’s when it will really set in for me or like really sink in, that feeling that I have qualified and achieved the goal that I’ve always wanted to achieve.
What are your thoughts about the re-introduction of the half-year cut-off after the Margaret River event?
I mean, I try not to think about the cut off. I don’t have that as an emphasis. I want to be there for the whole year. I want to plan for the whole year. And yeah, if I have to come out at Margies and have to think about getting a result there or if I’m in a good spot, I’ll be ready regardless.
Last year indicated that having an aerial repertoire can be really crucial, particularly if you want to reach those upper echelons on the CT? Is that something you’d worked on?
Yeah, I mean I definitely did work on my airs. I feel like I’ve got that in me. I don’t put too much emphasis on it because I mean when you’re trying to go bigger and higher that’s when injuries do come about, so yeah, I just kind of find times where I feel comfortable to do it. I feel especially for those first couple of events there’s not really too many a waves. Just to concentrate on pulling-in at Pipe and Sunset, big turns. The first five events I feel kinda falls into my main repertoire, but if I have to pull out airs in Peniche I definitely will, but I haven’t been doing any extra work, so to say, on that side.
Newcastle’s a proud surfing town. It’s great to have that support, but does it add pressure as well?
Yeah, I mean, I think there is always going to be pressure. I mean, I think pressure is a good thing. I find pressure in these scenarios, especially with surfing, means that you’re achieving or you’re needing to achieve so it’s like it’s putting you in good areas of where you need to be. If you take pressure the wrong way then you shouldn’t be doing it. You’ve got to know how to thrive under pressure and use that … And everyone’s helping out, it’s really cool. Like Ryan and I are both on tour together and we’re competitors but he’s been really helpful, giving me tips about how to get ready for stuff. That’s been really cool and then I’ve been on the phone to Morgs (Morga Cibilic) and stuff. It is an individual sport but the boys do get around each other and we do have such a good community that everyone’s there to help… even when it’ was coming down to those final days when it’s pretty stressful times. At the back of that Haleiwa event, I still had a lot of doubt and obviously didn’t want to get my hopes up. But yeah, Morgan, Ryan and the boys were on the phone to me saying, ‘It’s looking really, really good. We’ve never seen this many people lose before’… Yeah, it’s been really cool to have that support and we’ve always been like that. I mean, I’m a huge believer in supporting your mates and like you can support them well and then that comes around and helps you as well. That’s kind of what the Aussies have done this year as well on that Challenger Series which was really, really cool.
You mention your mum quite a lot like and obviously when she passed away that was, you know, a big event in your life. But it seems like you’ve found a way to use that as a motivating factor almost?
Yeah, I think I struggled with it for a long time, especially those first few years on the QS. I would bottle my emotion up and think that I could use that emotion in heats and that it would help and it just wouldn’t and when things wouldn’t go your way then all that emotion would come out after a loss and it just wasn’t a nice feeling… I just felt I was just pushing myself down. And it wasn’t until I really figured out why I was doing it. And who I’m actually doing it for. I’m doing it for me, but in memory of my mum, like I think for a long time there, I really think I thought I was doing it for her. But I just don’t think you can do sport or professional sport for someone else. It’s got to be for you. And you’ve got to want it. So yeah, she’s been a huge, huge inspiration for me. She battled breast cancer for years on end. To just even give us the life that we had with her, I’m super lucky just to have had that. I think I’ve got a bit of her fire in me. I feel like she’s with me all the time. That’s a really cool feeling. And my WSL number is
’61 the year she was born. And funnily enough, she actually would have turned 61 the year I qualified. Things are meant to be and it makes me nearly tear up talking about it. Things are falling into place and I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason. And yeah, I mean, there’s been those hard years for a reason to make me work harder and, and really appreciate what I achieved and the dream of qualifying.
Have you worked hard to get your quiver dialled in for the next couple of months?
It was kind of the first thing I did when I got home and we had that three-day isolation period. I spent a lot of time on the computer and on the phone to Brent Power from Channel Islands and talking with Britt Merrick and Hayden Lewis. Hayden Lewis is doing my Oz boards through Channel Islands Australia and I have Britt doing my Hawaii boys and a couple other boards. I’ve got a lot of trust in them. I’ve been with Channel Islands since I was 11 so I’m on my 14th year. I’ve got full faith in the whole company and they’ve stuck by me through some tough times and to still be with them now and to have qualified under such a prestigious and well-known company is a pretty cool feeling.
Are you excited about the prospect of potential to get into G land?
I’m very, very excited. It’s actually pretty cool. Me and my old boy, that was our father/son trip from when I was about 12 or 13 onwards. The last time I went I was bout 17, so I’ve actually been to G-Land a bunch. I actually joked with Dad, did you weirdly know about this back then that I’d qualify and G-Land would be on the tour. We’d always go there and he’d make me train. I’ve put in a lot of work over there. I haven’t been there for a while now, but I know the place pretty well. It’d be cool to go back and see the guys at Bobby’s Surf Camp. From being a little ginger, redhead kid that’s come back and is now on the CT. That’d be pretty cool.