Local surfers Jackson Baker and Philippa Anderson can't wait to run down the beach in front of a home crowd in just a few days. The pair will be competing as wildcards for the second Championship Tour event of the 2021 season, and the first of the Australian leg of the tour.
"Yeah I'm pretty excited, it's slowly started to sink in," says Baker. "As the guys have kind of got here it's sunk in a little more. Surfing with Gabby and Italo and guys like that and going, ‘Oh I'm actually going to have to surf against them in a week or so,' is a pretty cool feeling."
After an impressive victory at the Port Stephens Pro presented by Mad Mex, the second event of the 2021 Australian/Oceania Regional Qualifying Series, Baker is hoping to take that momentum into his first appearance at a Championship Tour event -- the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona -- and it will be a special moment for the 24-year-old.
"My mum passed away about five years ago now so I know I'll have that good juju at home with her looking over me surfing. That will probably be the best feeling. This is something I've put the time in and worked towards for a long, long time and unfortunately, she's not here to witness that but I know she's there looking over that's for sure."
The depth of talent that has come out of Newcastle can be traced back to the great Mark Richards, Luke Egan, Matt Hoy, and Nick Wood. Along with women's CT wildcard Philippa Anderson, Baker will be joined by Merewether club mates Morgan Ciblic and Ryan Callinan with all of them looking to add their names to the list of Novocastrians that have made their mark on the world stage.
On the women's side of the draw, Anderson will be competing in her third Championship Tour event as a wildcard. Anderson has already noticed the town getting behind the first event of the Australian leg as the world's best men and women took advantage of some classic Autumn conditions this week and put on a show for the locals.
"Yeah I mean Newcastle is such a core surf town," says the 29-year-old who moved to Newcastle with her family from South Africa when she was 12. "I haven't met anyone that doesn't like it when Surfest comes to town and now to have the best of the best, the highest-ranked surfers come to Newcastle, the last few days I feel like kids haven't been going to school. They've just been on the beach surfing or watching. The vibe is just so sick."
After coming agonisingly close to qualifying for the Championship Tour several times, Anderson is just as determined as she's ever been to leap onto the CT and welcomes the opportunity to once again compete at the highest level and prove she deserves to be counted.
"Yeah definitely, I'm very competitive and I've obviously set a goal for the last 10 years. I'm very determined to qualify and I think I have a few more years in me and this event will be a good experience. I'm hoping to put on a good show up against these girls and hopefully, I can make a dent in the draw. That will give me confidence that I deserve to be there."
Anderson recently launched her own surf school business and hopes to inspire the younger generation to follow their surfing dreams. She's confident Newcastle will continue to produce more world-class athletes in the years to come and follow in the footsteps of champions before her.
"You know the opportunity to have the world's best right on our doorstep I don't think a lot of sports or athletes get to experience that. My neighbour said that their kid got a photo with Italo yesterday and was saying it was just the best day ever."
"I think the younger generation here is so strong and definitely heading towards producing another world tour surfer with all the young groms. So this will just fire them up. I think this will inspire another generation and it's so important. The kids are losing their minds."