Jackson Baker is in good spirits when he answers the phone. The Australian has just arrived in Hawaii for the final event of the Challenger Series at Haleiwa.
He has a quiver of Channel Islands surfboards arriving any day and after a whirlwind, three months on the road competing is keen to dig his feet in the wax and do a few laps on the Seven Mile Miracle.
Ranked 13th on the Challenger Series the 24-year-old is one result away from achieving his childhood dream of qualifying for the Championship Tour. If successful he'll join the ranks of the legends from the surf-mad city of Newcastle that include current CT slayers Morgan Cibilic and Ryan Callinan.
The four-stop Challenger Series means every event counts. After a first-round loss at the US Open, Baker bounced back with a runner-up finish at the MEO Vissla Pro Ericeira. The result cemented his reputation as one the best up-and-coming surfers to come out of Australia in recent years and rocketed him up the rankings.
However, a poor result in France nuked his confidence momentarily he says. "I think France was probably the biggest learning curve but yeah, I mean, it is what it is you go from a high to a low and it's about how you bounce back from that."
As a first alternate Wildcard for the Haleiwa event in 2019 Baker got a chance to study the wave intimately noting its many moods and similarities to his Merewether home break. Though he's pragmatic when probed on what it takes to do well out there and bank a result.
"At the end of the day, you just got to stay on your feet and put it in the critical spots and just keep things simple. I used to think everything was rocket science, but it's pretty simple."
There's been a resurgence of patriotism and camaraderie amongst the Australian surfers throughout the Challenger Series. All are traveling together in small groups, and Baker admits that there's an unspoken code that no matter what the result of an individual performance it's on each Australian competitor to cheer on their countrymen and women who are still in the draw.
"There's ten of us here or with a chance to qualify so let's just get around each other. Were away from our families, our girlfriends, and everyone for three months so let's get around each other and just shows what we're about."
Now the country's current crop of competitors has made their back to the top of the rankings. Baker along with Conner O'Leary, Liam O'Brien, Callum Robson, and Jordy Lawler are all within striking distance of qualifying for the CT signalling an Aussie storm is brewing on the horizon.
For Baker, qualifying has the added incentive of keeping his pro surfing dream alive after a reality check of finding himself working 9-5 to make ends meet when COVID first thrust the world into a tailspin in 2020 and all competition was put on hold.
"A lot of us had to go get jobs. I mean, it was a tricky time, even with sponsors, companies were struggling themselves. I realised I've got a full-time job and I definitely don't want to go back to that. So that's spurring the fire on as well -- to not go back to that nine to five, 10 hours a day work that's for sure."
But it's also the tragedy of losing his Mum to breast cancer a few years back that is also never far from his mind. Her memory and the support of the Merewether community are a source of motivation for him to keep pushing and never give up on his CT dreams.
"I lost my Mum to breast cancer a fair few years ago and it's something I want to do for her. I think when I first was competing after she passed away, I was kind of doing it for her and it wasn't the right way to do it. I've learned over the years it's for myself in memory of her."
"To do her proud and the local community, Merewether surfboard club, my Dad, girlfriend and just everyone who has supported me to get me here -- to repay everyone the favour and qualify would be a dream come true."