From bricklaying to Bells Beach: Australian surfer Jackson Baker plots return to the WSL

“It’s been one of those years,” sighs Jackson Baker. The 26-year-old Novocastrian may lay claim to being the world’s unluckiest surfer in 2023.

After a strong start to the World Surf League, including a career-best quarter-final at Bells Beach, Baker needed a reasonable result at the midway event of the season to remain on tour. In recent years, the WSL has introduced the dreaded “cut” whereby the field gets slimmed halfway through the campaign – with only 22 men and 10 women remaining.

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In overhead conditions at Margaret River, against fellow Australia Callum Robson, Baker needed to win through to the round of 16 to secure his place on tour. But he fell short by 1.5 points against Robson, and was unceremoniously cut.

Baker then spent the rest of the year toiling in the second-tier Challenger series, striving to re-qualify for the WSL. He headed to the final event of the season in Saquarema, Brazil, on the edge of qualification. He needed to win through to the quarter-finals to secure a spot back on tour, but fell to Hawaii’s Shion Crawford by 1.3 points. “Losing “f$cken sucks,” Baker summed up on Instagram afterwards.

“By one spot and one heat,” Baker says, a few weeks on from the loss. “It definitely hurts, it sucks. I think if I was a bit younger I would have taken it a different way, but being a bit older, more mature, I’m just trying to take it in the most positive way that I can.

“I definitely feel the luck hasn’t swung my way,” Baker adds. “Now I need to create my own luck and not leave it to chance.”

Baker was born and bred in Merewether, Newcastle. He is part of a crop of Newcastle surfers to grace the WSL in recent years, with Ryan Callinan, who finished second at Bells this year, and Morgan Cibilic. It continues a proud surfing tradition for the region.

“We’ve got a great community here,” Baker says. “You go back to [four-time world champion] Mark Richards, Matt Hoy, Luke Egan, Nicky Wood – we just have a rich history, which is why we get such good surfers from our area, because we have such great role models. Hopefully myself and Morgan are doing the same for the younger generation now.”

After a successful junior career, Baker progressed through the qualification ranks and was on the verge of making the WSL when the pandemic hit. It was a tough time for many athletes, but particularly those on the brink of making it.

“No one was really buying surf products at the time and everything stopped, so that got tricky,” he says. Baker turned to working as a bricklayer’s labourer and a delivery driver to fund his surfing; his local surf club even crowdfunded to support Baker’s travels to qualifying events.

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The campaign was successful and Baker enjoyed a good rookie year on the WSL in 2022, surviving the cut and earning solid results in Portugal, Brazil and El Salvador. Baker also earned himself somewhat of a cult following for his blunt post-heat commentary. Along with his moustache, his no-nonsense attitude has made Baker seem like, in the words of surf magazine Tracks, “the sort of pro surfer who reminds [fans] of a mate from the pub”.

“I’m going to call a spade a spade,” Baker laughs. The surfer says he learned to embrace media opportunities as a chance to show fans his true self. “I don’t want to just be up there with my Ripcurl hat [his sponsor] and sound like a robot,” he says. “I want to show people who I am.”

So who is Jackson Baker? “I’m happy go lucky, knockaround bloke who loves go for a beer,” he offers. “I want people to know that. But I’m still a professional athlete at the same time – it’s just having that balance. And I feel like since I’ve made the tour people have related to me a whole lot more, because I’m not scared to show who I am.

“I’m not trying to just be this black-and-white professional athlete. I want to show that I do other things as well – I’m not boring. I swear I’m not boring.”


Baker’s surfing is eye-catching not only for the Australian’s big turns but also the bright pink board beneath his feet. The colour palette is a tribute to Baker’s mother, Tracy, who died of breast cancer in 2016. The tragedy has helped Baker keep the highs and lows of his surfing career in perspective. “I’m pretty lucky to be able to do what I do – I get paid to surf and live the dream,” he says. “That year losing mum put a lot of stuff in life in perspective.”

Immediately after the devastating heat loss in Brazil, Baker met a Brazilian who had founded a breast cancer charity after losing his own mother to the disease. The surfer made a split-second decision to donate his surfboard to the charity, to help raise money for breast cancer support in Brazil.

“It was like it was meant to happen, that moment,” he says. “I’d just gone through one of the hardest things in my career, not making the tour again, but that just turned around my mindset. Perspective is a big thing.”

Baker reserves the pink boards for when he is competing on the WSL. In his first year on tour, the board was fully wrapped in pastel pink, whereas this year the design featured fluorescent pink on the bottom of the board. “I guess I’ve got a year to think about the design for 2025,” he says. “Everyone asks if I’m going to bring them on the Challenger series, but I want to keep it just for the [WSL] – so it fires me up to get back.”

Tracy Baker’s legacy lives on through her son. “I wouldn’t be here without her,” Baker says. “To lose her – it really fired me up to make the tour. I do it for myself but in memory of her. To be at Bells Beach this year with my pink surfboards, on home turf, around family – that’s what I have dreamt about for a long time. And to have her number on my back – 61, the year she was born – it’s just surreal.

“It’s nice surfing in any rash shirt. But with that number on my back, that’s when I really feel at home. That’s when you’re with the best 32 – that’s where I feel like I belong.”

After an unlucky 2023, Baker is optimistic a better year ahead will have him booking a spot on the WSL again in 2025. Indeed, it is not so much as optimism as determination, an attitude of inevitably. Baker is adamant he will be reclaiming his rightful place with the best in the world. “The first two years were a bit of a learning curve,” he admits. “Once I do get back, in ‘25, I’ll be a different person and a much better athlete.”

Before the Challenger series begins in May, Baker has his eye on a wildcard spot at Bells Beach. Having achieved his best-ever result at Bells this year, with the prospect of 61 on his back and a pink board under his arm, he hopes to do even better.

“It would be good to come in as a wildcard and hopefully shake up the event,” he says. “Even win as a wildcard and say, ‘hey boys, I’ll be back next year.’”