WITH a new haircut and not much time in the water, Merewether's Jackson Baker was hoping to fly under the radar on his home break at Surfest this week.
That plan didn't last long on Wednesday.
Baker, on the comeback from an ankle injury, gained a wildcard into round two and opened his campaign with an event-high 9.17 ride, racing across a long right and throwing up powerful snaps and an aerial finish. He backed it up late with a 4.87 to finish on 14.04. Brazilian Jadson Andre was second with 12.26.
"I was kind of trying to hide what I was doing because I knew people look for what the locals do," Baker said of his positioning early.
"I tried to keep under the radar, I've got the short hair now and people mightn't know what I look like," he laughed.
"Every year there's a lot of talk around the locals doing good. I just want to stay under the radar, but I don't think I can now after getting a nine. But I'll just take it easy and take every heat as it comes."
The win put the 22-year-old into the round of 48 - which is the furthest he has been in the 6000-point qualifying series event. Last year he won through to round two only to be bumped into third spot and eliminated by eventual champion Mikey Wright.
He started a round later this year after winning the Australasian/Oceania QS title in 2018. That success has also given him a spot in trials for the championship tour opener at Snapper Rocks.
"I was really lucky, thank you WSL for the second round wildcard, that's helped me," he said of his heat win.
"Just skipping that first round is amazing and to have a good heat like that now gets me into the rounds where I want to be. To be in the final eight or above is my goal, so I'll take it a heat at a time."
Baker has been back surfing only two and a half weeks after an ankle sprain that marred his campaign in Hawaii in November.
"Every year I probably have a dream before I go out that I do good [at Surfest]," he said.
"But I haven't had one this year, so maybe that's the change. I've just kept my expectations low and the injury's held me back from getting them too high.
"I still feel like I'm surfing at only 80 per cent so I've set my bar there, but to get a nine at 80 per cent surfing, I'm like, OK. I've got a lot of room to build."