All eyes are on Julian and Medina, but could Toledo still steal the show?
Coming into Pipe it appears that everyone’s focussed on two men. Put it down to the rivalry they’ve built up, put it down to the fact they’re both proven performers in the heavy stuff, but the general consensus seems to be that the title will be won by either Gabriel Medina or Julian Wilson. Toledo is almost a forgotten entity. Following a couple of fumbles in Europe, following a career that’s yet to see him shake off his rep for not stepping up when the waves get serious, the man who held the Jeep Leaderboard yellow jersey for the better part of this year has now been all but counted out for a maiden world title win.
But can we really write him off that easy?
Not if it’s small, you say. Not if Gabby gets a nasty ingrown hair from shaving his chest and Julian forgets to catch two waves again.
Both valid points, but are there more likely factors working in his favour?
Obviously Toledo’s record at Pipe isn’t the most decorated, with a quarter-final finish there in 2016 his best finish. But after the work he put in at Chopes in the lead-up to this year’s event, which saw him shake off a litany of early-round exits and turn in a 3rd, you’d have to expect he’s going to do his utmost to get a feel for the wave before the contest kicks off. Plus, he’s maturing as a surfer. We forget that he’s only twenty-three and from a country not exactly renowned for big hollow surf. But his performances in J-Bay over the past two seasons point to his ability to rapidly improve. And sure, Jeffrey’s isn’t Pipe, is a far cry from that fearful widow-maker, but does anyone actually doubt Toledo lacks the talent to surf heavy waves well? More likely it’s a lack of experience and a lack of desire holding the kid back, but the experience is starting to build, and with a world title on the line, the switch might just flick and we’ll see his small-wave rep tossed aside forever. Sometimes it only takes a single ride to change a surfer’s relationship with big waves.
There’s a couple of other things to consider before overlooking Toledo altogether for this year’s title. One is his record of winning off the back of bad results. Except for his victory at J-Bay this year, which came after a quarter-final finish at Ulus, every one of the young Brazilian’s wins has occurred following an early round exit (or, in the case of Snapper in 2015, the off-season). In short, he likes to bounce back. Considering he bombed early in both France and Portugal and lost all that hard-earned momentum, he’s got a lot to bounce back from.
The other thing is, like fellow countrymen Medina and Ferreira, Toledo is very much a competitor who loves to build momentum. Look at both his wins this year—by the time the quarters rolled around in Rio and Jeffreys it was pretty much a foregone conclusion, the kid was just getting better and better. Currently he’s the only world title contender entered into the Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa, where, by the way, he won last year. Julian and Medina are both sitting out Haleiwa and Sunset to focus on Pipe. Toledo is taking a different approach. He’s trying to build momentum. He’s trying to come in hot. It’s a long shot, but if it works, it’ll be one of the more spectacular world title wins in recent years.
You’d be an idiot to just write him off.