In a tight final against Rookie Frederico Morais.
It’s been a helluva week in J-Bay. Arguably some of the most exciting surfing has gone down at the fabled right hand point which has fired on all cylinders. From sharks forcing heats to be abandoned, re-surfs, boats screaming through the lineup and a flurry of 10-point rides this event has had everything.
Rising above it all was the performance of Filipe Toledo. The Brazilian’s double alley-oop that netted him a 10-point ride in Round 4 blew the roof right off competitive high performance surfing. Against Rookie, Frederico Moraias in the final he lacerated the lip with his trademark carves, accelerating out of each turn, linking manoeuvres with precision down every roped up wall.
Following a suspension in Fiji following an incident in Rio, this result sees him move seven spots up the rankings and brings him back into the world title conversation. His double alley-oop shook the tour to its core and shot it into the future. Sceptics will try expose Toledo’s lack of experience in heavy water conditions but as he has proved here in South Africa, where there’s a will there’s a way.
Meanwhile, the performance of Frederico Morais deserves special mention. The Rookie from Portugal has had a breakout event. He surfed hard and fast, and was rewarded for putting it on rail with some trademark power surfing. He’s a big man and demands a solid wave to showcase his complete repertoire. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in the back-end of the year which aside from Teahupoo and Pipe is small-wave territory.
Julian Wilson and Jordy Smith’s performances on finals day were underwhelming. Wilson failed to reproduce the flair he exuded in Round 3. He beat Wilko convincingly but dropped his bundle against Morais in the semis and let his emotions consume him. Smith too fell victim to the weight of his own expectations. After peaking with three perfect 10-point rides leading into finals day this event was his for the taking. But he failed to dominate the livewire act of Toledo in the quarters by taking a passive approach. A semi-final finish and he’d be walking into Tahiti wearing the yellow jersey. Smith has had patchy results in the Pacific and with the likes of Owen Wright nipping at his heels he’ll want to punch above his weight if he wants to continue to make a run for a World Title.
But one of the biggest takeaways from this event will be the loss of Kelly Slater from the 2017 World Tour. The 45-year-old, 11x world champ, has a long road in front of him after breaking his foot in a freesurf at J-Bay. Many commentators have already said, “This could be it”. Even Kelly admits this is the worst injury he has suffered in his career.
With a predicted timeline of six-month recovery, it’ll be the longest he has ever spent out of the water. What Kelly does next has been debated by surf pundits throughout his career. Whether he retires, makes a comeback at Pipe or re-joins the Tour in 2018 via an injury wildcard is anyone’s guess. But a tour without the GOAT will never be the same.