Wilson will need to be at his brilliant best to claim the crown.
On the eve of the Quiksilver Pro France and with three events remaining on this year’s calendar, Julian Wilson, has his best chance yet at a world title.
Tucked in at third behind Jordy Smith and John John Florence, Julian is well within striking distance as he enters a leg of the tour that has historically been good to him.
Julian undeniably falls into the same category as Jordy – an extraordinarily gifted surfer who, on the basis of talent and ability, has the capacity to claim a world title. John John got the monkey off his back last year, but Julian and Jordy are still languishing in a land of unrealized expectations. In sixty years time, when both of them are in a retirement home that comes equipped with a nice fat, wave-pool right, they will be haunted by a sense of loss if they don’t notch up at least one title win each.
In Julian’s favour is the fact he has made the finals in France (2011) won in Portugal in 2012 and claimed the Pipe Masters in 2014. It’s a leg of the tour that suits his brand of muscular progression. For Julian, who has sometimes struggled to be his dazzling best in competition scenarios, finding a way to freesurf in his heats will be critical.
John John continues to show his willingness to secure big points with technically complex, high-risk airs. While his carves are syrupy and highly effective, particularly in bigger conditions (remember WA), one almost feels that his real mission involves demonstrating that his surfing beyond the lip is superior to Filipe Toledo’s. It’s a private war between the two of them based around who can launch the most destructive missiles in heats. This side-plot may prove a distratction for John John.
The other real factor driving John John is not perhaps a second title but the absence of a Pipe Masters crown. If Jordy and Julian are troubled by their failure to win a title then John John is likely seeing a shrink about his inability to clinch what should be his pet event. It’s still not clear whether John John’s desperation to win a Pipe Crown will work for or against him, but you would still back him to finish ahead of Jordy and Julian on his home-court.
In contrast to John John, Jordy has shunned his own air game and relied on battle-axe carves to win. It seems that he and inseparable coach, Chris Gallagher, have decided that Jordy’s rail game is a weapon of mass destruction and airs are a high-risk triviality, only worth summoning in extreme scenarios. Faith in such a strategy hedges on the judges continuing to provide Jordy with handsome rewards for staying grounded. Although he didn’t win Trestles, his nine-point ride in the final was widely considered over-scored by surfers and critics alike. If the judges feel pressure to scrutinize Jordy’s heavy jams more closely then his approach may not be as infallible as he appears to believe.
If Julian is to win the title then it is likely he will have to summon the most dynamic approach. He must fly as high as Filipe and John John, carve with more precision and speed than Jordy; and finally he will have to ride the barrel better than all of them at Pipeline. Furthermore a singular strategy will not be sufficient to claim victory. Julian won’t be able to stay in second gear as he sometimes has. Instead he will have to respond to the demands of any given heat and perhaps elevate his surfing beyond a level to which he’s ever been in a contest setting. With 8650 points to make up on Jordy (and 10 000 points available for a win) Julian will enter the final phase of the title race as an underdog. Perhaps having something to fight for will sharpen Julian's focus. It's certainly going to be fun watching Wilson play catch-up and hopefully it inspires the best surfing we have seen from him on tour.