Would a Wilko world title be a victory for the truest of true believers?
When Tracks speaks to Matt Wilkinson he’s about to board a 30-hour flight to France and sounds determined to claim back the yellow jersey.
“I obviously have a huge opportunity … I’m not going to ease up and let anyone take it from me. I’m going to be as ruthless as I need to be and I’m not afraid to piss some people off to win heats,” says Wilko.
The current world number three is sitting 5,150 points behind world number one, John John Florence, and cannot afford any more early round exits if he wants to get his world title run back on track.
While the judging was a hot topic of conversation at Trestles, with Wilko even weighing in on social media, the current world number three appears to have moved on.
“I felt like I had won that heat and I was pretty fuming. But the guys at the top end all lost so it made it hurt a little bit less,” he reflects.
“I think it got me pretty psyched to really go for it for these last couple of events. It feels easier now that it’s the home stretch and these next two events are going to decide a lot,” adds Wilko.
His main rivals are Gabriel Medina and John John Florence have both won the Quik Pro France; Medina is the reigning champ while Florence finished on top in 2014.
“They have both had huge success over there and are unreal surfers in all conditions. But as long as I win all of my heats it doesn’t matter.”
Hailing from Copacabana, the free-spirited 28-year-old now resides in Byron Bay and has been getting acquainted with the shifty European-style peaks at Ballina’s Lighthouse beach – the scene of last week’s shark attack on local teenager, Cooper Allen.
“I’ve been surfing North Wall heaps and it’s pretty similar. I’ve also been working pretty hard in the gym and feeling pretty fit so I’m not afraid to be paddling against rips and doing what I have to do.”
Video surfaced today of Wilko training with Cronulla Sharks premiership winning forward, Chris Heighington, who put him through a series of challenges ahead of France.
Wilko’s meteoric ascent to the top of the rankings scarily mirrors that of Tahitian, Michel Bourez, who catapulted himself into the world title race in 2014 after a win at Margaret River and the Rio Pro, but failed to capitalise at the back end of the year.
The Australian admits he felt there was a target on his back following his wins in the Quik’ Pro Gold Coast and the Rip Curl Pro Bells, and suggests the added pressure led him to focus on his rivals rather than himself.
“Through the middle of the year I was definitely looking at what everyone else was doing,” he says.
Meanwhile coach, Micro Hall, has been doing his best to help Wilko recreate the magic that secured him the first two events of the year.
“Micro really made sure I didn’t dwell on Trestles and that was made easier by the guys higher in the draw losing. He wants me to go into France in the same headspace I was in when I won the first two events and I can do that in these next two.”
Sydney Morning Herald sports columnist Andrew Webster, said that the Cronulla Sharks victory over the Storm at Sunday’s NRL Grand Final was a victory for the truest of true believers. So, like the two underdog teams that claimed premierships on the weekend, can Wilko write the final chapter to his own surfing fairy tale?
“I’ve got all the preparation boxes ticked before I paddle out in my heat. I have three events to surf and they’re all events that I really like so I’m going to work as hard as I can and be as prepared as I can for all of them all and treat every heat like a world title.”
Them’s sure is fighting words.