“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time,” said the comedian Steven Wright. “I think I’ve forgotten this before.”
That quote came to mind when Julian Wilson, yet again, managed to skewer his World Title chances with a confusing Round 2 loss to local Wildcard Tikanui Smith. Smith caught one wave in his heat (and that came in the first two minutes) and lost the heat needing a 1.84.
Now fans and apologists of Wilson were quick to vent the fury at the fact that that the current No. 2 on the Jeep Leaderboard was sent out in the sub-par conditions. Many thought the conditions were too poor for a heat with World Title implications. Yet that argument is slightly flawed. Apart from the obvious fact that both surfers surfed the same conditions, in the very next heat Jordy Smith logged a respectable 14.10 heat total, using just turns.
Wilson also had every chance to win that heat and given his obvious talent and proven Teahupoo pedigree, questions again have to be asked about his mental strength on why he didn’t. In a year with John John out of the picture there is perhaps no better chance to win the World Title he craves. Yet in the stilled, grey waters of Teahupoo, his tactical errors may have just self-sabotaged his hopes.
The results looks worse when you consider that history shows Tahiti has had a more than proportional influence on the race. Since 2010 the worst result any World Champion has received in Tahiti in a title year has been a 13th. That was Adriano de Souza in 2015 and even that result was an outlier. John John Florence’s 5th place last year is the next worse. Meanwhile Kelly Slater (2010, 2011), Parkinson, Fanning, Medina and Florence in 2016 all achieved a Semifinal finish or better in their World Title years.
So while it may carry the same points and prizemoney as the other 10 CT events, doing well here clearly helps if you want the crown. More than the history though this is a defeat that could well be very hard to come back from for Wilson. Even with the slightly over-hyped time Toledo has done here in the past few weeks, Chopes is a place where Wilson had a clear advantage over the current Jeep Leader. With that innocuous display, he’s thrown that all away.
Yet maybe we are all guilty of overestimating the Australian’s chances. Julian has only finished the year rated in the top five on the Jeep Leaderboard once in his previous seven years on the CT. Since 2011 he has never been able to sustain a long lasting credible tilt at the World Title. Last year was his best return, and it was another Round 2 loss in Portugal that scuppered his chances. There is of course no debate on his talent nor the work he puts in. It is both of these that should mean his end goal is attainable. Yet time and again, when the world title pressure is on and clutch heats need to be won, Wilson keeps falling short.