As we face the back half of the world tour, and as the players start standing to attention, it’s easy enough to see who is showing the gumption for a world title hunt, and who is coming across as somewhat feckless in said hunt. Still, there is a whole lot of drama being funneled down towards us via the World Surf League’s tunnels, and there are going to be many a shuffle and many a change betwixt now and then. Firstly however, we need to talk about Chopes.

Toledo tucking into mini Chopes. WSL/Cestari

The only way that Filipe Toledo is going to get a sniff at anything at Teahupo’o, is if the surf for this sponsorless event is tiny­ – minute, microscopic. He does not have the steeze for slabbing Chopes just yet, and it is one of those waves where experience counts heavily, especially when it starts dropping water in chunks. It’s the sort of event that brings people like Jeremy Flores to the fore, and other gallant warriors like Gabby, Michel, Wilko and Julian. Not sure if Owen has recovered from his bout of ‘flu yet, but he too charges the Chopes bowl when his lungs are clear. Even if Toledo does conjure some cojones, and starts charging a few of the sets, he’s still got the problem of having a target on his back. He has the Jeep Leaderboard Yellow Jersey, but there is a line of people who want to steal it away from him, and who consider him easy prey. When you have to start taking off over the ledge, with a barely-wet reef gleaming up at you and baying spectators roaring from the channel, there are a whole new set of deliverables required of a pro surfer/world title wannabee, and as of right now Filipe has few of them.

Please let the conditions be like they were for the epic finals day back in 2014.

Medina on the other hand, has this place totally wired. He wins heats and events here, and he does it with relative ease. His secret? Let’s unpack, shall we?

Gabby catches perfect waves at Chopes. He knows which waves he wants, and he catches those ones and lets the rest roll through. Those waves he prefers have a certain look and feel, and to derive the most drama out of each ride he knows that it’s the southwest peak that will suck out over the corner piece of slab and offer the most exciting run. While the deep south take off spot might give the longer, slightly more technical barrel, if you want to get an emotive response then it’s all about the scary southwest peak, and the ones that go square. Gabby waits for these ones and Gabby never falls. He also never takes the biggest sets. He wins heats and competitions by catching the mid-size to bigger waves and riding them to completion without falling off. It’s that simple.

Jordy Smith has applied his mind to Chopes and he is now considered a bit of a dark horse out there. No massive klaxons start blaring off when he paddles out, but if the right waves come to him, he’s going to paddle hard and go and he is going to ride barrels. A semi-final result last year added a few layers of respect, and let’s not forget his screams of pain as he continued to surf with badly broken ribs against compatriot and now deputy Commish Travis Logie in 2011. We winced collectively as he bellowed in pain after each ride, but he showed the guts back then and he has only improved over the years with experience and courage that comes with taking a few licks.

Italo Ferriera however, might be the real dark horse of this event. He now knows how to win and he is also not scared of a behind-the-peak, below-sea-level backdoor drop, as only Chopes can provide. He’s a popular dude, and everyone likes the sort of surfer who dances joyfully on stage after winning an event. Now that Ferreira has had a taste of winner’s champagne and has found that he likes it, he wants more. Like a hardened dipsomaniac* he’ll do whatever it takes to get another sip.

Julian Wilson burrowing to victory at last year's Billabong Pro Tahiti. WSL/Cestari

Julian Wilson is steadfast and a defending champion and cannot be discounted, but for the life of me I can’t see him on the podium this year at Chopes. Nothing against the lad and absolutely no reason why I even need to write this down, but Julian is another surfer who doesn’t evoke images of charging down massive Chopes slabs over the years, and is the perfect small to mid-size standout with perfect positioning and functional turns more to the fore than crazy late drops and death-defying heroics. Still, he is an incredibly popular surfer and is becoming more admired as his career progresses. So I’m probably just a bit jealous.

*Italo is not a dipsomaniac. The word is there to describe a situation and not a person.