Then there were two. The world title will come down to Jordy Smith and John John Florence. A showdown at Pipe—the perfect script for the WSL. Both booked a spot in round 3 of the Quiksilver Pro last night as Julian Wilson and Filipe Toledo had their hopes extinguished by local boy Marc Lacomare and Brazilian Miguel Pupo currently ranked 31 in the world.

Choke is a word that comes to mind to describe Julian Wilson. Despite a truckload of talent, amazing edits dropping year-round, and high flying performances in heats he continues to be unable to get it together when it counts. He posted a 9.13 heat total in round 1 against a razor-sharp Ethan Ewing and Caio Ibelli relegating him to round 2 where he would face the local wildcard.

Drawing Marc Lacomare in shifty, wobbly peaks at his local was always going to test the Aussie. But bottom line, Jules blew it against the QS grinder, Lacomare, who only needed to post a 5.01 with two minutes to go. He dropped a 7.67 and whether it was a tad high for a couple of forehand taps, Jules once again left it in the hands of the judges on his final wave with a minute to go. His hurried 5.67 wasn’t enough, despite a double fist pump claim and it felt like another year of déjà vu for Julian and a world-title campaign that went down like a lead balloon.

Jordy knows that each heat win is one step closer to that elusive maiden World Title. Photo: WSL/Poullenot

It’s hard to know what ‘the fix’ is for Jules. He’s well paid, handsome, got the model wife and an endless supply of fresh JS sleds to boot. However, he continues to fall well below his own and our expectations. Comparing him to Taj, the best surfer in the world to never win a world title, is an easy reach and as the years tick on by it seems more and more likely to be written in stone.  

But as Ben Mondy noted in his excellent piece earlier today Jules didn’t come to France unprepared. “He was the first visiting pro to set up camp in Hossegor, arriving at least a week before the waiting period started. In those early days in thumping 8-to-10 foot La Graviere shorebreaks there were many sessions when not only was he the only pro dodging the lumbering water axes, he was the only surfer out there fullstop.”

“Apart from those exfoliation sessions, there’s was also ice baths and spa days to deal with the jet lag. There’s been daily sessions with his coach Andy King, and then even longer video analysis. They’d been working on his key weaknesses, isolating the areas he needed to work on and doing the appropriate drills.” 

So, what is stopping Jules from that elusive 10 per cent needed to get a World Title? Does he lack the mongrel that Mick had or the determination of Parko? Maybe it’s just a case of death by safe surfing.

John John carving French beachbreaks like butter as he advances to Round 3. Photo: WSL/Masurel

Another surfer that faltered in spectacular fashion overnight was Filipe Toledo. I had high hopes for the Brazilian dynamo who blitzed Trestles. He too was relegated to round 2 after Rookie, Joan Duru burnt down the house in the first three minutes of their heat with the highest heat total of the day. The French connection dazzled the local crowd with a dizzying display of backhand tube riding, punctuating the lip with a determined assault.

As noted earlier, Toledo fell to Miguel Pupo, who sits way down the rankings on both the CT and QS and desperately needed a result. Pupo slapped Toledo with a pair of 6s, and none of it was flashy—he just slugged the pockety rights with trademark backhand boks. Toledo looked like he’d been sapped of his superpowers and could barely finish a wave.

After the loss at La Graviere and carrying a possible hip injury the Brazilian Praying Mantis still has a way to go to secure his maiden World Title. There’s still questions about his ability in waves of consequence—namely lurching slabs in the Pacific and his hot temper and collisions in heats with lowly ranked competitors tend to be his undoing.

With two events left in the WSL season Wilson and Toledo will be competing for pride. Neither will be sipping champagne in Hawaii, but the pair certainly have an opportunity to play spoiler to Jordy and John as they tussle for the silverware on the sands of Pupukea.