“He’s gone right?!! He’s gone right. What the fuck is he doing?”That was Ryan Callinan’s coach Dog Marsh exclaiming in disbelief as Filipe Toledo took off on a fat right on a rip bowl left whilst leading with ten minutes to go in the Round 3 match up of the Quik Pro France. Seconds later Callinan would wait for the set, go left, go ham and take a lead he never relinquished. For Toledo it was a critical mistake at a crucial juncture. It was a brain freeze and one that just might have killed his World Title chances in 2018.
Going into the Quik Pro France Filipe Toledo had looked fairly comfortable. Sure, Gabriel Medina had won the last two events, but Toledo still had a significant lead on the Jeep Leaderboard. In 2018 he’d looked as strong as ever in his career. He’d flipped his reputation at Tahiti and sealed his move away from being known as just a beachbreak specialist with another dominant performance at J-Bay. Even just consistent form over the Europe leg should have seen him go into Pipe with a big enough lead that could buffer him from his lack of experience at the wave.
Then came France. In some ways it should not have come as a surprise. His results here have actually been worse than any other event on the CT. His best finish was a third as a rookie way back in 2013 and he hasn’t made it past Round 3 four times in the last five years.
I’ve a theory that it being a place that demands a certain type of flexibility and focus works against Filipe. Toledo travels with a large, yet tight, entourage of friends and family. It’s a scenario he’s most comfortable with, but one that also keeps him enclosed in a constant bubble. It also means that when he’s forced out of that comfort zone, problems can occur. Against Callinan, on a beachbreak 500 yards away from the coffee machines and security guards of the competitor’s area, with 2000 fans lined on the water edge, he definitely was put in a raw, less controlled atmosphere.
Marsh was less sure about my theory. He proposed that Toledo is an entertainer and seeing a rare right on which he could tee off his air game, he simply couldn’t resist. He wanted the crowd’s applause. He wanted to go big. I’m still not sure. Even if that is the case, it was a poor decision. Going right on a French rip bowl is usually a sign that the game is over. At best it will take 15 minutes, and a hell a lot of energy, out of your surf and your life. Toledo’s camp were also apoplectic. They couldn’t believe their charge and benefactor had made such a mistake.
Now the performance of Callinan mustn’t be understated. The Australian posted three of the four best heat scores in France and was unquestionably the best surfer of the whole event, and that includes Julian Wilson. He would later described that performance against the Toledo as the best heat of his life. Yet with a World Title on the line, Toledo’s decision was just a little unhinged. Later Medina and Wilson would both take full advantage.
Now maybe I’m reading too much into it and a big result in Portugal could change everything for Filipe. But with a single poor decision he lost all his World Title momentum. I’d be very surprised if he ever gets it back.