Brazilian phenom Filipe Toledo kicked off the 2015 Championship Tour (CT) season at No. 17 (out of 34). His ranking wasn't great and he was hardly a household name, but he had spent the offseason working on his equipment, his physical training and heat strategy.
That focus has paid off. Toledo won CT contests for the first time ever -- three to be exact: At the Gold Coast, in Rio and, most recently, Portugal. The aerial genius, who earned a perfect score in each of his winning Finals, racked up some Qualifying Series (QS) points along the way with a victory at the Oakley Lowers Pro QS 10,000.
See who Toledo's up against in the 2015 World Title Race.
It's this type of consistency that has landed Toledo at No. 2 on the Jeep Leaderboard heading into the final CT event of the season, the Billabong Pipe Masters. Ahead of the event, Toledo shared some thoughts on what's changed over the course of his young career (hint: experience and confidence).
Daniel Jenks: It has been a long journey from your win at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast to now. Did you think you'd be in the Title race heading into Hawaii that early on?
Filipe Toledo: That was always my dream to be racing for the World Title, but when I won that contest it was the first contest of the season. I didn't really think about the World Title, but that was a good start, you know? After that I got a lot of confidence and after a good result at Bells I just felt really comfortable. The two first results gave me a lot of confidence going into the long year.
DJ: You did really well in the first two events and then you had a tough result at Margaret River, losing in the second round. How were you feeling after that event?
FT: At the first moment, I was super sad. But you know I knew that was only the third stop of the year. It was super early to talk about World Titles. I knew I was in a good position at the moment, but I had to just put my mind in the right place, "Ok it's early, just keep going and forget what happened in Margies and let's [move] forward."
When people say I can't handle the big barrels, I turn that into motivation.
DJ: There was a lot of criticism about your ability to handle heavier, barreling surf when competition went to The Box at Margaret River. But after your bad result you went on to Rio and won in one of the biggest crowds ever in attendance there. Which pressure is harder to manage, the critics or the crowd?
FT: I'm really good at turning all that pressure into motivation. Of course there are the people that are going to say, "Filipe just surfs good in small waves at the beachbreaks," but I'm gonna turn that into motivation for me to better my performance in big waves, you know? When people say I can't handle the big barrels, I turn that into motivation.
In Rio, that was crazy! There were so many people. It was almost like 50,000 people on the beach coming to support me and screaming my name like crazy. I was like, "Oh my God, it's my time." I turned that energy into thinking, "Ok, I'm gonna do my best. I'm gonna go for broke in the Final." After the first two or three waves, I felt super, super comfortable and I definitely enjoyed that moment. To be at my home break, in front of the crowd and all my family and friends, I just wanted to enjoy that moment and put on a good show for everyone.
I knew it was a really big and good air, but I didn't know if it was going to be a 10.
DJ: When you threw that 10 in the Final, did you know it was going to be a 10 when you landed?
FT: I don't know. I knew it was a really big and good air, but I didn't know if it was going to be a 10. I knew it was going to be a high score, but I didn't think about a 10. And then I just heard all the people on the beach screaming like crazy. And the Brazilian crowd is very passionate. If I got like a 6.50 in the Final they're pretty much going to scream the same way as a 10 (laughs). So I didn't know what the score was.
I was like, "Oh my God, oh my God what's the score?" and then I heard the beach announcer repeat the score like three or four times and I was like "Oh! Okay! I got a 10!" But the first moment I didn't know it was that good.
DJ: You had a ninth-place finish at the Billabong Tahiti Pro. Again, a lot of criticism ahead of this event. You made it to Round 5, but couldn't catch a wave. How did you feel about that result?
FT: I knew I could've gone farther. I was feeling super comfortable in Tahiti, but I had an injury on my elbow. I had a couple stitches in me and one of the nerves on my elbow got inflamed so I couldn't put any pressure on my arm. It was super hard for me to stand up on the board.
So many people were talking about Tahiti and freaking out. I swear I deleted my Instagram.
After that heat against Italo (Ferreira) and I didn't surf any waves, so many people were talking about that and freaking out. I swear I deleted my Instagram, I deleted my Facebook from my phone. But I was the only person that knew what was happening to me. I know that was a good result, but I know I could go further in that contest.
DJ: You finished in the Semis at your new home in San Clemente at the Hurley Pro, but then you had a shocker in France, where you lost in Round 2. What happened? Did you feel the pressure to do well in Portugal to keep yourself in the Title race?
FT: That was hard for me after France. It was so frustrating. I was so sad and going crazy thinking about the World Title. It was super hard. But at the same time it was good because I went to Portugal like two weeks before the comp to train, to try some new boards and [get] my mind in the right place.
I completely tried to forget about the World Title. I wasn't going to my phone or my Instagram. I was really enjoying my time in Portugal, surfing with my friends, my brother was there, my dad was there. It was the perfect time for me to relax, as I said, to put my mind in the right place.
When Portugal started, I felt that it was going to be my contest.
So when the comp started, I felt something different. I felt that it was going to be my contest. I don't know why, but I was feeling that. I told my mom after the Round 3, I said, "Mom, I'm gonna win this contest." And she said, "Oh, but it's too early to talk about that." I said, "But Mom, it's true, I'm going to win this contest."
I told my girlfriend that too and they were both like, "Oh of course you're going to win, but it's too early to talk about that." And I kept saying, "No I'm going to win." I think they thought [that I was putting to much pressure on myself], but I was feeling different. I was feeling so confident in myself, my board was feeling really good. Every heat that I was paddling out, I totally forgot about the World Title, about people talking about it.
When I watched Mick lose in Portugal I told my brother, It's my time now.
I was on the beach when Adriano [de Souza] and Mick [Fanning] lost. I'll be honest, I was super nervous watching those heats, but when I watched Mick lose I told my brother, "Okay, it's my time now." It gave me the motivation to go out there and rip. It made me feel like it's my chance now.
DJ: You made the Quarterfinals last year at Pipe, the heat right after Gabriel Medina clinched the Title. Depending on how the World Title scenarios unfold, it could be you in the same position this year. Whatever the outcome, this will be your best year on Tour. Would you be satisfied even if you don't win the Title?
FT: The goal is definitely to be No. 1. My whole family is going to the contest, my girlfriend will be there. I'm just going to enjoy it. I'm going to do what I've been doing this whole year: Just having a lot of fun surfing. I'm not going to let the pressure take my head down. I'm just going to focus on my thing, laughing a lot, and enjoy my time in Hawaii.
DJ: How do you feel about Pipe overall as a venue? What's your experience there like?
FT: The first and second year in Hawaii, I didn't have a really good result, but last year was super nice. I had Quarterfinal finish and I beat some gnarly guys like Owen (Wright) and had that crazy heat with Gabriel. I don't have a lot of experience on that wave and it's hard to paddle out and train there.
We have to spend pretty much the whole day at Pipe to get just two waves. It's hard, but I'm feeling really comfortable and really confident, and I think this is going to help me a lot.
DJ: There are three Aussies and three Brazilians in the race for this year's Title. And many fans have pit it as country versus country. What is your opinion?
FT: This is athlete against athlete. Of course Adriano wants to beat me and Gabriel wants to beat Adriano and me. But I wanna beat them both and Mick wants to beat Owen and Julian. It's an individual sport and it's not a team. If it's not my time, I'm going to cheer for Adriano and Gabriel, but it's athlete against athlete.
There's no friendship in the water. Respect, but no friendship.
DJ: Say it comes down to a heat between you and Gabriel or you and Adriano. How do you balance that hunger to win a heat and eliminating your buddy? Is there tension on the beach after?
FT: It's hard because last year I had that heat against Gabriel, the three-man heat in Round 4 [of the Billabong Pipe Masters]. Before that heat I was asking my dad what should I do, "Should I help Gabriel?" And he didn't know what to say. I said, "No, I'm going to be a professional. I know Gabriel deserves it. If he wins he'll deserve it even more."
When the heat starts we need to do our jobs. There's no friendship in the water. Respect, but no friendship. Once the heat is over, we're back [to being] friends, but when that heat starts it's just respect.
Read the WSL review of View From a Blue Moon.
DJ: It's been a big year for you. You did your movie with Surfing Magazine, shot some stuff for John John Florence's film View From A Blue Moon and won your first events on the CT. What were the Top 3 moments of the year?
FT: Oh man, first, the trip we had to Indo to Lakey Peak with me Miguel [Pupo] and Victor Bernardo. We definitely scored. We got like five or six days of perfect waves. Second, the event in Rio. That feeling, it's something that I never felt before. And third, my win in Portugal.
DJ: What would winning a World Title mean to you?
FT: Everything. It's my dream since I started surfing and turned professional. I think only my family knows how hard I've been working towards being a World Champion. It's going to be a dream come true if it happens.