Round Five of the Oi Rio Pro is stacked full of high-octane encounters, but the match between Julian Wilson and Jordy Smith has the most history and some serious consequences.
While these two aren't bitter rivals -- their friendship is too strong for that -- they are intense sparring partners, with careers that have followed similar trajectories. They're also two of the most technically gifted surfers on Tour and possess the rare combination of powerful repertoires both on the wave face and in the air.
With Taj Burrow's recent retirement, this pair can also lay claim to the unwanted reputation of being the best surfers on the Championship Tour (CT) never to win a World Title. Over the years, both on Tour and off, the two have waged a progressive surfing war that has pushed each other, and the sport, to new limits. It was no surprise then that when Jordy was making his biopic, Bending Colors, in 2012, Wilson was one of the first surfers he asked to take part. Their segment shot in Reunion Island was, at the time, cited as a high-water mark for surfing.
In the competitive realm, the two have crossed paths eight times times since Wilson joined the CT in 2011, with the honors even at four wins apiece. There was also the memorable Final of the QS6000 Mr Price Pro in 2013, when Wilson took out the local hope with some of the most extreme and clutch air surfing seen that year. A more controversial heat was at Bells the next year, when Smith earned a 9.93 in the dying seconds of his Round Five match against Wilson, while needing a 9.97 to advance. Many fans thought Smith's wave was worthy of a 10 and the debate raged for weeks.
This match-up in Rio, then, should be a similarly hard-fought affair. "Jordy's like a shark," Wilson once said. "He's just a big, angry South African." This week Smith will be as angry and as big as ever. Currently sitting at No. 2 on the Jeep Leaderboard, and with John John Florence already long gone from Brazil, Smith knows he has a gilt-edged chance to grab the Yellow Jersey and advance his case for a World Title.
Wilson will be just as hungry. By his lofty standards the naturalfooter has had a poor start to the season; he arrived in Brazil in 16th place on the Jeep Leaderboard. He is now desperate for a big result that can turn his year around. A confidence-building win over Smith would be a pretty good place to start. "I feel I have plenty more to give," he said after his close Round Three win over Frederico Morais. "I just want to express myself and have some fun."
With so much on the line, and so much firepower at their disposal, the match-up between Smith and Wilson has all the ingredients for a show stopper. The sparring has been done, it's time to see who will land the knockout blow.