When Julian Wilson failed to get past a rampaging Kanoa Igarashi to make the Quarterfinals at the Hurley Pro at Trestles last week, many thought it was a huge opportunity lost. Wilson had been one of the form surfers at Trestles and one of a handful of surfers with the firepower to match finalists Smith and Toledo. It looked like he had blown the chance to put more pressure on the leaders.
However, while a 9th-place finish wasn't what Wilson would have been targeting, the result has pushed him up to World No. 3, putting him smack dab in the World Title conversation. It's worth remembering that going into the Outerknown Fiji Pro just a few months ago, Wilson was languishing in 15th place on the Jeep Leaderboard. With a poor start to the year, it looked like all chances of him having a say in the Title race were over.
It must also be said that even when that poor run of results was happening, the 28-year-old was showing a new maturity. For example, in Brazil, where he scored a disappointing 9th, he seemed to be making sure that he wasn't falling into some of the negative traps that had confounded him in the past. "I feel I have plenty more to give," he said despite a comprehensive loss to Jordy Smith in Round Five. "I just want to express myself and have some fun."
"I think the big difference with Julian this year is that he isn't hanging on to his losses like he may have done in the past," WSL commentator Ronnie Blakey said during the Trestles broadcast. "After each loss he's still been hanging around the events and has been really open and engaged, which wasn't always the case. It looks like his confidence hasn't been rocked by some of those losses and he's kept the faith in his performances and his preparation. It seems he is approaching it all in a more positive manner."
It was perhaps during that extended run of poor results that Wilson laid the foundation for his current resurgence. A Quarterfinal finish in Fiji was vindication of his positive approach, which he backed up with a Semifinal at Jeffreys Bay. By the time he won at Teahupo'o, with a gutsy come-from-behind victory over Gabriel Medina, he was truly back where his talent belongs. He'd flipped his year in just three events, reeled in the leading pack, and was right back in the mix.
That's why his 9th place in Trestles must be put in context. He did little wrong in that Round Five heat with Igarashi, who simply caught the two best waves of the heat and surfed them as well as ever. Wilson's surfing, especially in the freesurfing sessions, was on point. The early losses of Adriano de Souza, Owen Wright and Matt Wilkinson also meant that he gained further ground on the Jeep Leaderboard, even if he did cede more points to Smith and Florence, who have now opened up a gap on the rest of the field.
Either way, Wilson is in a good place right now and has everything to fight for. Of the three events remaining, it's worth noting he has won two of them before. With the losses leaving less scar tissue and the victories coming more easily, after seven years on Tour he might have found the even keel and stable platform that are essential for any World Title assault.