For fans, the European leg of the Championship Tour is a bonjour to autumn waves and abem vindo to big parties in small towns. But for the surfers in the World Title race, it is a pressure-cooker of a sprint where triumph isn't measured in massive strides, but tiny steps from heat to heat. Which is why, when Filipe Toledo was eliminated from the Quiksilver Pro France last week, it wasn't just a disappointing result, but a likely death knell for his 2017 Title-race dream.
That wider chasm between him and the 2017 trophy, however, doesn't mean he's going into hibernation. Instead, the Brazilian wunderkind, now ranked No. 8 on the Jeep Leaderboard, is planning for redemption at the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal.
Sans Title contention, he said, competing "Is no pressure. I'm just going to go there and do what I love to do. Peniche is a really special place for me -- I had a big win in 2015 over there. And I'm going to try to repeat it."
First, however, he has some recovering to do. Toledo's loss in France stemmed, arguably, from a few factors. First, there were his on-point opponents: In Round One, it was fired-up rookie Joan Duru, whose combined competitive focus and profound local knowledge spelled Round Two purgatory for both Toledo and Miguel Pupo. In Round Two, it was Pupo who did the defeating, thanks to some exceptional surfing and a veritable death-grip on his heats in Hossegor. He went on to earn a fifth place -- his best result of the season -- while Toledo absorbed one of his worst, a 25th.
Then there was his injury. After his painful loss -- literally -- he gingerly made a bee-line for his local abode to rest and recover. The culprit was a pinched nerve that was so painful he said, he could barely breathe. Before Round One, he said, "I woke up with that pain and thought, ‘Woah, what's that? I thought it was just a knot in the muscle.
"It was a little better before my first heat, in Round One, and actually during that heat, I was jumping on the ski, and while I was loading on the sled, it made it so much worse, because I was tensing it too much. So it was pretty much a rib pain with nerve irritation. It was the worst pain I've felt in my life, even worse than Snapper. Like, five, 10 times worse. I've had that before -- a different spot, but a nerve injury. This one is in my upper back, It was really a bummer."
Still, Toledo went back out for his Round Two heat against Pupo. "I was in a big amount of pain, and thought, ‘What am I gonna do now?' So I took some [prescription] painkillers before my heat. It didn't really work for the first half of the heat, and after that it started to get better, but it was too late. I was pretty bad.
"It was really hard to breathe, my posture was off. I'm still off, but [the muscles are] lot more relaxed today. I'm still treating with Dr. Mark [Kozuki], with help from the WSL medical team. According to Dr. Mark, in about three days I'll be able to surf again. So I'm drinking water, and lots of rest. I think rest is the best medicine. I had been on a roll, doing surf trips contest, surf trip, contest. I think it was bad timing. But, it's part of the game."
Title race aside -- and yes, that is a big aside -- learning to rest may be the silver lining, according to WSL medical director Chris Prosser, who was on site at the Quiksilver Pro France when Toledo struggled to breathe. "A good thing out of it, I think, is reconnecting with the understanding that he has to look after himself as a young man, and prevent these things," he said. "It's hard… But when your posture is out of line, [small] issues can become bigger issues.
"What [the injury] really is about is postural imbalance, where [Filipe] doesn't expand through the lower part of his abdomen or his rib, or use his diaphragm well. What that tends to do is overuse of the muscles and change the way the ribs move. So when the ribs don't expand and move fluidly… and where they attach in to the spine, where they join with each other -- the intercostals, they're muscles in between the ribs -- and get overused in certain areas and certain directions.
"The problem with that is the [tissue] around those rib heads gets really sensitive. There's a bit of inflammation in there, a little bit more tension, and it fires up and it's really painful. So it's not so much that he's done a lot of damage there, but the pain is large. The pain then stops rotation."
Nearly a week since that episode, though, it's onward, upward, and time for a little first-birthday cake for his daughter in Peniche. With his family in tow and Round One likely to start this weekend, Toledo appears to be in good spirits -- Title dreams notwithstanding. Why so upbeat? "I have to be," he said. "Just wipe it from my mind, and try to focus on catching two waves."
When the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal kicks off, Toledo will go up against Michel Bourez and Jadson Andre in Round One, Heat 8.