"A career is a 15-year thing, but whether you win a World Title or not can come down to a heat, or even a moment," World Champ Barton Lynch broadcasted while watching Julian Wilson in Tahiti. "How you perform at key moments of intense pressure can decide everything."
In that instance Julian Wilson did not get to perform. In his Round 2 heat of the Tahiti Pro at Teahupo'o he waited 30 minutes for a wave that didn't come. It cost him the heat and if we are being dramatic, it might be that result that cedes the World Title. However it was also illustrative of the way Wilson thinks and the way he acts. Far from costing him the World Title, it might also show how he can win one.
The 30-year-old always has a plan, a back-up plan and another plan if those two fail. It may not always work, but he backs his ability and his approach. There is a single-mindedness to his pursuit of surfing excellence and he has always been open about his goal of becoming a World Champion. His plan for this has been based around a dual-pronged approach. He aims to constantly push the performance boundaries of the sport. He has also been committed to becoming as well-rounded a surfer as his considerable talents will allow.
The progression side perhaps has come more naturally. Growing up in the frequently low quality beachbreaks and high quality but inconsistent pointbreaks of Noosa, has moulded a mix of smooth technique and innovative aerial maneuvers. When he clawed his way back into World Title contention after that early loss in Tahiti, it was largely through his commitment to progression.
His performance at the Surf Ranch and his win in the Quiksilver Pro France were based on his ability to push harder, to fly higher and to rotate faster. Don't be fooled by the unpredictable nature of his airs though. To complete those under pressure takes years of thinking and practice. They were all part of the plan.
His other driver, to be a well-rounded surfer, shows perhaps more strength of character rather than natural talent. Having spent much of his youth longboarding on the weaker waves of the Sunshine Coast and later progressing his shortboard aerial wizardry, his affinity and ability in waves of consequence took longer to develop. It also took more time to be recognized.
But Wilson has been traveling to Hawaii since he was 10-years old and his first CT victory in 2012 in Supertubes was a sign that Wilson's surfing has real depth. By the time he won the Pipe Masters and the Triple Crown in 2014 it was understood that he was a surfer without any real weaknesses. When he claimed the Billabong Pro Tahiti in 2017 that status had been upgraded to one of the best backside tuberiders in the world.
It is this ability that now sees him with a chance of winning the World Title in 2018 at Pipe. Sure, it will require the early exit of Gabriel Medina. If that does happen, Wilson has proven he can go all the way. Wilson's life is going as planned. He is a well-off man who is surfing the best waves in the world with the support of his wife and child, sponsors, family and friends. He has a long term relationship with one of the world's best shapers. He trains as smart and hard as any other CT competitor. He has a coach who has been in the corner of previous World Champions. He is a Pipe Master.
If, as Barton says, it comes down to a heat, or even a wave, Wilson is ready to perform at Pipe in key moments of intense pressure. If that happens, he will have achieved his stated ambition. The plan will have succeeded.
Watch the Billabong Pipe Masters live on Worldsurfleague.com, App and Facebook December 8-20.