Filipe Toledo entered the 2016 season with serious world title aspirations. And why not? Brazil's aerial ace won three CT events in 2015, making him one of six title contenders heading into the final event at Pipeline last year.
After falling short at Pipe he spent the off season bolstering his power supply and refining his rail game. By the time the Quik Pro at Snapper arrived he had added a lethal set of new carving tools, each fitting squarely in the power category.
At Snapper, Filipe was enjoying a solid run, and looked poised to repeat as Quik Pro champion until he felt a rip in his hip during the Semifinal. Minutes later he was being carted up the beach. Toledo was forced to sit out the next two events, and his 2016 title run was over before it started.
He arguably rushed his recovery in order to compete in Rio and his results have been spotty since, but trending up of late. He managed 5th at J-Bay, and dominated the Vans US Open, a QS event, before bombing out at Teahupoo on Day Two.
This week, Filipe is competing at his new home. Lowers is his backyard now that he resides in San Clemente. And while there have been a ton of standout performances this week nobody has been able to lay a finger on Filipe. He's won all four of his heats (no second chances needed) with an average heat score of 18.24. That's two points higher than any of his fellow semifinalists.
Toledo eliminated Slater on Monday. (He beat Slater in Round One too.) Despite the sloppy conditions, the heat was an exciting one to watch, but it wasn't close. Kelly was comboed in the end.
Now if Filipe is to keep his roll going he'll have to get past a very in-form Jordy Smith, another new transplant to the San Clemente area. Jordy's been looking incredibly spry this week. It's nearly impossible to tell he's 8-feet tall. And what's amazing about Smith, a former winner of this event, is his ability to destroy the tiniest of waves. It's uncanny.
Jordy has a great looking slab of foam under his feet. As he pointed out in a post heat interview, it could probably be used as a standup paddle board for Toledo. And while he's a serious power monger, he's not immune to getting airborne. Jordy can still stun in these conditions, and Filipe knows it.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the board there's another trouble maker, Tanner Gudauskas. After taking his hotly debated Round Three heat with Gabriel Medina, Gudauskas earned a fast-track to the quarters with a solid Round Four win.
Tanner's been getting plenty of second looks with all the back-and-forth banter. And the more he gets, the more respect he's getting. Deservedly so, too, because his attack on Lowers has been frightfully aggressive. On Monday he ended the dream run of Stu Kennedy with more inverted backhand surfing. Kennedy was still all smiles. He'll be halfway home by the time you read this to welcome the birth of his new baby daughter, who is due any second. (Kennedy's wife, Ashlee, posted on Instagram that she was watching with legs crossed today, keeping baby in place.)
Gudauskas has another serious challenge on his hands with Joel Parkinson. Parko has been the groove-master all week at Lowers. He remains a purist's dream, linking his moves together seamlessly the way he does. In ways, he pays a price for that silky smoothness. Fewer bobbles can sometimes equate to less drama, and lower scores. But he's not about to fake it. There's no artificial flavor in Parko.
Tune into the final day of the Hurley Pro at worldsurfleague.com