"He's quite good at airs," said John John Florence, deadpan, after Filipe Toledo had claimed the Oi Rio Pro in 2015. That performance still rates as one of the most dominant seen on the Championship Tour (CT) in recent years and was capped by a near-perfect 19.87 heat total in the Final against Bede Durbidge.
It's no surprise, then, that Toledo is one of the event favorites going into Brazil. Unlike last year, where the Oi Rio Pro was his first competition back from a serious groin injury, Toledo has never been fitter, physically or mentally.
At 22 and in his fifth year on the CT he is noticeably bigger and stronger than when he arrived as a whippet-like 17-year-old. At the time, he needed a contest singlet and a wet towel to get over the 130-pound mark. Emotionally, he is also content. Settled in California with his partner and baby daughter, he travels with the trusted support of the Hurley Team and his coach, father, and best mate, Ricardo. For a surfer so young, it is a stable and mature platform for his rare and electric talent.
If he was almost unbeatable in beach breaks two years ago, there is no reason to think he is any easier an opponent now. If anything, his current ranking as World No. 6 doesn't really reflect his form. It was only a surprise Round Two loss to Zeke Lau at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast that had him out of the early World Title conversation.
His response to that loss over the next two events, however, was impressive. In conditions that haven't traditionally been his strong point Toledo secured a 3rd and a 5th, with performances that dramatically enhanced his reputation in powerful waves.
"It's been great to try to prove something here," Toledo said in Margaret River. "To surf on bigger boards, in bigger conditions and in tubes too. I'm always aiming to improve."
That showed at Bells where his average heat total was a massive 17.41. Now those big numbers were mostly achieved with his improved rail work, but along with John John he was the only surfer able to weaponize his air game in the Bells Bowl.
And if he can nail high nines in the flattish walls of Bells, imagine what he is capable in the punt friendly lefts and rights of Saquarema? His case for favoritism also isn't harmed by the huge support he will draw from the local crowd. The Brazilians love a showman, and Toledo is never one not to go big when the right section comes his way.
When everything falls into place, when his confidence feeds the baying crowd and he starts landing his signature full rotations at will, any opponent will need to be on exceptional form to get past the Toledo. No one came close two years ago, time will tell if the field can catch up now.