Not for a single minute this year has Julian Wilson thought he was out of the World Title race.
Like any season, there have been highs and lows -- from his gritty win at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast to start the year to his most recent high-flying performance in Hossegor -- but 2018 has been all about keeping his head down and giving himself a shot at winning it all and becoming a twice-over Pipe Master.
"To get back in the World Title race and to have my wife and child here is amazing," said Wilson after his win in France. "It's all fairly overwhelming."
However, with newly elevated World No. 1 Gabriel Medina and cagey World No 2. Filipe Toledo still hovering above him on the Jeep leaderboard, he has to make more moves in the Atlantic during the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal to have his shot at greatness.
For Wilson, as well as Medina and Toledo, every heat matters.
At this point in the race, Medina is the only surfer that can clinch in Portugal. If Medina finishes 1st in Portugal, Toledo will need a 9th or better and Wilson a 3rd or better to take the World Title decision to Hawaii. And if Medina finishes 2nd or worse in Portugal, race goes to Hawaii.
Toledo has been the frontrunner for the back half of the season, but after an unexpected Round 3 loss to eventual runner-up Ryan Callinan, Medina and Wilson chased him down in France. Toledo's had mixed results at Supertubos. Last year he lost in Round 2. In 2015, he won the contest. Regardless, he needs a result to keep pace.
Meanwhile, Wilson and Medina's history against one another provides and intriguing backdrop.
In 2011, Medina bested Wilson with a buzzer-beating win in the final of the Quiksilver Pro France, the first CT win of the Brazilian's career, and the two have battled through a number of fierce finals since.
Take 2012, when Wilson got Medina back in the final of the Rip Curl Pro Portugal. Medina was all of 18-years-old and in the midst of his first full year on tour. For most of the heat Medina led Wilson and the Portuguese crowd was loving every minute of it. Then, with time ticking away, Wilson found a wave. The judges gave him the score and this time gave Wilson his first Championship Tour victory.
On to 2014, the year Medina won his world title, the two met again in the final of the Billabong Pipe Masters. Medina went perfect with a 10-point ride, but Wilson's pocket 9s gave him another victory. Score: Wilson 2, Medina 1.
Then, in 2017 at the Billabong Pro Tahiti, Wilson got Medina again. With no time on the clock, somehow he pulled two scores out of thin air to overcome Medina's seemingly insurmountable lead and steal yet another CT victory away from him. Wilson 3, Medina 1.
"He's tenacious, he's got a big heart," said Wilson after the final. "We can leave that one out in the water."
Still in 2017, it wasn't until later in the year at the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal that Medina finally got Wilson back after the Tahiti defeat. Again paired up against one another in the final, with world title implications on the line, finally Medina got the nod. Wilson 3, Medina 2.
"Julian got me so many times so it feels good to get one back over him. When he got the score at five minutes I thought ‘Oh my God not again,' but I kept going and I'm so stoked I won in the end," said Medina.
And now, as the pressure of the 2018 world title race has ratcheted up, Wilson just logged a statement-making win against Medina in the semifinals of the Quik Pro France. Not a final, but Wilson nabs another head-to-head win in later rounds.
"This is a special one, for sure," said Wilson backstage.
Going on to win the contest with aerial wizardry and also a 10-point ride, Wilson reasserted himself in the world title conversation. He has clearly seized the momentum, but at the same time Medina has taken over the World No. 1 spot and the Jeep leader jersey from Toledo.
With two events to go, there's little solace in that. Once again, we could be looking at an epic collision course at Supertubos.
"There's two events to go and this is a keeper result. I'm in the lead, so I'm happy," said Medina in France.
The forecast is primed for another epic clash in Portugal, and for Wilson the race is on.