- WSL / KC
- WSL / KC

Two years ago big wave surfer Mark Mathews was asked whether Filipe Toledo could become one of the world's best slab hunters and his answer was simple.

"100% he could do it. When you're that talented, you can learn how to do anything and the skill of it isn't that hard really. It's just about timing, surfing those waves."

Going into the Billabong Pipe Masters as one of three World Title contenders, that would be comforting to hear for the Brazilian surfer. Unlike his rivals, there remains a question mark over Toledo's ability to deliver under immense pressure in serious waves.

Filipe Toledo (BRA) placed 1 st in Heat 9 of Round One at Billabong Pipe Masters 2016 Toledo at the 2016 Billabong Pipe Masters. - WSL / Poullenot/Aquashot

While Gabriel Medina has made two Finals and clinched a World Title at the infamous break and Julian Wilson is a former Pipe Master, Toledo's best result is a Quarterfinal, achieved back in 2014.

"I'm not that kind of guy who wants to be surfing Pipe everyday trying to get the shot, trying to make the cover and that's a big problem for me," Toledo admitted recently, "but I'm ready to work on that and do whatever it takes."

Mathews' analysis is based on the fact that Toledo has all the natural attributes to succeed at Pipeline. The catlike reflexes, incredible speed and pure technical balance that makes Toledo one of the most electrifying surfers on the planet in small waves are transferable to waves of consequence. The potential is definitely there.

Go Deep with Filipe Toledo
The current World No. 2 will soon head to the North Shore for an epic World Title showdown on the most prestigious wave in all of surfing.

It's also worth noting that Toledo has answered similar questions about his abilities at other CT venues. A few years ago it was proposed that his lack of railwork and power would be an obstacle to him achieving big results at Jeffreys Bay.

However, he has won the last two J-Bay events with totally dominant performances which would indicate he addressed those issues pretty well.

When South African Shaun Tomson, the 1977 World Champion who is regarded as one of the greatest J-Bay surfers of all time, says, "That was as good as a human being can surf at J-Bay," it is safe to say Toledo has put his supposed issue with rail surfing to bed.

Filipe Toledo's Winning Wave at J-Bay
During his Final against Australian rookie Wade Carmichael, the Brasilian delighted fans (and judges) with this combo, scoring an 8.50.

Toledo's performances at Teahupo'o, a dangerous barreling left similar to Pipeline, have also come under scrutiny. Toledo again squared up to that criticism openly and responded this year by logging a month at the break. He left Tahiti with scars on his back and a Semifinal finish as rewards for his efforts.

"Those scars are the price you pay for the hard work and for your time in the water at Teahupo'o," he said afterwards. "I just wanted to improve here. You need to do well at waves like this to be a World Title contender."

That the competition was run by Tahitian standards in small conditions might have put the faintest of asterisk next to that third place finish, but there is no questioning his desire to improve on his work ethic.

"I think Filipe is the first person to tell you he knows where his improvements are going to come from. It's the barrel riding and bigger waves," said Kelly Slater. "When I hear him being humble in that way, it makes me more scared of what he can do."

Right now Toledo is focusing his dangerous mix of athleticism, desire and work ethic to improving himself at Pipeline. Of course the improvement needed is vast. He will need to make the Final at Pipe to even have a chance of winning his first World Title. This year he has opted to compete in the Triple Crown, deciding that more time in Hawaiian waters could help his ultimate cause.

Filipe Toledo of Brazil finishes 3rd from quarterfinal heat 2 of the Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa, Oahu, Hawaii, USA Toledo totally focused in the zone. - WSL / Keoki Saguibo

While it is unrealistic to think that he can make that quantum leap in the next month and claim surfing's top prize in Oahu, to dismiss the possibility outright would be foolish. When a surfer this talented and passionately driven is putting his mind to the wave, anything is possible. He has proven himself before. He surely can do it again.

Watch the Billabong Pipe Masters live on Worldsurfleague.com, App and Facebook Dec 08 - 20.

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