Ten years ago, a scrawny, unknown kid from Ubatuba, Brazil, rolled into Huntington Beach in the middle of a crazy California summer and emphatically announced his arrival. Hammering American media darlings Kolohe Andino, John John Florence and Conner Coffin in the final of the U.S. Open Pro Junior, all of a sudden all eyes were on Filipe Toledo.
Early career success is hardly a harbinger of what's to come, but it sure didn't take Toledo long to become feared as the most dangerous small-wave surfer in the world. Within two years he was onto the Championship Tour. The speed and explosiveness combined with the fire in his eyes and hunger in his belly proved to be a potent combination as the early winds of the Brazilian Storm began to blow.
But Toledo's road to world domination has been fraught with potholes. This year alone has been a bit of a rollercoaster as he's bounced from the top of the podium to an early exit a number of times. After his win at the Boost Mobile Margaret River Pro, he fell off the pace with a 17th-place finish at Rottnest. He was back in the winner's circle at the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro -- and back in 17th place in Mexico.
A similar pattern emerges if one looks back at his results over the years. In 2015, he won three events but finished the year ranked fourth in the world after stumbling at heavier, quality-wave venues, including Fiji, J-Bay, Tahiti and Pipeline.
In 2018, he scored two more event wins and improved his results at J-Bay and Teahupoo, but a string of three 13th-place results to end the season severely hampered his run at the Title and he finished the season ranked third.
Then, in 2019, he won his third CT event in Brazil and looked like a strong contender for the Title before being upset by Marc Lacomare in France and Ricardo Christie at Pipe. He finished the year ranked fourth, and once again, was unable to capture the World Title.
But one big thing Toledo has going for him this year versus years past is that the season will conclude at Lower Trestles rather than Pipeline. Having moved his family from Brazil to San Clemente years ago - his younger brother was a member of the San Clemente High surf team - Lowers is basically right in his backyard.
"I love this wave, it's a large part of why I moved my family to San Clemente. There's so many possibilities at Lowers." Toledo explained after taking out the 2017 Hurley Pro at Trestles, the last time Lowers was on the CT schedule.
Couple his local knowledge with an unexpected early loss in Mexico last month and the formula for success may, in fact, be in place. As noted, every time he's suffered a bad result this year he's bounced right back with a huge, statement-making outing. If this pattern continues, Toledo is due for something spectacular at Lowers.
And to be honest, anything less will be crushing. Out of everyone in the WSL Final 5, Toledo has undoubtedly logged more water time at Lowers than anyone and has a deep understanding of the break's subtleties and different moods on different swell angles, tides and wind conditions. He's probably the best equipped to make real-time adjustments on Finals day. Plus, he'll be sleeping in his own bed at night, which will give him a little added comfort.
Given how close he's come to winning a World Title in the past, this may be Toledo's best chance to finally break through. He knows that if it's six-foot and firing on the cobblestones, there aren't many surfers in the world that can keep pace with him. It's how he manages the weight those expectations that will ultimately decide his fate.
Rip Curl WSL Finals runs from September 9-17, 2021 in San Clemente, California. A historic, one-day, winner-take-all race for the 2021 World Title, don't miss a second of the action right here on WorldSurfLeague.com.