Filipe Toledo Is Finally, And Deservedly, A Surfing World Champion
Love it or leave it, this is what we’re working with. A mid-year massacre followed by a finals day flurry.
Filipe Toledo with WSL Cup — Photo: Thiago Diz/World Surf League
At the end of an eventful 2022 Championship Tour season, Filipe Toledo finally stood atop the field. After years of knocking on the door of the championship clubhouse, the man hailed as the best small-wave surfer removed the asterisks from his name and checked into elite company.
It was a busy day at Lower Trestles. Chris Cote thought he was in the WWE ring, practically begging surfers to square up on stage. Italo chewed gum while punting over Kanoa. Griffin Colapinto stiffened his upper lip in the commentary booth, eyes locked onto his home break he was decimal points away from surfing. And of course, excellent surfing.
But the biggest storyline was the two title winners. Stephanie Gilmore clinched a record eighth World Title. Thirty-five minutes later, the fastest surfer Kelly Slater has ever seen got the monkey off his back by winning his first World Title on the same swallowtail quad model he rode to a runner-up finish in last year’s finals.
Nobody made more trips to the podium this year than Fil. Five finals with two wins in 10 events. On paper, that’s a wrap. He beat an in-form John Florence en route to ringing the hardware at Bells. After the mid-year cut, he made back-to-back finals at G-land and El Salvador before blitzing his fourth win in Brazil. Oi!
If there was a blemish on his record, it was that one heat at Teahupo’o. A single heat made some folks call into question the legitimacy of a world champion who was outdone by two 40+ men in thunderous surf. But consider this: If Tahiti had occurred early this year, and not a month before the WSL Finals, would the sentiment be the same? There are no qualms about his Pipeline performance from January. (Interesting stat: Filipe (9th) did better than Robbo (17th) at Pipeline.
Kelly addressed that controversial heat: “I don’t know if he was nervous or worried about the World Title ahead, who knows what’s going on in your mind in that position. He didn’t need to go out and hurt himself at Teahupo’o on a big day. He’s No. 1 in the world. No matter what he’s coming to Trestles. He looked really down on himself after that heat. I said ‘Dude, you’re going for a World Title. Don’t worry about this week at all. Go have fun, go win the title at Trestles.'”
So he did. But there was a lot of pressure riding on this. The top seed at his home break, no John or Gabriel, it felt like this was his to lose. Italo, the No. 4 seed, tried his hardest. Maybe too hard. He looked like the Energizer Bunny boosting on the left like it was his backyard skatepark. As the No. 2 seed last year, Italo looked lost at oversized Lowers. Not this time. Whipping a black Timmy P on rights and lefts, he rode his momentum into the best-of-three matchup with the San Clemente transplant after stomping Kanoa, Ethan Ewing, and Jack Robinson.
But Fil’s frontside hacks would not be denied. In the end, he held off a rampaging Italo and proved this year what we’ve all known for a long time. When Filipe is locked into head-high, rippable surf, there’s nobody better on tour.
“He’s a stable, calming force for the Brazilian Storm,” said Kelly. “I’m so happy it’s his day.”