I have to say that I was surprised in the final result, but not the manner in which we arrived at it. The Corona Open J-Bay was about as spectacular as expected and anticipated, considering the waves that arrived off the coast of South Africa. Everyone got to show off quite a bit, but nobody more so than champion Filipe Toledo, who moves up seven spots in the rankings and towards the outskirts of the world title race.
It took all of Toledo’s dynamic abilities to get the job done, but he was the last man standing to win his first contest of the season. Toledo, who had to miss the Fiji Pro due to suspension after charging into the judges’ booth in Rio, certainly made amends through his aerial expertise. I doubt he was upset with his scoring this time around.
Given that he has a 25th-place result and a non-result from Fiji, Toledo will have lots of room to improve when the season’s two worst results come off the ledger. With this win, a third, a fifth and a thirteenth, he’s very much in world title contention.
The top of the leaderboard didn’t change all that much. Matt Wilkinson stays in the yellow jersey, but just barely. Since none of the top five made it beyond the quarterfinals, Wilko maintains a 250- point lead over John John Florence in second place. Jordy Smith is just another 350 points behind, with Owen Wright and Adriano de Souza still rounding out the top five.
Whether Toledo can continue moving up is a bit of a mixed bag, given the events that remain. Coming up next is the Billabong Pro Tahiti, where Toledo has never finished better than ninth. Most of his results at Teahupoo are of the very early exit variety and he can’t really afford another second-round loss this season. Those two minimum results he already has are good for his potential to move up, but only if he avoids similar results the rest of the way.
After that, a few more favorable events line up for Toledo at Lower Trestles, France and Portugal. He’s had good results at all three and can certainly be back in the mix by Pipeline. But the negatives are that his weak events are the strengths of those already ahead of him, like Florence, Wright and de Souza.
J-Bay was supposed to begin answering the world title questions but it seems like even more have emerged. Seven surfers could mathematically exit Teahupoo with the yellow jersey and the top three are still separated by just 600 points.
With his only second- round loss of the year to this point, Sebastian Zietz dropped from 10th to 15th in the rankings. Tahiti hasn’t been one of his better contest locations but he’s now in a crowded part of the standings, so a solid showing could loom large.
Before we get to the Fiji Pro (Aug. 11), the women are back in action with the US Open of Surfing (July 31) at Huntington Beach, Calif. Defending champion Tatiana Weston-Webb will be back to go for her second career CT win. She’s coming off her best 2017 result with a runner-up showing in Fiji. Weston-Webb moved into 10th for the year after a slow start, but she can move up quickly with the events still on tap.