With the Surf Ranch train creating waves behind us, I caught up with world champion Filipe Toledo to talk about his new reality. The 28-year-old Ubatuba, Brazil native (come San Clemente) spent a decade chasing that all-elusive title. And it absolutely consumed him. The near misses, the criticism, and finally, the triumph. It wore away at his mental health, he told me, and a breakdown, pre-Covid, was the turning point that nearly broke him, before it got him over the top (he’s called it “a dark place.”) Now the world number two seems as relaxed as ever. He’s always been an amicable chap. But these days, having removed the gigantic gorilla from his back, he’s at ease and his surfing shows it. We talked about that breakdown and his fresh take on life.
Did you make any significant changes this year after getting that title?
Not really. I’m just trying to trust the process. That’s been my goal. I feel like mentally, I’m in the best place I’ve been. I don’t have that pressure where you have to win a world title, so whatever comes next is just gonna be fun and I’m ready for the challenge. Just trying to stay focused and enjoy my time everywhere I go.
What’s put you in a great spot mentally?
I spent 10 years trying to get a title. Sometimes it would get to my head, you know, ‘Are you ever gonna get one, or not? Is it your time right now?’ And then a lot of years fighting for the title and not getting it. It’s really easy to go sideways. I stayed focused and trusted the process. I was really fortunate to get my title last year. No pressure anymore.
What about legacy? Do you want to add to that title count?
I (guess for me) it’s been more about trying to show the kids about being humble and respectful and trusting the process. That’s what I try to tell the kids (looking up to me), especially with all the social media and everything that’s going on. People trying to compare themselves with somebody that they see. I feel like that sucks. I’m just trying to let people know to be real and trust in their game and their goals and dreams, that’s been my focus.
So talk more about the mental health aspect. It’s very real for you. You had a breakdown where you needed help?
For sure. Yeah, I had to look for help – and it definitely helped me a lot. The more I can talk about it, the more I can help people out, the happier I’m going to be. It was during 2019. That’s when I started seeking help. My wife was big in helping me out (at first). Then it got to the point where it was too much, and she couldn’t help me and I had to look for help. I did. And it’s been pretty good.
What about surfing? Does that help you, mentally?
Surfing is just special. Of course competitive surfing is a different thing. I love what I do of course but there’s obligations, there’s sponsors, there’s money, there’s a lot of stuff involved that gets you pretty quick. But whenever you go out (free)surfing, I try to enjoy it and try to be happy. To be in the ocean is just a blessing so I just try to take advantage of that.
How do you continue to address the mental health aspect, and all the pressure that comes with competing?
I know professionals that work in the area (where I live) and they help me a lot. And I’m a really faithful surfer and human, I trust God all the time. I let him do the talking. His plans are always better than mine. I just trust that. That’s what keeps me going.
So that said, how do you feel about the back half of the year? What do you like, or not like, about this format in trying to win a second title?
I’m super excited. We have some really fun events coming up. I don’t really agree with the midyear cut. But I love the finals format. It brings a lot of excitement and a lot of views and fun (to our sport) and all kinds of stuff into one event. I’m ready for the challenge. I’ve been there twice. I can’t wait.