"He's Australia's most technically gifted surfer and easily our best chance for a World Title. In fact, I'd bet my house on it." That was Andy King, National Coach of Surfing Australia, talking about Julian Wilson. King has worked closely with Wilson over a number of years, and knows his strengths and weaknesses inside-and-out. He obviously believes Wilson has what it takes to take the Title. The question is: Does Wilson have the same belief?
Now 28, this will be Wilson's seventh year on Tour. Except for 2014, when he finished 14th, he has placed in the Top 10 each year. However, he has never cracked the Top Five, his career best end of year rankings are No. 6 in 2013 and 2015. He has also only won two Championship Tour events, despite being a seven-time Finalist. While the numbers add up to an incredible career, and the consistency is to be applauded, many feel that the statistics don't truly reflect the talent that Wilson possesses.
In the last week Wilson served up yet another reminder of the depth of that talent. First he dropped a 13-minute edit titled Wayward. Filmed over the course of the last year by Jimmy Lees, it captured the many facets of Wilson's surfing. From heaving backside tubes at Cloudbreak to groundbreaking corked alley-oops in Bali to never-seen-before backside spins at home -- it was a true revelation. In a surfing world where clips rain down from the Internet every day, Wayward stood out as a class above. And showcased a surfer at the very top of his game.
Wilson is not just a freesurfing freak, however. He has always allied his natural talent with an incredible work ethic and competitive drive. In recent years no one has put more effort into their fitness and equipment than Wilson. Not to mention he has taken his good mate and mentor Mick Fanning's professional approach to the Tour.
When his talent and effort combine in competition, Wilson is extremely hard to beat. Those two worlds collided at the Australian Open of Surfing last month. Through progressive airs when the conditions were small, to powerful rail work as the surf increased, he looked untouchable. His average heat score was a remarkable 16.54 and he posted a 18.00 in a losing Final performance. He may not have won the event, but he did set a new competitive benchmark for 2017.
"I had so many good battles, especially in the Final, and feel it has given me a good foundation before Snapper kicks off," Wilson said afterwards. "It has been a really good week."
The question now is whether Wilson can build on this foundation at the Quiksilver Pro and remain in the World Title conversation for the rest of the year. Jaw-dropping edits and strong QS performances will mean nothing when he lines-up for the first heat of the year on the Gold Coast. Surprisingly, his results at Snapper have been poor. Apart from making the Final in 2015, he has only made the Quarters once and kicked last year off with a Round Two loss. A solid start at a wave he knows well and that suits his surfing, will be crucial for his confidence.
With the depth of World Title contenders currently at an all-time high, Wilson has both the ability to match the progression of surfers like Gabriel Medina and John John Florence. And the experience to be undaunted by Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Adriano de Souza.
The major difference is not talent or application, but that each of those surfers all have a minimum of one World Title to their name. That is something Julian Wilson hasn't done. Yet.