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Why three champions with 15 world titles have walked out on surfing’s pro tour

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As reported by this masthead, it played into a long-held narrative around Toledo’s performances in big waves.

Enduring longer still, though, has been the 28-year-old’s own openness around his mental battles, regularly detailing a 2019 breakdown as self-imposed pressure and criticism became too much.

“I feel like I do need to take this break, I need to take care of myself, take care of my family,” Toledo said on Monday.

“I need to reconnect with surfing in a way that there’s no contest, there’s no timing, no nothing – just a time for me to go out there and surf and really enjoy every little bit of it.

“I actually decided before paddling out to my heat at Pipe. I felt that I was not connected, I felt I was so overwhelmed knowing that the year’s so long and I’ve been doing this for the last 11 years as a CT (championship tour) surfer.

“I got to cry a lot for the last few days (while) really understanding what’s going on. But I’m happy.”

Stephanie Gilmore, Filipe Toledo and Carissa Moore - three of surfing’s world champions have walked away in the past 24 days.

Stephanie Gilmore, Filipe Toledo and Carissa Moore – three of surfing’s world champions have walked away in the past 24 days.Credit: Stephen Kiprillis

It is unclear at this point whether Toledo plans to contest the Olympics at Teahupo’o – a wave he freely admits scares him.

Like Toledo, Gilmore plans to “chase swells and free surf in new places”, before returning to full-time competition in 2025.

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Moore refuses to use the word retirement, though that’s certainly the sense.

It’s not unheard of, the best surfers on the planet taking a step back, and the WSL has a rule built into its qualifying structure to cater to exactly that.

A reigning world champion can sit out the following year’s competition, and return to the Championship Tour with a wildcard, avoiding the usual gruelling qualifying journey through the second-tier Challenger Series.

This is the path back to competition for Gilmore and Toledo. Meantime, the show goes on, as Pipeline’s historic finals day on Sunday made emphatically plain.

The WSL’s first event of the season began under a cloud of Gilmore and Moore’s departure, even with the Hawaiian making one last appearance at her favourite break.

The Pipeline Pro ended with what Gilmore herself dubbed “a pivotal day for women’s surfing” as Molly Picklum (21), Caity Simmers and Bettylou Johnson (both 18) turned in some of the best competitive surfing ever seen from the girls.

It feels like one era is ending – or maybe just taking a 12-month break. But another looks to be banging down the door.

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