Surfing-Toledo enjoying mental health break, ready to win Olympic gold medal


FILE PHOTO: Filipe Toledo of Brazil surfs to win his semi-final of the men's World Surf League (WSL) Rio Pro championship in Rio de Janeiro May 17, 2015. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes/File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) - Two months after double world champion Filipe Toledo shocked the surfing world by withdrawing from the professional tour to take a one-year mental health break, the Brazilian is in a happy place as he looks forward to the Paris Olympics.

Walking in Madrid's Retiro Park on a sunny spring day, the 29-year-old said he has no regrets and that taking a sabbatical from the World Surf League was the best thing he'd ever done.

Toledo points out that his one year break means stepping away from the pressure of being on the tour month after month and that he will have a go at winning a gold medal in the Olympics. The surfing event is to be held in Tahiti.

He said that his break is the best preparation for the Games.

"I haven't been this happy and relaxed in a long time," Toledo told Reuters on Friday ahead of attending the Laureus Awards as a nominee for action sportsperson of the year.

Toledo is a long way from home in California and from Margaret River, Australia, where his rivals are slugging it out at the fifth event of a professional tour where he made his name as the fastest surfer in the world.

He dominated the past two seasons with his unmatched repertoire of searing carves and aerials.

"I'm in a great place right now," he said. "I'm enjoying my family, enjoying my kids being home, being a normal parent... a human being. It just feels great."

Son of former double Brazilian champion Ricardo Toledo, Filipe entered the circuit as a teenager in 2013 carrying the pressure of being a wunderkind, which he said led to struggles with depression in 2019 and 2020.

Those were "dark times" when surfing "became an obligation," he added.

He bounced back in 2021, finishing runner-up in the title race behind compatriot Gabriel Medina, before winning back-to-back titles in 2022 and 2023.

MENTAL BREAKDOWN

However, when he got to Hawaii for the 2024 season opener in February, he suffered a mental breakdown, he said.

"Right before my heat, I had one of the biggest crashes of my life. I was like, 'I can't do this anymore... It's just too much'," Toledo said. "Getting back on tour, to the routine, training, trips and obligations, I was like, 'man, this is overwhelming right now. It feels too much'."

He finished in last place after catching two poor waves, earning a combined total of 1.77 points out of a possible 20. He withdrew from the contest, citing food poisoning.

He decided he needed a break and dropped the bombshell to his family, sponsors and the World Surf League.

"My heart had become like a big ice rock, I had no feelings," Toledo said. "I feel like I have to take care of my mental health."

Taking a year off will allow him to come back stronger and could mean he can prolong his career for another seven years, he said.

"I've been doing this for 11 years and since I got back home and started just living life as a normal person, I feel like right now I'm in the best place I've ever been in my career," he added.

Now he enjoys his home life in California and surfing purely for fun. He recently went on a recreational surfing trip to Mexico with his brother and a friend and enjoyed being on the waves more than he has in a long time.

OLYMPIC CHALLENGE

He is still training hard for the Paris Olympics, to be held July 26-Aug. 11, where surfing is on the programme for the second time after its Tokyo debut but without the pressure of travelling and competing on a regular basis.

The tournament will be held at Tahiti's Teahupo'o, a powerful tubing wave site where Toledo has struggled on his backhand.

However, the Brazilian beamed with confidence ahead of one of the biggest challenges of his career. "I'm going to win. I believe in it," Toledo said.

"We all know who the best surfers are in barrels. John John Florence, Gabriel Medina, Jack Robinson... but I am good too. I can prove it to myself that I am good.

"I've been working so hard and I feel I can prove myself and hopefully bring that medal back home. So it's going to be fun."

(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; editing by Charlie Devereux and Christian Radnedge)

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