In clean two-to-four foot waves in Brazil, the 23-year-old notched a single wave score of 9.27 for some impressive backhand surfing on his way to a heat-high total of 17.14.
“I got kind of lucky there because Freddy (Patacchia) didn’t go on that wave,” Wilson said.
“The set before that, Freddy went on the first wave and the one behind was better. I think he was worried about that happening again and when that second set came through, it lined up really well for me.
"I got to my feet straight away, but then saw that the section was still building and wasn’t really there yet.
"I took my time and squared it up because I really wanted to get strong starts to those waves, keep it clean and not try to rush it.”
Another Australian, Taj Burrow, excelled on the Arpoador's lefthander with a heat total of 16.16 to comfortably move into round three.
“It’s always good to get that first round out of the way,” Burrow said. “Skipping the second round is a real treat. I hate that round and it was great to catch a couple of fun lefts.
"It was kind of inconsistent at the start. My board was brand new, so I was a bit nervous, but it went well.”
Defending Billabong Rio Pro champion Adriano de Souza edged Kai Otten and Willian Cardoso in his round one heat.
“It feels good to be here at Arpoador,” De Souza said. “I just love this place. I’ve been competing here since I was an amateur and I always love to come back. It’s good to see the WCT here again and it’s got me excited and motivated as well.”
In the women's competition, Stephanie Gilmore will have to surf in the second round after wildcard Alessa Quizon won their heat - and a place in round three.
“It feels really good to beat Steph (Gilmore),” Quizon said. “I was so nervous before that heat. This morning, I wasn’t even officially in the event, and this afternoon, I’ve beat the four-time world champ. It’s hard to describe.”
Lakey Peterson was the standout surfer in the first round, the American posting the day's highest single-wave total of 9.77 to beat Courtney Conlogue and Sage Erickson.
“It’s tricky out there and the waves have been slowing down this afternoon,” Peterson said. “It was a really exciting heat and Courtney (Conlogue) and Sage (Erickson) are amazing surfers and it went back and forth so many times. I had a slow start so I was really aggressive towards the back half of the heat.
You really had to be selective and when the set came you had to be on it. It’s always fun to be in heats like that. On my nine, it was just a really good wave and I scratched for position on it.”
Heat 1: Josh Kerr (AUS) 11.86, Bede Durbidge (AUS) 11.23, Jadson Andre (BRA) 9.56
Heat 2: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 13.57, C.J. Hobgood (USA) 13.24, Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 11.53
Heat 3: Owen Wright (AUS) 13.60, Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 9.20, Taylor Knox (USA) 6.03
Heat 4: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 14.80, Kai Otton (AUS) 14.53, Willian Cardoso (BRA) 11.40
Heat 5: Taj Burrow (AUS) 16.16, Kieren Perrow (AUS) 11.20, Tomas Hermes (BRA) 9.53
Heat 6: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 16.00, Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 10.23, Peterson Crisanto (BRA)
Heat 7: Julian Wilson (AUS) 17.14, Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 13.74, Brett Simpson (USA) 11.56
Heat 8: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 15.00, Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.24, Yadin Nicol (AUS) 11.30
Heat 9: Mick Fanning (AUS) 16.34, Travis Logie (ZAF), 13.87, Damien Hobgood (USA) 13.53
Heat 10: Miguel Pupo (BRA) 13.90, Tiago Pires (PRT) 13.17, Michel Bourez (PYF) 11.57
Heat 11: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.84, Kolohe Andino (USA) 10.17, Heitor Alves (BRA) 9.37
Heat 12: Alejo Muniz (BRA) 14.93, Adam Melling (AUS) 12.57, John John Florence (HAW) 9.16
Heat 1: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Peterson Crisanto (BRA)
Heat 2: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Tomas Hermes (BRA)
Heat 3: John John Florence (HAW) vs. Willian Cardoso (BRA)
Heat 4: Heitor Alves (BRA) vs. Taylor Knox (USA)
Heat 5: Damien Hobgood (USA) vs. Patrick Gudauskas (USA)
Heat 6: Brett Simpson (USA) vs. Jadson Andre (BRA)
Heat 7: Bede Durbidge (AUS) vs. Fredrick Patacchia (HAW)
Heat 8: C.J. Hobgood (USA) vs. Yadin Nicol (AUS)
Heat 9: Raoni Monteiro (BRA) vs. Travis Logie (ZAF)
Heat 10: Kai Otton (AUS) vs. Tiago Pires (PRT)
Heat 11: Kieren Perrow (AUS) vs. Kolohe Andino (USA)
Heat 12: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) vs. Adam Melling (AUS)
Heat 1: Lakey Peterson (USA) 15.50, Sage Erickson (USA) 14.54, Courtney Conlogue (USA) 13.03
Heat 2: Tyler Wright (AUS) 13.77, Justine Dupont (FRA) 8.33, Paige Hareb (NZL) 8.27
Heat 3: Alessa Quizon (HAW) 13.10, Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 12.93, Sarah Mason (NZL) 9.27
Heat 4: Rebecca Woods (AUS) 14.17, Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 14.07, Melanie Bartels (HAW) 6.67
Heat 5: Carissa Moore (HAW) 14.63, Jacqueline Silva (BRA) 5.80, Coco Ho (HAW) 0.27
Heat 6: Malia Manuel (HAW) 11.66, Laura Enever (AUS) 11.10, Pauline Ado (FRA) 9.77
Heat 1: Paige Hareb (NZL) vs. Pauline Ado (FRA)
Heat 2: Laura Enever (AUS) vs. Sage Erickson (USA)
Heat 3: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) vs. Melanie Bartels (HAW)
Heat 4: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) vs. Jacqueline Silva (BRA)
Heat 5: Courtney Conlogue (USA) vs. Justine Dupont (FRA)
Heat 6: Coco Ho (HAW) vs. Sarah Mason (NZL)