John John Florence became the 2016 World Champion earlier this week in Portugal, meaning that the best surfer on the planet is also, officially, the best surfer in the world.
But who is he, anyway? What’s all the fuss about? Where did he come from, where is he going? Is he the next Kelly Slater? Kelly Who? Exactly!
Why is everyone (outside Brazil at least) so glad that Adriano de Souza is no longer the champ? How did John John get so good in barrels? In the air? In big waves? And now, in contests? In… everything?
Will he dominate the surf world for a decade to come? or disappear off into freesurf obscurity on his sailboat, fat wads of Hurley cash tucked up nicely in an offshore account?
And, more importantly, what’s up with the chin fuzz?
MomJohn was in North Shore before she was on the North Shore
The story goes that Alexandra ‘MomJohn’ Florence moved to Hawaii’s North Shore from New Jersey in 1986, aged just 16. With just a skateboard and a few hundred bucks to her name, she stuck out a thumb and hitch-hiked to the North Shore. One of the people who picked her up was a 19-year-old girl who said “Wanna make some money? We’re filming a movie…” or words to that effect. You’ve seen the movie North Shore, right? You know the Halloween party scene? When Alex Rodgers (Pagey) is stopped from dancing on a table in drag to go fetch the evil Lance Burkhart (Laird Hamilton) a beer? And Rick Kane is awkwardly chatting up Vince’s (Gerry Lopez) niece on the stairs? That’s MomJohn in the background, cutting past.
He’s been at it a wee while
John John got into it younger than most. Growing up on the beach in front of the most infamous surf spot on the planet, Pipeline, the logistics at least were pretty straight forward. He surfed his first wave aged 3, first surfed Pipeline at 8, Waimea at 10. By the ripe old age of 12 he entered the Triple Crown, won his first Pipe contest at 18, then won the Triple Crown and his first World Tour event at 19. Next? Just the small matters of bookending 2016 by winning the Eddie in January, and becoming World Champion in october.
His 2015 feature length movie ‘View From A Blue Moon’ cost 2 million bucks.
Shot in 4k (ideal for watching on your phone’s 4cm screen), and produced by action sports movie kingpins Brain Farm, JJF’s full length feature film, VFABM, directed by Blake Kueny, had a production budget of around $2 million. Was it money well spunked? Yah, pretty much.
JJF’s Instagram sucks… in a good way.
Not sure that he’s necessarily anti… but John John probably isn’t lying awake at night agonising over whether he should’ve done the ‘squad goals’ instead of the ‘these epic humans’ caption to the latest dinner in restaurant reportage. Take the Euro leg of the World Tour for example, a month on the road, which, for most tour pros means a standard 3-5 posts a day (surf check, food/wine, crew, old building, etc). John’s? A ‘French beachbreaks, here we come’ post, followed by, a month later, a ‘Hey mom look what I did’ World Title post. Scarce. Concise. Nice.
He looks a bit…
John never seemed overly comfortable in the spotlight he’s been in since before he could tie his own shoelaces. By now he’s used to it, sure, but he still squirms slightly under the glare compared to some of your more polished orators, part of reason people dig him, perhaps. Slater was in the world’s biggest TV show, Baywatch at 17, and never seemed too put out to be making love to the camera on the regular. Andy Irons seemed more than comfortable making brash, bold headline-grabbing statements, right on cue. Even surfing’s two most recent World Champs, Medina and de Souza seem relatively comfortable talking shop into the lens, and they’re doing it in a second language. JJF? Not so much. Derek Reilly observed in Surfline’s Power Rankings a couple years back, “John John has three facial expressions; confused, confused, and about to cry”, while just the other day on Beachgrit, surf savant Matt Warshaw noted, “John Florence, to me, is the blankest of all slates… where you try and look inside him and just get… nothing”.
In 2013, certain celeb websites – yes, websites with an even lower common denominator than this one – were all agog with rumours that Taylor Swift was getting over a break up with 1D’s Harry Styles by dating a certain young surf dude who rides the Banzai Pipeline… or at least someone might’ve sent someone a text. When asked about the whole sordid affair live on the webcast, John either blurted it all out in shameless kiss n tell, or was being wee bit ironic. You decide: “Yeah, you know, it’s kind of a secret thing going on right now,” he replied, smiling, for once looking far from confused, confused or about to cry. “Can’t bust it out in the public just yet…”
Surf starts born n’ raised on the North Shore might have typically similar downtime distractions, a bit of jiu-jitsu training, maybes some spearfishing, probs some motorcross shreddin… and almost certainly driving the biggest 4×4 pick up in the world, evah. John may or may not dabble in some or all of these fair hobbies too, but where he stands out is that he also enjoys channeling his inner Tabarly, Moitessier, Knox-Johnson. Where’s he headed straight after winning the World Title in Portugal? Bermuda, to sail him some America’s Cup crip.
JJF’s style isn’t ‘skate influenced’. It was actually inspired by Sam, the new girl in accounting in Seinfeld’s ‘The Summer of George’ episode.
Notice anything different about John’s style? The way the front (left) arm kinda hangs limp maybes? Bit unusual, really. Sure, anyone can go all flopppy and cool after landing a manoeuvre, but nobody else really does it going in to one. Skate influenced, they say. Maybe. or, more likely, Sam the new girl from accounting influenced. You decide.