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Can John John Florence Clinch His Second World Title in a Row at the Pipe Masters?

Unlike last year, the North Shore native has three rivals nipping at his heels.


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This time last year, John John Florence arrived for the season-ending Billabong Pipe Masters having sewn up his World Title in Portugal with a slashing victory. The coronation felt right, befitting a favorite son of the North Shore—and was accompanied by a documentary, Twelve, that trailed Florence, and a cutting-edge movie, View From a Blue Moon, that he made with director Blake Kueny. It was good to be king.

 

This year, the stakes are higher and nothing feels secure for the 25-year-old Florence, who enters the holding period, which began Dec. 8, ranked No. 1 in the standings but locked in a rare and entertaining battle. After a Florence win at the second stop on the tour, at Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, commentators marveled at “one of the most dominant performances ever seen.” But his rivals rose to the challenge, as no fewer than seven World Surf League competitors have held the leader’s yellow jersey (if only briefly).

 

Including Florence, there are four who can win the world title this year. But the one everyone is watching is No. 2, Gabriel Medina. Surfing with the swagger of a UFC fighter, Brazilian Medina streaked through the second half of the tour—nailing a third-place, a second and then two firsts in a row to sweep the European leg. “I like to chase,” he says.

 

“He’s always been there,” says Florence of the 2014 world champion.

 

Billabong Pipe Masters John John Florence Gabriel Medina

Brazil’s Gabriel Medina, left, will compete against John John Florence in the 2017 Billabong Pipe Masters.
Photo: Christy Davis

 

And knowing that Medina was out there may’ve convinced Florence and coach Ross Williams that with a repeat of his world title in view, this wasn’t the year for moviemaking. “I’ve been putting everything into the competition, instead of spreading myself thin,” Florence says.

 

Medina is an all-out competitor, reviving the Hawai‘i-Brazil rivalry of years past. Luke Skywalker-Darth Vader comparisons have been made. We’re not going there. (But gosh, put these guys in togas, hand them light sabers and you could film yourself a swell backyard iPhone epic.)

 

Homeboy Florence has never won Pipe, but grew up on the break and has and has five Top 10 finishes in the past 6 years. His closest rival, Medina, has two second-place finishes in the past three years. South African Jordy Smith has an outside chance—if he takes first, he wins, also if he takes second and Medina grabs fifth or worse and Florence skids to eighth—but he’s usually been eliminated early at Pipe, except for a fifth-place finish last year. Finally, the Australian Julian Wilson, the only one of the four to win Pipe, in 2014, will overtake them all if he wins.

 

Finally, this is the next-to-last Pipe Masters to conclude the tour. Starting in 2019, the World Tour will wind up in Indonesia. So if John John Florence can pull off a world title, he’ll be positioned to chase a three-peat in his backyard, something only Andy Irons has ever done.

 

Talking about next year is definitely premature. For those who’ve been spoiled by having their sports spectaculars on the North Shore, this is one not to miss.  

 

Billabong Pipe Masters, ‘Ehukai Beach Park, holding period Dec. 8–Dec. 20

 

SEE ALSO:

 

READ MORE STORIES BY DON WALLACE

 

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Honolulu Magazine January 2018
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