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John John Florence Discusses His Chances of Being World Surf Champion (Again!)

As the 2016 champ returns to his North Shore home to compete in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, he’s taken a slim lead going into the Billabong Pipeline Masters.


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“How do you practice for gnarly?” Buffeted by trade winds that turned a nice-size swell into thrashing walls, a still-wet John John Florence needed only a moment to ponder the question. He’d just fought his way into the quarterfinals of the Hawaiian Pro at Hale‘iwa’s Ali‘i Beach Park, providing yet another example of the 2016 world champion’s versatility.

 

SEE ALSO: John John Florence Wins Hearts at the Hale‘iwa Hawaiian Pro

 

“Growing up here, I’ve surfed Hale‘iwa since way back—it’s unruly, but it’s fun,” he says. In a phrase, Florence also encapsulated why he’s the face of global pro surfing. He may be carrying a pro career on his 25-year-old, once-broken back, but with a smile and a shake of his sopping hair, he gives his fans—and the World Surf League—a reminder that surfing is about joy.  

 

It’s an outlook that, combined with the focus he displayed in 2016’s championship run, and 2017’s new coach, Ross Williams, has Florence ahead in the standings going into the finale at the Billabong Pipe Masters (Dec. 8–20, Banzai Pipeline aka ‘Ehukai Beach Park). This time last year, he’d clinched with a win at the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal.

 

John John Florence

PHOTOS: GARY SAITO

 

This year isn’t a victory lap by any means. Florence battled into fifth place in Portugal, but Gabriel Medina’s second first-place finish in a row put him hot on his heels. According to the WSL, Florence can win the world title if he makes the final at the Pipe Masters. If he places third or fifth, Medina can win with a Pipeline victory. If Florence gets ninth, Jordy Smith can win with a win at Pipe and Medina can win with a finals appearance.

 

(You follow that? Good. Then, if Florence notches 13th or 25th, Medina needs a fifth to clinch, Smith a second place and Julian Wilson can grab a world title with a Pipe win.)

 

Should Florence pull off the repeat, he’ll be the first to do so since Kelly Slater did the same in 2010 and 2011. Florence’s mentor and North Shore favorite Andy Irons managed to win three in a row—an achievement that only grows over time.

 

No matter what, Florence told HONOLULU, he’s up for the challenge. “I feel great. I come home with the lead and it all comes down to Pipe. I’m so stoked to be in this position.”

 

John John Florence

 

Florence didn’t make it out of the Hawaiian Pro quarterfinals, whose results don’t enter into the title chase, but he’s moving on and taking part in the Vans World Cup at Sunset Beach (Nov. 25 to Dec. 6). Only the Pipe matters for the championship, not that anything would persuade Florence to stop out for the World Cup, or the Hawaiian Pro, as Medina did.

 

“I’ve just been trying to enjoy this whole year,” he says. And it shows.

 

You can follow the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing at the WSL website here.

 

SEE ALSO: 

 

READ MORE STORIES BY DON WALLACE

 

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Honolulu Magazine May 2018
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