Hawai‘i’s John John Florence Wins His First World Surf Tour Championship
Fulfilling what many called his destiny since he was a child riding Pipeline on the North Shore, the Eddie Aikau winner dominates at Supertubos in Portugal.
PHOTO: ZAK NOYLE, QUICKSILVER
Still wet, barefoot, holding a Hawaiian flag, John John Florence stood surrounded by his Island family and supporters on a beach in Portugal. He’d just put on an exuberant, soaring surfing display in the just-completed MEO Rip Curl Pro—an expression of joy over clinching the World Surf Tour 2016 world championship. Now came something harder, summing up his feelings.
“Oh … crazy, a whole lot of emotions,” he began. “I can’t wait to get home and surf Pipe. It’s been such a crazy year. I’m so stoked right now.” After fielding a couple of questions, he took a deep breath.
“It’s been my dream,” he said. “I’ve watched Kelly and Andy win their titles,” referring to champions Kelly Slater and Andy Irons, the North Shore-raised winner of three world titles, who died in 2010. Both had, in turn, watched Florence as an 8-year-old who dared to take on Pipeline. “I might cry later, but I’m just going to enjoy myself right now.”
With that, 24-year-old Florence stuck the moment, invoking his rooted upbringing—a child raised by the tribe of Pipeline surfers—and his fluid, spontaneous style of surfing.
The day at Supertubos began with Florence locked in on the title with only a month to go on the tour. A year of head-to-head competition with No. 2 Gabriel Medina had forced both surfers to their limits. But Brazilian Medina was eliminated by Jeremy Flores of France in the third round at Supertubos, postponing a showdown for the next contest, in Hawai‘i—unless Florence could clinch.
Nobody has doubted Florence’s talent, or his mastery of all kinds of surf and conditions. His February Eddie Aikau win in 30-plus-foot Waimea Bay surf, just five years removed from suffering a broken back at Pipeline, cemented his status. His throw-downs with Medina and others had answered questions as to whether Florence could submit his freestyle approach to the strategic demands of contest surfing, where lesser surfers can grab heats by relying on aggression and a grind-it-out mentality.
But could he clinch?
As it turned out, a Californian in his first-ever contest championship, Conner Coffin, played a key role—twice—at Supertubos. In the semifinals, he pulled into the largest wave of the day for a 9-point barrel that eliminated the one remaining competitor who could deny Florence the points he needed in Portugal for the world crown. When the red-hot South African, Jordy Smith, went down to Coffin, the world championship belonged to Florence.
After a quick celebration and a beer shower, Florence headed out against Coffin. There was still a contest to be won. Coffin charged hard, grabbing another big barrel for an 8.6 to lead the heat. Florence went to the air, reacting to the smaller waves by attempting a 360 aerial that he couldn’t quite stick. Building speed on a down-the-line second wave, Florence launched his helicopter, completed a full arching rotation, and landed in the wave’s sweet spot to continue his ride with the elan of Simone Biles at the Rio Olympics. The 9.5, added to two earlier 7s, pushed him over the top.
“After Conner won that heat against Jordy, the final was pretty relaxing,” said Florence after. “I was just going to try aerials and it just worked out that I won.”
Florence returns home for the Pipe Masters, which kicks off Dec. 8. “It’s been such an amazing year. I couldn’t have done it without everybody back home.”
Coming in second worked out for Coffin, too. In danger of failing to qualify for the 2017 tour, Coffin assured his spot in the top 22 with his runner-up finish.