THE NEXT BEST THING TO WINNING THE MEAT TRAY
JOHN JOHN FLORENCE. THE ROAD TO SUPREMACY
TO CULL OR NOT TO CULL?
MAFIA P O I N T
THE WA SHARK DEBATE IS WHITE HOT
WHERE SURFERS PAY TO PLAY
HOW RORY RUSSELL TAUGHT BILL MURRAY TO SURF : THE SLATER PRO - SIX STRINGS & CHIA PODS
R E U N I O N I S L A N D ' S F O R B I D D E N F RU I T : S U P E R BA N K O R S U P E RWA N K ? M AY 2 0 1 4 / / VOL U M E 0 5 OF 1 2 // J OH N J OH N FL OR E NC E . S E RVA I S
J J F
THE ROAD TO SUPREMACY - BY JAYITA A BELCOURT
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It's not only in the air that John is pushing boundaries. Here he goes nuclear through a turn at home on the North Shore.|| SERVAIS
ohn John Florence is arguably one of the most respected surfers of our time, known for pushing the boundaries of "what's possible" from a super young age. Today at 21 years old, he continues to dazzle the world with his impressive moves, all the while with the grace and popularity of a veteran. But surprisingly, Florence's transition to the pro circuit hasn't been easy. His super-gifted ability, undeniable athleticism and relaxed demeanour have been coupled with devastating uncertainties, mammoth fears and blinding doubts. Hawaii's top-ranked surfer shares his journey with Tracks. "He [John John] is just unbelievable. There's not a better surfer in the world right now… For a guy his age to be where he's at already, inspiring literally every surfer on the earth. It's really great to watch," the 11time world champion, Kelly Slater, told a packed audience at the annual Surfer Poll awards in December last year. And it's not hard to understand why Kelly might say this. With only three years sparring against the world's best in the ASP World Tour arena to his name, Florence has already proved his notable talent. After finishing fourth in 2012 with "rookie of the year" and one WT win under his belt, Florence went on to secure the Triple Crown for a second time running in 2013. To add to his bountiful collection, Florence won a string of prizes at the Surfer Poll awards. His movie, Done, directed by Blake Kuney and Florence himself, won 'Movie of the Year'. He then won 'Best Performance', and in case he wasn't feeling special enough; Florence was back on stage to claim his final title for the night as runner up in the men's popularity award (to Kelly Slater). But despite all this, it's not where Florence wants to be. "I would have liked to have won the Pipe Contest. It didn't happen," Florence poetically points out. To understand where he's coming from, you have to backtrack a little. In a final that will be remembered as perhaps a little lacklustre, with only the last 10 minutes containing any real exciting exchanges, it was the 41- year-old Kelly, who again got the upper hand. But whilst Slater may have taken home the trophy from Pipe, the message was loud and clear. John John Florence is no longer the new kid on the block, he is here and here to reign. For don't be fooled. Behind that sweet smile and polite demeanour is a tough competitor immensely hungry
to win. And that's not all. This kid is counting down to that defining moment when he is able to dethrone the very surfers who inspired him in the first place. "I was stoked to be in the finals with Kelly who I've watched do what he does out there for the past 15 years," Florence uttered with mixed emotions after his marginal loss to Slater. "To make the final and be that close and miss out, I was pretty disappointed… But I'm still happy with the Triple Crown. This result has me motivated for next year. It's eating my inside how close I was, but I'm still stoked." And yet, pleased he may be on some levels, it is nonetheless a blow for young Florence. Although, compared to other times, perhaps markedly a minor knock-back. For during his short stay on planet earth, Florence has struggled with other things much deeper and dimmer… Four years ago, the surf prodigy was mercilessly thrown from his board whilst riding his hometown breaks on Hawaii's North Shore. The sheer weight of the wave's lip landed squarely on young Florence, delivering a force so strong, it left him sidelined for nearly six months. At the start of a promising surfing career, the then 17-year-old was forced to look adversity in the eye. And Florence admits – this was one freaky beast. "I broke it [my back] surfing at Pipe. Yeah, it was a scary moment. It didn't feel very good at all," Florence says with a quiver in his voice. "It took me a while to get my back, back to normal. Swimming and stuff. I was in California getting a lot of work done. "But you know, you get through that, like you get through anything else. You can't have it slow you down really." When asked how he mustered the courage to get back on his board, Florence was quick to highlight the intense love he feels for surfing his backyard break. "It was not going to stop me from surfing Pipe. I was definitely a little bit scared at first, a little bit nervous but you get over it really quick… Yeah, once you're done with it you just move on," he says with profound conviction. As impressive as this may sound, Florence has been forced to test his resilience more than once. At the first stop of the ASP world tour in 2013, Florence again injured himself during an expression session at the Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast. It forced him out of action for the next two events. Despite the frustration that went with it, Florence accepts the risks
“He [JoHn JoHn] is Just unbelievable. tHere’s not a better surfer in tHe world rigHt now" kelly slater 030 // TRACKSMAG.COM // ISSUE Nº 524
Tweaking it out on a big backhand loft.|| NRHPHotos
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SO I WAS LUCKY I WENT THAT LONG, I’VE HAD SO MANY CLOSE CALLS,” HE SAYS.
he takes and is simply grateful more bumps haven't hampered his journey. "It happens. I hurt my ankle at the beginning of last year and I had to miss out on a couple of events. I was lucky enough I didn't really have an injury since I broke my back. So I was lucky I went that long, I've had so many close calls," he says. One has to wonder where he gets such bountiful wisdom and amazingly upbeat approach to life. After all, he is only 21 years old. Curious, I had to ask. Florence cannot recall his first surf. He knows he was young but he doesn't know where or when. But he does recall one person guiding him from the start. "My mum's always been there for everything. She's pretty much helped me out my whole surfing career. I definitely wouldn't be where I am today without her," he insightfully shares. Growing up without a father figure, Florence has had to rely on the countless support and guidance of the North Shore clan to inspire his surf career. Semi prosurfer (aka "bad boy") Jamie O'Brien gets a special mention; he also credits his family and friends for inspiring his tour success. "My mum still comes to some of the events and then I have another friend Sean, he helps me out a lot. And then my brothers come to some of the events as well … I like having the family there." But beyond his supportive peers, there is a special name that gets a mention. It is a name that every avid Hawaiian rider knows. Just a murmur evokes feelings of courage, determination, self-sacrifice, passion (and the list could go on). It is none other than the late Eddie Aikau. "He [Eddie] is the true definition of a Hawaiian, someone I think who we all aspire to be," Florence explains. Recently taking part in the Eddie Aikau big wave opening ceremony, Florence acknowledges his deep connection to this unique surfing community and speaks fondly of the great Hawaiian culture that has propelled him along. "It's a huge thing to be part of that event. Ever since I got invited, it's been an honour to be a part of the people who are in and who have been in it the past couple of years. I still haven't gotten to surf in it cause the waves haven't been big enough… Hopefully this year we will get to surf. I just can't wait to be able to surf in it, and surf in Eddie's name," Florence says with excitement. Eddie was known in Hawaii for his endless love of Mother Nature and protecting her people. It's likely shaped Florence, who candidly admits the blessing he feels from being Hawaiian - with its stunning natural beauty and impressive breaks. Consequently, Flor-
A bit of inside bowl ﬁnesse at Haleiwa.||FRIEDEN
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Whether at Pipe, in the air or during animalistic turns like this, there is not a single fibre of John John's bieng that knows the meaning of holding back.|| moran
ence is deeply passionate about respecting the environment and supporting its people, at whatever the cost. With more development and pressures facing his island chain, Florence knows this is part of his calling. Recently taking part in a peaceful grassroots campaign to inhibit agrochemical farming in his hometown of Haleiwa, Florence clearly walks his talk. "The surfing world comes to Hawaii and uses these waves, and they use this North Shore every single winter. It's made a lot of people's dreams come true. I think that everyone should really take a stand and help [Hawaii]. It's time to give back," he says in reflection over the long-standing battle to keep Hawaii's environment pristine and GMO Free. But Florence is not silly. He knows he is still fresh in this space with a lot to grasp and digest. When you are going up against multi-million dollar companies, there is no easy route. "I'm just starting to get involved in all that kinda stuff. I'm still pretty new to this whole thing. I guess I'll just watch and learn from Barca," he openly confesses in reference to former pro- surfer now turned activist, Dustin Barca. And watch and learn he surely has. Inside the competitive arena, Florence admits he is light years ahead to when he first captured the world's attention in 2005 as the youngest competitor, aged 13, to compete as a wildcard in the Vans Triple Crown Event. He notes, "I've just learned so much since I've been on the tour, just surfing with all these guys. So many different things." "I think the main thing is learning the fact that I could beat those guys. That's the biggest thing. My first year on tour I didn't think I could beat them. I would get in a heat with Kelly Slater and think he wasn't beatable. He's not unbeatable." Luckily for Florence, he pretty soon figured out his surfing ability was on par with the world's best. When asked the defining moment that created this
shift, Florence wasn't too sure but simply believes it was a natural progression in his career. Inevitable I guess when you're surfing all day and every day in the world's best breaks. But beyond the countless hours he spends honing his moves and searching the perfect barrel, Florence realised one important conclusion that catapulted him to the inner realms of the surfing world's supremely elite - talent alone is not enough. In deep reflection, he goes on to explain that there is so much more to the equation, and unfortunately for Florence, not always factors in his control. "I think everyone surfs in their own way. Usually whoever gets the bigger wave [wins]. Heats are based off luck a lot of the time. So I kinda just go out there and surf hard and hope for the best." It is no surprise he reached this conclusion. For Florence's surfing ability has never been the issue. But devising tactical ploys and executing his manoeuvres to yield the upper hand, has at times, been questioned. So does Florence know the difference between how he wants to surf versus how he wants to win? Knowing which gun to pick and when to pull the trigger, especially when you have so many options up your sleeve â€“ namely the ability to do impressive aerials, charter big waves, small waves and chisel immaculate carves â€“ it can't be easy. Florence admits this is one lesson not easily mastered. "You really want to pick and choose the right ones [waves], but you don't really know which ones are going to be good or not," Florence assesses. "You have to choose your waves a lot more [wisely] and go with the priority of everything and stuff". And that's not all. Florence knows what keeps him inspired when inside the jersey. With his unprecedented popularity across the globe, at least one aspect of his game falls in his favour. "When you come out of the barrel and everyone screams [which always happens], it kinda gets you
The easy John John lope to the water's edge is at stark contrast to his attack in the water.||
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In the hole and in control at Pipe .||joli
motivated to go out and get another one," he smiles. No stranger to winning, Florence clearly knows what it takes to become accomplished in one's sport. When probed about his secret formula to success, the 21 year olds' philosophy is strikingly simple. Love what you do, do what you love. The rest will come. "I think it's really just a matter of having fun doing what you do. As long as you're having fun doing it, then you're going to want to do it more and more. That's how you get good at it." "If you're not having fun you can take it too seriously and overthink things," Florence passionately explains. But again, it's not all smooth sailing for the sports highest paid athlete and most promising talent. In this most competitive of eras with the likes of Kelly "mind games" Slater and Mick "iron will" Fanning, Florence knows the mental side of surfing is more important than ever, even when you're still dry. The Hawaiian admits he struggles with the classic pitfalls of competition. Fortunately for Florence; he has a few tricks up his sleeves to keep himself distracted before the showdowns begin.
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"Definitely [I have] nerves before each heat. I've been super nervous before each heat," Florence revealed at the Pipe Masters event after clinching a victory in the dying seconds of his "scary heat" against fellow young gun, Gabriel Medina. Florence went on to elaborate about his mental preparation that helps him relax before such moments. "I kinda just have fun with my family and stuff," he says laughing. Fun? What kind of fun. Unfortunately, Florence doesn't go into that. One can only imagine what boys do. But there are no head dives into magazines or losing himself to music, Florence is adamant on that. Nearing the close of our interview, Florence doesn't need a lot of time to answer what he ultimately wants from this year's ASP World tour. "I definitely have some fire to want to win Pipe because of how close I got. I would really really love to win Pipeâ€Ś A world title is definitely my ultimate dream but you never quite know when that is going to happen. You kinda just go with it and surf," a bright-eyed Florence says. And as he enters uncharted territory in 2014, one thing is for sure. This is going to be one interesting ride.