John John Florence on his long-awaited pipeline win and new model
On December 20th, Hawaii’s John John Florence emerged from the water with his first Pipeline Masters win in Pipe. The headline wasn’t so much that he had won, but that he hadn’t won it by then. The long-awaited moment of the victory itself was also marked by what was missing: flanks from fans, as Florence couldn’t sit on the beach thanks to socially distant safety rules. Pandemic precautions, however, have not erased the importance.
“Not winning all these times definitely stung a bit,” Florence recently told MJ, “especially the times when I reached the final.” You get so close, you do all these heats and you can’t win. It didn’t bother me too much, but it’s definitely an event I wanted to win – it’s in my back yard. “
And when he says backyard he’s not talking about pictorial neighborhood; It’s literally his back yard.
Florence famously grew up on the sands of Ehukai Beach Park, the stretch that provides access to several breaks on the north coast, including pipe and backdoor. He threw himself into these waves before puberty, owned the amateur ranks, and did the cover of Surfer magazine. Florence was the youngest competitor to ever surf the Van’s Triple Crown in 2008 and actually did a round of pipe at the age of 14. At the age of 19 he qualified for the World Tour.
In the past decade, he has won seven World Surf League World Tour events, four Volcom Pipeline Pros (part of the WSL qualifying tour), the Quiksilver in memory of Eddie Aikau’s Big Wave event and consecutive WSL world titles.
And after all this time now the coveted Pipeline Masters.
Courtesy Parallel Sea
This latest addition didn’t come in massive waves or historical terms, but the plot was perfect. After a full year without a WSL competition thanks to the annoying pandemic, logistical gymnastics to get all surfers to Hawaii, and a COVID case reset, Florence beat his biggest mentor in the semifinals and biggest rival in the finals against legendary Kelly Slater and dangerous Gabriel Medina.
“It’s incredible to compete with Kelly … that he’s still pushing me as much as he is,” says Florence. “He has so much knowledge and so much experience. And Gabe – with these two guys in a row, I couldn’t have imagined that things would go better. He has reached the finals there almost every year since he was on tour. He’s a machine. To win against him is good for me. Having gift pushes me to want to be a better competitor, and so are the other surfers. We have become good friends out of the heat. “
Where Slater has set the stage for the John John story up to now, Medina is sure to have a role in future chapters to unfold.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
It has long been known that JJF has the potential to affect the world more than any other surfer since Slater. 2021 could prove to be a critical point on this path.
Above all, the WSL has changed the tour format; Florence is currently number 1. The recent Pipe Masters, traditionally the last event of the season, was in fact the first event of 2021. The season will start on a new schedule, with an actual championship in September in mainland USA culminates at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, CA. This finale alone makes this year a milestone.
Should he win another title, Florence would go to an exclusive club alongside Mark Richards, Tom Curren, Slater, Andy Irons and Mick Fanning, all three-time world champions.
Courtesy Parallel Sea
How many events can be effectively held with surfers flying around the world in a worsening pandemic remains to be seen. Surfing can’t happen in a bubble, but the WSL has made a rigorous effort to ensure safety. And while the 18- to 34-year-old demographic may not be stereotypical about the virus, Florence says tour surfers don’t take it lightly.
“From what I saw here in Hawaii, everyone did really well – we were tested almost every day,” he says. “We wore masks and kept apart. On the one hand, nobody wants to get COVID because you are putting all that work and effort in vain. On the other hand, getting into someone else’s community and spreading it is a bummer. Everyone takes it very seriously. “
Should the WSL continue to successfully run safe events and the Olympics take place, there will be another revolutionary change for Florence and the surfing industry in general.
For most of his career in Florence, he had the support of Hurley, the action sports brand founded by Bob Hurley – the California surfboard shaper who launched Billabong in North America and later Hurley International, which he sold to Nike and which stayed at the top until 2015.
But the Hurley brand, which became a major driver in the surfing industry and sponsored surfers at every level of the world, sold again, cleared much of their list, and bought Florence for $ 30 million from the remainder of its reported eight-year deal.
Last summer, Hurley and Florence announced the launch of Florence Marine X, a new brand that not only focused on surfing but went outside and thrived in the elements. It’s a bold new direction that is somewhat at odds with the surfing industry, which has long marketed itself through sponsorship of events, team building and performance surfing on 5’9 engines.
Courtesy Parallel Sea
“If I get a good jacket for heavy weather, I want to go on an adventure,” he adds. “It makes me do all kinds of things: paddling, sailing, foiling, and surfing.”
Surfing is clearly the most obvious, but while Florence was recovering from a knee injury in 2018, she quit 32-mile Molokai2Oahu paddling with partner Kona Johnson. It got into heavy foil – both waves and open water. He competed against the Hawaiian Kai Lenny in a foil sailboat race. And after years of learning to sail, he cruised the South Pacific last year in his 48-foot gunboat, exploring atolls, islands and waves, all of which were documented in a series named by YETI called Vela, named after his ship.
“Sailing is a big part of being able to go wherever we want,” he says. “When we’ve been on these sailing trips to surf in the middle of nowhere, I really feel like we’re out there and can withstand the elements. The only thing holding you back is your exposure to the elements – the wind, the sun, and the salt. “
He calls it “outdoor clothing” rather than the surf clothing paradigm, perhaps a good move considering that the pillars of the surf industry were showing signs of wear and tear, even before the pandemic. It also appeals to a wider audience than just surfing without losing Florence’s credibility.
Courtesy Parallel Sea
And it bears his name, which prompts him to be more rewarding, but also to take more risk. For one thing, he will be the only ambassador. (Does anyone on tour want to represent a company named after a guy they have to surf against?). That’s okay with Florence, who focuses on “the excitement of getting the gear in the water and thinking,” Yes, we built this to do this, “knowing that it will withstand and last. “
2021 is going to be huge because he clearly has a financial skin in the game now, a little worrying if the world economy doesn’t bounce back. But it seems that Florence is really excited about his product.
“We worked on what we want to do and how we want to do it,” says Florence. “A lot of work has gone into testing samples, developing samples, and making things that will last in marine environments. It takes some time to get the spring and summer launch ready. “
Florence’s obvious role will be to assist with the equipment, but also to use hands-on testing materials and put the equipment through its paces – jobs he enjoys very much.
“I think everyone has their goals and ideals of what they want to do with their brands,” he adds. “There are so many different perspectives on surfing. And for the brands that only focus on surfing, I think that’s totally cool. In my life I have found a lot of love for the ocean. It’s through other things too. I want to make a brand based on all the other aspects of being in and around the ocean. “
Finally, there is the little thing about the Olympic Games in Japan, which were postponed from last July. Florence will be surfing for the US team. Should that work, it would bring surfers to a global audience. Could JJF drive Shaun White / Mary Lou Retton level recognition by August?
This late summer trend could exponentially multiply the importance of all these things.
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