Photos by Daniel Russo. Words by Derek Reilly.
We’re going to get to know the Florence family real well over the next five years, this cute and deadly band of Hawaiian surf bums comprising three brothers (John, 20, Nathan, 19, Ivan 17) and a skating-surfing super mom, Alex.
You know all about John, yeah? Raised on the sand, towed into his first Pipe bombs by Herbie Fletch (pops of Christian and Nathan and grand-daddy to Greyson) when he was seven, currently the owner of the finest contract in surfing, Kelly Slater aside.
But I ain’t here to anoint John. He’s doin’ just alright. Today we explore the innermost workings of the middle brother, Nathan, the most interesting of the pack if you really wanna know. How many pro surfers can you think of who were gobbling novels when they were six and who’ll reference french author Guy Sajer’s seminal wartime novel The Forgotten Soldier?
Nathan, whom we find in a villa on Bali’s east coast, has an accent that is a beguiling mix of Bruce Irons and Jamie O’Brien, those easy shrieks at the end of each satisfying sentence and the italicising of words (Bruce) and the agreeable mmmhmmms and mmmmmm’s that prefix most responses (O’Brien). Is it a pipe-shredder patois or do these flaming candles somehow form part of Nathan’s syntax due to their geographical proximity? So many layers! Now let’s investigate the thoughts of Mr Nathan Florence.
‘I‘m the sarcastic one‘ admits Nathan.Well, he was never going to be the ‘most barrelled one‘, was he…?
What are your favourite sounds?
I like the sound of the waves when I go to sleep. We grew up directly opposite the beach and it was always there. You don’t even realise that you like that sound until you stay the night somewhere where you can’t hear it. It’s an addicting sound. It’s a rumbling. There’s a constant static roar and then you’ll hear the sets break… purrrraaah… yeah, that must’ve been a big one. If it’s really big and you can really hear the big ones and the windows shake a little bit, that excites me. It’s a little harder to sleep when you know it’s going to be big in the morning and then it’s calming when it’s summertime and it’s just hitting the beach… super slow.
Tell me about where you live now.
We live directly next to the lifeguard stand at Pipe, right on the beach. My bedroom is in the middle. I share a bedroom with my younger brother Ivan. We have a bunk bed. He’s in the top bunk, I’m on the bottom bunk. It’s a little cave.
In your reading, what books have moved you?
It’s hard to explain books because after you read one, you’ll always say that was the best book I’ve ever read. But then you read the next one and you’re, like… that one… was the favourite book I’ve ever read. Then you read another one and that is. As you read the next one you forget about the one before. I’ve never read a book I didn’t like ‘cause after the first chapter, if I don’t like it, I just put it down. The ones that I finish are the ones that instantly drag you in. I read all the Game of Thrones books. I finished ‘em a couple of months ago. Those things are… so… sick. I seriously finished them in a month, I read every one, there’s seven of ‘em.
At the North Shore’s Outer Reefs, all your fancy book learnin’ won’t help much.
When do you read?
Right before I go to bed or after surfing, whenever you have time to relax and lay down for a second. Especially in airports. That’s when you really fly through them. I get through, in a session, maybe a hundred pages. I never fall asleep reading. People say they get sick reading in a car but that’s my favourite time to read cause car rides are… boring.
What book inspired you to read when you were a child?
The first book I read, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was in third grade (six years old). before that I hated reading. My teacher gave it to me and said, just read this book, maybe you’ll be more psyched on reading after this. And I read it, and there’s like seven of those, and, she was right, I … so… psyched on it. And… boom… I read all that series. My grandpa reads a ton so he’s always sending me the books he finishes. He likes the same kinds of books that I like.
What is heaven for you?
When the waves are firing at home in late winter. Pipe’s going off and everyone’s tired of surfing already ‘cause it’s been, like, a week and it’s me and my friends cruising and we’ve surfed all day and are relaxing, drinking a couple of beers. You look around, well, I do anyway, and say, yup, this is exactly how I want to live.
Nathan out the front.
What is the most remarkable thing you’ve seen in big waves?
I’ve seen some crazy stuff John’s done in person. John’s always blowing minds getting barrels. Koa’s last wave in Tahiti was pretty baffling. The Code Red swell (August 27, 2011) was the sickest thing I’ve ever seen in big waves. I love how they’re all eating shit on ‘em. And these are the types of waves when people make ‘em everyone says, “Oh, if you’d fallen you would’ve died for sure.” But, then, those guys were eating shit on the gnarliest waves possible and surviving perfectly. Nate’s (Fletcher’s) wave. Think about it. If he had made that wave, everyone would’ve said, “There’s no way you would’ve survived if you hadn’t made it. You would’ve died, f’sure.” But he ate shit in the gnarliest part and then…fucken… handled (italics) it. That’s the sickest part. When they get the bomb, travel, travel, travel and then… eat… shit. Wipeouts are my favourite.
Does it give you confidence in your own pursuit of big waves seeing guys eat shit and nothing happening?
Definitely. Whenever you’re going into a big swell, your mind is…it’s a constant little stress case mind battle, I could die, I could die, I could die, but then the thing about those guys is that’s way gnarlier than anything I’ve ever surfed so it’s fate whether you die or not. You don’t have a choice. Those guys were surviving, so fuck…
What’s the gnarliest wave you’ve ridden?
Surfing Chopes. I haven’t had a gnarly tow in experience out there, really, eating it really bad on a big one, but just the paddling sessions I’ve had with my brothers and Koa (Rothman) and Eli (Olson) and Kiron (Jabour), those have been the scariest. And surfing Himalayas. We got caught inside on a fucking 30-footer last winter and that was the gnarliest thing I’ve ever been through. I made it through the back but I watched Eli get sucked over the falls on the biggest wave ever. Hollllly shit!
How would you describe the hierarchy between the three brothers?
We’re all even to each other. John’s obviously way ahead of me and Ivan performance-wise, I feel like. He has the super competitive drive. He loves the contests whereas I… hate contests. I can’t stand them. I’d rather chase a swell and surf by myself in bigger waves than go grind it out in the CT. Ivan’s the same way, kinda. but then, Ivan has a sicker style. His style is way sicker than mine or John’s. We each have our little pluses. John is a super human.
Describe Ivan’s style.
I don’t even know how he’s so smooth, like, Tom Curren and then he has that little drop-knee like… that guy…that air guy… with the long, curly hair and he kinda drop knees…
Yeah, yeah, yeah, he has a sick little drop knee thing…
How would you describe the personality types of the brothers?
Ivan is a serious little guy. Very serious little face. I’m more of the sarcastic one who’s making a joke out of everything and then John is just right in between. He can be super mature, just ‘cause he has to deal with so many interviews and business-like stuff, but then at the same time he’s more immature than me and Ivan… especially when he gets drunk.
What does he do when he’s boozed?
He looks like a little kid. He looks like a five year old.
It always looks like he’s having a very good time chasing gals…
He has the appearance of a man who’s never seen a gal before… Exactly. He could have any girl he wanted but he gets so… awkward and weird. He doesn’t even know how heavy he could be.
The shit he could be doing…
Deadly. He could be so deadly. But he’s not.
It’s very difficult to imagine, as a normal man, what such a flaming candle could involve himself in: so many multiples!
Oh my god, he could be doing terrible things. Damage. Serious damage. But he doesn’t.
He will eventually. He’ll get his head around it.
It’ll come to him whether he likes it or not. Eventually, girls will start raping him.
And you’ll be soaked in the spin-offs…
Yeah. I won’t have a choice.
What’s the worst insult you’ve ever received?
I’ve never been super super rousted or else I didn’t even take it to heart.
What’s the cruellest thing John or Ivan has said to you?
I can tell you the cruellest thing ever done to me. When I was 10, John threw a rock at my face and knocked out all my front teeth. It was completely by accident. He meant to throw the rock at me but he didn’t mean to knock out all my teeth. He threw it from 50 feet away. He had perfect aim somehow. I was bodysurfing and he wanted to go up to the house and I said I wanted to stay bodysurfing and then he wanted to get my attention so he started throwing rocks at me. I remember, he was 50 feet away and he winged it, and I watched it arc up and I was looking at it and I was, like, ooh, that kinda looks like it’s coming at me and it was, like, shit, it’s going to hit me and before I could even try and dodge it the thing just smashed (italics) into my mouth. I was crunching and I thought the rock had broken on my teeth so I spit it all out and it was all my teeth. I ran up to the house…
What did Alex do?
She was all pissed. We put ice on my teeth but all the nerves were exposed so the ice hurt super bad and then John got a spanking or something. He got rousted super hard for that one. I felt bad for him.
If you ever wanted to get under John’s skin, how would you insult him?
Mmmmmm. Mmmmmm. By telling him he was cocky.
He doesn’t like that?
No, he doesn’t like that. Telling him he’s number one, “Oh, sorry, sorry, John, you’re number one, you’re the guy, we’re sorry!” (Laughter) That’s upsetting to him. He tries to play it down, “Oh, you’re the guy, you’re the guy.” but he knows it’s half-true so he can’t deny it…compleeeetely… but he doesn’t want to be, he’s so modest that he gets super irritated that someone thinks he’s cocky.
What’s right with the world?
I have no idea what’s right with the world? What do you think is right with the world?
I think what’s right with the world is that everyone is richer beyond their wildest imaginations and kids aren’t crippled with polio and there’s no world war…
…and there hasn’t been a nuclear explosion in 80 years…
Mmmmhmmm. Those are all pluses.
What do you like most about yourself?
I seem to be able to get along with people. I guess that’s a plus.
What do you find hard?
Airs. I can’t do airs, surfing.
At what level can’t you do airs? Can you land a straight air, a little air rev or are you bereft of wings?
I’ve landed three air reverses in my whole life.
Where does the problem lay, in the mechanics or the lack of desire?
First, I never thought of them. I didn’t care about ‘em and then the way people started doing airs, like John, Matt and Albee, those things are actually nuts and then I started trying to do airs. And I just realised that I was a complete failure at them. The mechanics are foreign to me. I can get myself in the air but no matter what, when I land on my board, I’m eating shit.
You are so wise for a professional surfer.
(Mid-level shriek) Ha!
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such wisdom…
Thank you, sir.