“Man child, One John, J Flow, John, and many more names have been directed towards John John.  At 19 John John is currently riding a historic few of years of his life.  What makes John John so gnarly is his modesty and his sincere reaction to all of his success,  it’s pure like the ocean that has given it to him,” reckons photog extraordinaire and Florence family friend Daniel Russo. (To peep more from Russo, click here). 

DR: World Title? 
JJF: One day I hope.

Nathan Florence?
Gnarly at Chopes. 

Ivan Florence?
My little brother that has caught a bigger wave than me. Fuck that wave was so gnarly, I want one so bad. 

Nathan Fletcher?
Always being creative in all walks of life.  He skates so good and does the craziest stuff in the water.  He is going to win the XXL one day. 

Are you a ladies man?
Ha ha, it depends.  My brothers are more confident than me somehow. Nathan gets all the girls. 

I love that wave.  I surf it almost everyday when I am home.  I love it when it’s big and west. And when it’s small Backdoor has the biggest ramps. I look up to so many people who surf that wave and I can’t wait for it to break this winter. 

I have been collecting a few cameras and taking photos on my trips.  Documenting our lives right now and my friends through my photos is a challenge but really fun. 

Photo: Russo

John John Florence’s 19 years on the planet have been fairly well documented. It is said he started surfing at six months of age (wearing a life vest) and was paddling out at Pipe by himself by the time he was 5. By 12 he had amassed a series of junior and and open NSSA titles and at 13 became the youngest ever surfer to surf in the Triple Crown. His first heat was at maxing Haleiwa where the waves were six times overhead for normal sized adults. He stood 4’11″ and weighed 38 kilograms. It was at this stage, whereby John John was already catching set waves out at Pipe, that Kelly Slater was quoted as saying,

“John John’s going to know the waves on the North Shore like no one we’ve ever seen before.”

Being so young, and so good, and so gnarly in waves of consequence meant most people who follow surfing knew about John John. They knew he had been raised in a house in front of Pipe by his keen surfer mother Alex, along side his younger brothers Nathan and Ivan. They knew Jamie O’Brien had taken him under his wing and that he had been on the covers of magazines before he had pubes. With every turn, every Pipe barrel, every rotation being filmed it was almost impossible not to know about John John. Yet in the last 18 months, although most surfers knew who John John was, no one knew just how good he is. And no one knows, except himself maybe, just how good he is going to be. 

In 2011 he qualified for the elite ASP World Tour, showcasing his abilities in waves that weren’t ten foot and tubing. He then won the Triple Crown, becoming the youngest ever surfer to do so, before clocking consecutive QS victories at Sunset, Pipe and Margaret River. 

The world, via webcam, was now seeing what a complete surfer John John was. His immense skateboarding talent was evident in his aerial attack – his technical grabs a direct function of all the skate and snowboarding videos he had spent years rewinding and fastforwarding. This was matched by power derived from a expanding 6 foot frame plus a contortionist cat like gift for recovery. 

His style is also slightly unorthodox, and yet in a world of surfers being technique-coached to within an inch of their life, it’s slight raggedness makes him instantly recognisable, instantly appealing. The overall combination meant he was consistently pulling out heat scores above 18 and throwing away scores that his competitors would have eaten a rash vest for. There was contest drive and contest smarts to match his ridiculous talent. Additionally a coloured singlet seemed to make very little difference in his radical approach to a wave. 

In May this year he then went on to win his first World Tour event in Rio, becoming the first Hawaiian since Andy Irons to do so. It was then that the best surfers in the world started talking about his chance of a world title being a matter of when and not if. He was already sixth in the ratings with Fiji and Teahupoo the next two events. 

Photo: Russo

Of course then came Fiji. As is well documented a 20 foot swell detonated along Cloudbreak and with the ASP deciding not to run the event, it resulted in a session that has been described as the best big wave day in the history of the sport. Of the 32 World Tour surfers on the island, only eight free surfed that session. Of those eight, it was only John John that looked truly at ease amongst the best big-wave surfers on the planet. With two 20 foot tubes, John John cemented his reputation as the surfer of his generation. From two foot to 20 feet and beyond he is supremely at ease. And all this at 19. The last surfer this good at this age was Kelly Slater. That probably says it all. 

– Ben Mondy


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