It’s 2012 and John John Florence is surfing’s biggest hype machine. He just swallowed 50k in the Kustom Airstrike and earlier this year he won the Volcom Pipe Pro, the Telstra Drug Aware Pro in Margaret River and the Billabong Pro in Brazil. After his Rio win, Joel Parkinson said, “I love watching John John’s surfing most right now. I’m into it. There’s something so fresh and different. He’s got such a skating style. It’s good to watch.” Even more recently, after surfing a quarter against John in portugal, Joel said: “He’s got all the elements of one of the most amazing surfers I’ve ever seen.” When a hall-of-fame swell hit Tavarua during the Volcom Fiji Pro, John was the only man in the lineup without a life vest. And post-Fiji, Mick Fanning told Stab: “John’s so relaxed. He finds the craziest waves and he just doesn’t seem to freak out. He’s really calm. It’s crazy to watch.”
There’s no frills. He’s just John and he just kills. So, does it surprise you to learn that there’s currently a bidding war going on between surfing’s biggest players, all trying to secure logo rights for the beak of John’s boards? And, it’s not just any bidding war, but the biggest bidding war in the history of surfing.
Right now, surfing’s three most powerful men are Kelly Slater, Dane Reynolds and John. From a company’s perspective, no point signing Kelly ’cause even if you had more money than sense, Kelly’s image is eternally weaved with Quiksilver. And, Dane’s locked up with Quik until 2017. But John John has that X factor the world is hot for. Can you believe he’s already spent 15 years on the books of O’Neill (since he was six)? John’s contract ends in September 2013. And, with the recent heat he’s been generating, John knows he’s currently well below his market value. So, expect to see things change much sooner.
“When you get an athlete, one of those real major sort of guys, they’re trend-setters,” says Pat O’Connell, Hurley marketing cat, sometimes contest director and a man who emits nothing but good vibes. “They influence things, and they influence with their opinions on the world and what’s happening. What you’re getting is a human that you respect. They’re a rallying point. You feel like you’ve got someone who puts the product in the ground, and everyone gets on it.”
Earlier this year, Billabong went head-to-head with Nike to try and scoop up Kolohe Andino. With an ageing surf team, Billabong needed an injection of new blood. Since signing Joel Parkinson, Taj Burrow and Andy Irons, Kolohe would’ve been Billabong’s biggest spend. But, Nike managed to hold onto Brother. Now, and whether it’s coincidental or not, since Taj’s contract ends at the end of this year and Joel’s finishes next year, Billabong have made moves for John.
They ain’t the only ones.
An industry insider confirmed that Hurley also want the Hawaiian and are proposing a deal that’d see John in Hurley apparel and suits and Nike footwear (Nike own Hurley). While Hurley’s lineup includes premium guys Brett Simpson, Miguel Pupo and Yadin Nicol, they’re currently without a multi-million-dollar-plus marquee surfer. Also in the ring is Vans, head-to-toe. John has ridden for Vans since 2001 and embodies everything the brand stands for. Both his brothers, Nathan and Ivan, also ride for Vans complete. A company that took minimal hits from the GFC (those Authentics, on every kid’s feet, were an antibiotic!), is something to take seriously.
And, O’Neill are also still trying to hold onto John, but they have the unenviable position of trying to hold onto both John and Jordy. Surfers like this don’t come cheap.
“I don’t know that there is an average salary for those big guys,” says Pat. “You know that they’re worth what they’re getting paid, because if they didn’t get paid their rate by one company, then another brand would pay them. I think if you get paid that and people are willing to pay you that, then that’s what you’re worth.”
Plenty of surfers on the edge of explosion have made pre-emptive strikes. A few months before his first event as a world tour surfer, Jordy Smith left Billabong and was scooped up by O’Neill. When Julian Wilson qualified for the tour, he left Quiksilver and signed with Nike. The point is, once y’make the world tour, your value as a surfer goes north. Good business doesn’t always accommodate loyalty and surfers have to make the most of their heat while they can, just in case it’s a little more short-lived than they hoped.
This movement comes two-and-a-half months after John left management at WMG (Wasserman Media Group) under Blair Marlin, who also manages Dane Reynolds and the Irons family. John’s now in the Sunka Entertainment fam, managed personally by Terry Hardy. That name should ring a bell. Terry’s the man who both manages Kelly and runs ZoSea (who just settled a very big deal to take over ASP media rights). A powerful man to have in your corner, f’sure. Both Blair and Terry (very politely) chose not to comment.
Our industry insiders estimate that John is worth between $3m and $4m a year, including wetsuits, apparel, eyewear, shoes, energy drink and watches. But with three major companies gunning for main sponsorship, you can assume it’s closer to four mil. A shade better than when he first signed an O’Neill contract for travel and contest entry fees, huh. – Elliot Struck