Stab Magazine | Is John John Planning A Pipe Masters Return?
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Is John John Planning A Pipe Masters Return?

“I want to go down the line as fast as I want, get lipped in the back of the head, land in the flats and be confident that I can surf at the level I want to.”

news // Aug 18, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Since thoroughly torquing his knee one fateful afternoon surfing in Bali earlier this year, there has been much speculation as to the path back to greatness for John John Florence.

Forsaking surgery for his “high partial tear of the ACL” in favor of a non-invasive but time-intensive physio regiment, his expected return to competition is still very much up in the air, though he’s wasted no time finding myriad ways to occupy his downtime from Tour. 

This week, the WSL caught up with John while he was posted up at home on the North Shore, to see where he was with the recovery and whether we might see a surprise return from the World Champ at his beloved Pipeline this winter:

On whether this injury has been similar to deal with than previous ones, like in Tahiti in 2013. 

“It was actually strange how it happened. It didn’t happen on the impact when I landed back on the wave, but when I was standing back up. I think my knee was out of place and it bent funny when I stood back up. I heard a pop and it definitely didn’t feel right, then I fell and went underwater.

“Immediately, I tried to compare it to when I hurt my leg in Tahiti a few years back, as it felt similar. I walked up beach fine by myself and sat there watching the waves for a little bit. That’s when it started to stiffen, and I thought, Uh oh, something isn’t right here.

John John letting it all wash over him. Photo by WSL/Cestari

On the initial diagnosis and decision to forsake surgery: 

“The WSL doctors took a look at it and they thought it was an ACL tear, but they didn’t know how bad it was. We got some MRIs in Bali, but it was still kind of vague and I didn’t know how bad it was. No one would tell me. It was determined to be a high partial tear of the ACL.

“From there, we flew to Hawaii and got MRIs on the new machines to confirm the diagnosis. We were on the fence about the surgery — everyone that we spoke with recommended rehabilitating it without cutting into it.

“With a partial tear, you have a good chance of healing all the way back and I thought that if I had the surgery, then that would technically injure more than it was to repair it. Mark Kozuki flew over from California and I worked with him for a week and immediately began to feel better.

“The knee feels great now. I have no trouble walking on it, but I’m still stiff getting in low positions so I have a way to go before I’m fully healed enough to surf.”

Backdoor crowd pleaser. Photo courtesy WSL/Heff

On going back-to-back, AI’s three-peat, and his shifting attitude mid-year.

“Winning back-to-back Titles, the three-peat and AI (Andy Irons) were on my mind for sure. Coming into the year, I took a different approach to surfing on Tour. I set out to relax and enjoy every single heat, surf the way I wanted and see if it worked…it didn’t really work.

“Starting in Brazil, I switched back to the way I approached competition last year – which is still pushing to perform the way I want to but having a more structured competitive mindset to putting a heat together. I felt like that switch was working really well, but it was just a bummer that I got sick down there.

“I stuck with that in Bali and felt really good too, but just had an off heat when I got eliminated.

“So yeah, I didn’t have the results I wanted first half of the season, but I was feeling really good about my surfing and about the adjustments I was making, starting in Brazil. I was really looking forward to completing at the Margaret River at Uluwatu and to the rest of the season.”

“Then I got injured and just went, “Damn.”

“It’s okay though, it’s a big learning experience and I think ultimately helpful to look at things from a different perspective. I’m trying to make the most out of the situation.

“When you’re competing, you’re always so full on that you get stuck in one headspace and you can be resistant to different ideas.

“In that sense, the injury has allowed me to slow down and figure out what’s been working for me, what hasn’t been and look at what’s working for others and consider applying some of that to what I do.”

On wether he’ll be back for a late-season backyard blow-out at the Pipe Masters. 

“The scenario for me to compete at Pipe all depends on my knee. Not going through the surgery, it’s less certain what the rehabilitation time would be to get it back to 100%. I’m not coming back until it’s 100%. I’m not coming back in a brace at 80% or something and risk hurting it again.

“More so because when I come back I do not want to be hesitant in any way. I want to go down the line as fast as I want, get lipped in the back of the head, land in the flats and be confident that I can surf at the level I want to.

“On the CT, there’s no way you can come back at less than your best and expect to compete. Everyone is too good at that level. So, I’m working hard on getting back to 100% and I’m really frothing to get back to it.”

John John at Backdoor, Pipe Masters 2017. Photo courtesy WSL / DAMIEN POULLENOT

On the current Title Race and which of his tourmates keeps him on the feed while he’s down and out. 

“Everyone on Tour is such a great surfer in their own way — they’re all different surfers with different styles and, at the CT level, you can learn things from all of them. I’m constantly watching the guys on Tour and learning new things.

“Filipe (Toledo) is looking pretty good after his J-Bay win in terms of this year’s Title race. He’s such a good surfer. Even when I’m healthy and on Tour, he inspires me. He surfs how he wants to in heats and that’s so hard to do…

“Filipe goes as fast as he wants to and really lets loose. I admire that a lot. It’s super fun to watch and it makes me want to find that balance when I return.”

 

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