John’s Spontaneous Engagement, Why The Olympics Should Be Held In A Wave Pool, And How Hawaii Became The Home Of The Surf Vlog
The Stab Interview with John Florence.
We meet John and his manager Brandon at the front gate of his house at Log Cabins.
We walk through the house and sit on the patio overlooking Log Cabins. The property is effortless beach chic, thanks to a feminine touch by his girlfriend, Lauryn Cribb.
The foliage has grown up over the front of his yard and the view is naturally framed by leaves. The green impairs the view of the surf but also provides privacy from the beach. John says that it’s difficult to see Pipeline from here but also knows the ocean well enough to know how the surf is north of him up at Pipeline; it’s just a football field down the beach, anyway.
In the past few years, John has jumped around homes. He bought a place with a clear view of the Off the Wall/Backdoor/Pipeline stretch back in 2016. He thought a big house with a view of the best wave in the world was what would make him happy. It didn’t. The house was too big and he was too exposed to the beach and felt like he was on show. He bought it in 2016 for $4.6m, taking a small haircut and unloading it in August this year for $4.275m. The objective was clear: he doesn’t want a big house and an audience but rather prefers an existence of relative obscurity.
While that can never be a reality anymore, John’s life is still simple. Especially after his second significant injury in two years.
When we set up for the interview, we set up as to not reveal the inside of the house. John’s in a good mood, cracking jokes (“You think I could make a house look like this?”) and is unguarded. When we ask how his Australian girlfriend deals with US visas, John answers swiftly: we’re engaged. That’s when we started to roll tape.
Stab: You’ve got some news.
John Florence: Well, I’ve gotten engaged. We didn’t post it on social media or anything, but all of our friends and family know.
Tell us about how it all happened.
My girlfriend (Lauryn Cribb) and I have been together for a long time now. I asked her to marry me right before my boat trip and I disappeared for a month. We told all of our friends and family and everyone around here in Hawaii. It feels like a really personal thing.
How’d you propose?
Super nervously. I woke up one day and I was like, okay today’s the day, but I didn’t have a ring. I went to tell my mom, who started crying. She didn’t have her ring but did have one she found on this beach. It was a perfect diamond ring. I was like, okay, well this is perfect, this will work for now. Like a placeholder. Lauryn was dressed up and on her way to town. Like I said, I just knew it was time, and I asked her to go to the beach with me… it took some convincing, but she ditched her town plans and joined me at the beach. She asked if we should go in the water. I was like, no I’m just trying to stay warm on the beach. I was dripping sweat, getting sunburnt [laughs] and after 20-plus minutes she’d ask, let’s go in the water now? I’m like no, I’m not hot yet – sweating. Then I finally just did it—asked her to marry me.
So you know what happens after you have kids? Mothers like to get back to where their parents are so you’re going to end up in Australia.
I hope I get an Australian passport. Maybe. She gets a US passport, so maybe I’ll get an Australian passport. I’ll be half Australian.
Let’s talk about your Palmyra trip again. That satellite phone line was abysmal.
In the last few years, I’ve gotten into sailing and just adventuring. We’ve done tons of sailing around the Hawaiian Islands and it was a variation of that but bigger, wanting to grow more and go further. The original idea was to sail to Tahiti for the contest. I thought it would be really fun to stay on the boat and just do the contest. But like I said earlier, we never know what’s going to happen in life. And right before the trip and contest, I hurt myself, but it opened up a new opportunity, the Palmyra trip. Originally we were just going to go to Fanning Island, and I was looking around there (mapping out our stops). I had heard about Palmyra in the past and knew it was a wildlife sanctuary. I asked the Nature Conservancy, it seemed feasible to make it happen, and Palmyra became the main part of our month-long trip.
So can a civilian like myself go and do it?
I’m not certain how many people get approved to visit because it’s biosecure. From our experience, I know you have to get several permits and it’s a process. You have to freeze your clothes and send them down with the scientists before you go. And then you have the clothes on the boat. We had to freeze those for 48-hours before we could go on land. Anything that’s on the boat, obviously the poop water and anything that’s like sink water, nothing can leave the boat while you’re there. So, we remedied that by just staying in the little cabins on land with the scientists. That was a really neat experience.
What was the biggest takeaway?
Everyone we talked to kept saying Palmyra is one of the few ‘hope spots’ in the world. They call them ‘hope spots’ because nature is so resilient there. The coral will bleach and then in a few weeks, the coral will come back at full health. Whereas when the coral bleaches here it’ll stay bleached and then eventually die. Palmyra is referred to as an engine and when it has all of its working parts, it runs smoothly. They can see the sea temperature rise a little bit and then nature adjusts and it’s resilient towards it. It adjusts and evolves with the changes because everything’s in this working order. Here in Hawaii, if you have a link missing from that chain, a coral bleaching or the water heating, it’s a lot harder for nature to make that comeback.
Can you apply anything you learned back here?
The knowledge I gained was that a well working system in that nature can come back. You can make little changes to do that. Like you see it here and on this Island. At Ka’ena Point there used to be tons of nesting seabirds. There was a road and a train track and eventually, the seabirds left. They put a big fence in right at the point, so the point is fenced off and people can now only walk in and walk around. Just past that there’s a dirt road but it requires a permit to enter, limiting traffic. Seabirds have come back there, and the native plants are starting to come back where the dirt road is. I don’t know the perfect system or the perfect idea for doing it on a bigger scale, but I think doing it in little places like this, the seabirds will come back and they seem like a really important part of the coral reefs. Just kind of thinking of those concepts of trying to preserve certain areas in order for sea life to thrive.
Tell us about the influence you have had on local restaurants like Lei Lei’s.
The Lei Lei’s thing was a fun thing to get them started. We also did similar things with Pupukea Grill and Haleiwa Bowls. We were like, “Hey, I’ll get the first few months of the take-out stuff or however long it was and just essentially support them to not use plastic and styrofoam. It simply set them off in the right direction. We also put in water refill stations. Yeti gave us these big water coolers to help out the restaurants. Every time I go to Pupukea Grill, they tell me that the water station is going so well. People are so stoked on it. It’s really cool to see things like that working.
Seth Godin had an interesting piece recently.
‘Not good enough’ is an easy place to hide
Sniffing at the others who care is a form of virtue signaling. It’s also an ineffective way to create real change.
“My Prius Hybrid gets 140 miles per gallon.”
“My Tesla is solar-powered.”
“Really, well I take an electric scooter.”
“We carpool by sharing a horse.”
“A horse? You should walk!”
How hard is it to try to make a change when the reflexive answer is: your surfboards are made from oil and you burn up oil by catching jets around the world? How’s this “not-good-enough” feedback sit with you?
It’s really hard to do everything perfectly. I do the very best I can in my position. I love the ocean. I’ve grown up on the ocean. I want to do everything I can for it. If I were to never fly on jets and never ride oil base surfboards, I probably wouldn’t have the voice I have today. And so, by the situation that I’m in, I’m trying to do the best that I can do while still kind of trying to have of a voice in the world…
…and you’re not catching private jets.
I’m not catching private jets; we’re on commercial planes. I’m just trying to do the best I can do. And, right now, that still means me traveling to compete and, believe me, I would love to sail to all the events, but WSL needs to adjust their schedule a little bit [laughs].
Do you think you’ll be surfing in the Olympics next year?
I don’t know if I’ll be surfing the Olympics, I would love to be. I think it’d be an awesome opportunity and a really fun thing to be a part of. But it seems like there’s still a lot that has to happen. Kelly has to make quarters or something and depending on how I do and my goal is to surf Pipe, but if my knee is not feeling 100 percent or really good, I probably won’t risk it.
What about a six-to-eight-foot bluebird day?
I’d go surf Pipe.
What about a four-foot onshore Gums running kind of day?
If my knee’s feeling good and I can surf, I’ll pull it off. I’ll put a brace on and I’ll go surf. My goal is to make the Olympics and I’m going to do that. Like the best I can do to do that. Even if it’s to make a few heats to try to slow Kelly down cause he’s gnarly at Pipe and if it’s firing pipe, he’s a scary person to have in that position. And I know he really, really wants to be in the Olympics.
What do you think of the Olympics?
I think it’s going to be super cool. I think it’s going to be a neat experience. It’s a big learning step for surfing and I think it would have been fun to be in the pool for the Olympics.
Do you think it would have been a better option?
I think the pool would have been pretty cool.
Isn’t that pretty much gifting the gold medal to Filipe or Gabe?
I don’t know. I think with enough time and practice like a lot of guys can become really good at the pool. Gabe and Filipe are really, really good technically and so that’s what makes them so good. At the pool, they’re really perfect. For the Olympics, I just think that if you can picture it being like these stadiums and this Olympic kind of arena, being there would be pretty neat. All that pressure that builds upon that one wave would be sick. Just the atmosphere of it would be really cool.
And I guess from your personal standpoint, you don’t go next year, then you gotta wait another four years. Yeah, that’s a long time. Then you’d be in your 30s.
Ha, I’ll be in my 30’s, yeah…
…And for Kelly, whatever you’re feeling, his is going to be exacerbated because he’ll be in his 50s, so like this is probably his last chance.
Yeah. So, but he has 11 world titles too. I’m not thinking about that really. I just, I want to try to be on it if I can. And I think either way, it’s going to be really fun. If we can get waves it’s going to be super exciting.
Hawaii is the ground zero of this surf vlog? How did this happen?
I think it kind of just happened because there are really good waves here in the wintertime and it’s almost a majority of free surfers that live here. I think just being a free surfer and having good waves and opportunities to film and stuff, it’s kind of just seems like a natural thing to happen.
There are really good waves in Australia, too. But there are no vloggers. You see the size of Jamie O’Brien’s audience, even Koa Rothman, and your brother, Nathan. He’s probably going to be more famous than you soon.
Since you’re off tour injured, are you being proactive with sponsorship obligations by creating a safety net by starting your own surf vlog?
No, we had all this footage that we’ve been building without making a movie or anything. And then we made a 12-part series; it was a version of that. It’s fun to just to be able to put out clips and be able to use the footage.
But you’re more introverted than your brother.
I’m not super energetic on the camera. Nathan got all of that gene from me and my brother.
When we spoke at the start of the year, you shared your social media strategy after a little sponsor slap on the wrist for inactivity.
The social media thing is just my personality. I try to avoid it as much as I can but it was something that just went along with our YouTube, and it’s a way to release content and little things we’re doing. It’s just a tool.
Do you get the weekly screen time update?
I’d love to know what the numbers are.
It’s sub one hour.
No problem! Yeah. It’s just personalities. Nathan loves it and it doesn’t affect him very much and his energy. And so, if it doesn’t affect you, it’s probably not the worst thing in the world. I just don’t like being super attached to it.
And, is that why you like sailing—because you’re detached?
I like the feeling that you’re doing it yourself. It’s on you. When you sail somewhere, you have this sense of accomplishment with the team: we did this! After two days of weird weather and you’re doing tons of sail changes and you’re like, ‘Whoa, that was a tiring two days.’ Like it was uncomfortable and it’s really tiring. You achieved something, had a goal set out to do it, and you got there. It’s a process, you know? It’s a big process going into it, just like competing. You have this process pushing towards this goal at the end and competing within working with mother nature.
I want to talk about surfing progression. In the tube, specifically frontside, you’ve taken the double hand drag and turned it into a modern art form. It was done by plenty of people in the 80s and 90s, but I think you’re the one who popularized it in contemporary times. Who or what inspired you to start doing that?
I don’t remember any particular moment where I was like, oh, I’m going to do a double hand drag. But I think there are definitely some things that inspired it. Just watching surf movies. Like when I was little, my friends and I would watch these movies like Lost at Sea. And then we’d go surf little V-Land or Gas Chambers and it’s like just a little frontside barrel. Like I said, I don’t remember any particular moment, but I just saw it somewhere and then kind of just started like naturally trying it. It’s a really efficient thing to do. It’s really hard to stall frontside just with one arm. And so sometimes I find myself in barrels locking my front arm around my front knee.
And then backside, you can just sit in it and drag your whole body. You’ve got so many points of contact—your whole knee, your leg, your arm, your butt.
It’s crazy being at Pipe and Chopes. You literally drop in and you can stall and stop yourself at the bottom of the wave and come back up and do it. It’s not always pretty but efficient.
They say fame and money are an amplifier of personality and an indicator of who you really are. But with you, it sounds like everything remained the same—same brand, the same lifestyle, pretty much the same life. Discuss.
I love where I grew up. I love my friends, my family and I like things being relatively simple. I haven’t really seen a need to change. But I do feel like I’ve changed in some ways. Like in my mind I’ve changed, I’ve grown and learned so much in the last few years, but the things that I still get tons of joy from are essentially the same.
When’s the last time you’ve been to Foodland?
Foodland? I haven’t gone to Foodland in a while.
…And then you still go the ATM yourself, do you put the card in yourself?
Yeah, I go shopping with my girlfriend and we go to town. We go to Wholefoods or Down to Earth or something like that. We do like one big shop and then that’s it rather than a bunch of little shops at Foodland.
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