Nine Crucial Moments In John Florence’s World Title Year
Nobody on tour has had a better year than JJF in 2016.
At one time or another this year everyone has uttered the same words: “John John is the best surfer in the world.” Of course he is. But now, it has been deemed official via a group of judges scoring him higher than his opponent on the required amount of occasions. He is the world champ.
But the surf world’s prone to hyperbole, and there’s always that nagging question: Is the world champ really the best surfer in the world? In this case, yes.
When you take a minute to break down the year the 24-year-old just had, and look at what it means, it’s hard to dispute there’s anyone better. If the mark of the best surfer in the world is the individual that can out-perform all comers in all conditions, that’s John. From El Nino-fuelled Waimea to the gurgling beachbreaks of Rio, to South Pacific perfection, the following are the nine keys to his newfound title.
1. John Would Go
If John’s year had begun and ended with his win at the Eddie, that would have been enough. We now know that was just his opening act. After the premiere of View From A Blue, John made it clear he was going to buckle down in 2016 and go for the title. Looking back on it now, winning in maxed-out Waimea was the shot across the bow.
2. Speak Softly, Train Like a Mad Dog
Not your jockish gym rat, before the WSL season kicked off John quietly ensconced himself at the Sunset Beach Jujitsu dojo and started working with black belt, Kid Peligro. Taking the Ginastica Natural route, they focused on maintaining flexibility while building strength. Unlike every other year he’s been on tour, John didn’t suffer any injuries this season that kept him from competing.
3. Show up on the Gold Coast
As Matt Wilkinson proved this year, sometimes winning the first event of the year can be a curse. Immediately, everyone starts throwing world title possibilities around and it applies a lot of unwanted pressure. This year John made the quarterfinals, a keeper result that got him off on a good foot – and with his aversion to the spotlight, who knows; if he’d won, he may not have gone on to take the title.
4. Beat the Brazilians on Their Home Turf
So far John’s been the only person with an answer to the Brazilian storm. With Filipe and Gabs the surf stars de jour in Rio, John showed up and stuck it to them. It was his first and only win of the year, and after stumbling through back-to-back 13th place finishes at Bells and Margaret River, it corrected his course. It’s here that John’s path to the world title campaign really begins.
5. Solidify the Entourage
John keeps his inner circle tight. Pals like Koa Smith and Koa Rothman showed up with him at various tour stops throughout the year, and Kiron Jabour was present in Peniche but his most consistent cornermen were Brandon Wasserman, who handles everything from waxing back-up boards to washing winner’s jerseys, and Brandon Guilmette, who’s on logistics and sponsor-relations. Whittler Jon Pyzel’s equipment has been consistent and on point. It’s a tight little crew who, together, managed to strike a perfect balance of keeping things loose, yet focused. To their credit, John was prepared at every stop this year.
6. Build Momentum in Fiji
After Fiji it looked like Wilko was a good chance for the title. He’d logged two event wins and went runner-up to Gabs at Cloudbreak. But the Fiji Pro is only the halfway mark of the season and John, who made the quarterfinals, had done enough to give himself a shot rounding the bend. He was sitting in the top five in the ratings by this point and would soon catch fire.
7. Catch White Lightning at J-Bay
Aerial and foamball antics are the signature of John’s repertoire, which makes his second place finish at J-Bay all the more impressive. Standing on the podium next to Mick Fanning, the Michelangelo of forehand carves, John’s performance in South Africa signified a serious maturation of his surfing. It’s here where he took over the gold leader jersey, and maybe it’s here the boy subtly became a man.
8. Pass The Tahitian Test
In the space of an hour John beat Gabs and lost to Kelly – both valuable experiences. First, John proved to himself that he could out-compete Gabs, the tour’s most lethal iceman. In the final John threw everything he had at Kelly. The 11-time world champ won, but perhaps someday we’ll look back and see that as the moment the torch was passed. There’s a photo of them embracing after the final and it very much feels like the end of one era and the beginning of another.
9. Get Clutch In Europe
John squandered his throwaway events at the start of the year with bad finishes at Bells and Margarets. Luckily for him, Wilko’s wheels fell off and Keanu Asing K.O.ed Gabs in France. In Portugal, Wilko bombed out in round two, Gabs fell in round three. And like that, the door opened for John to walk through and take what he’s clearly earned.
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