What Exactly Does John Florence’s World Title Being “Good For Surfing” Mean?
More eyes, more money, more problems.
Woah, surfing stocks are up today and everyone’s talking about it. Decoding the market signals is no easy task but let’s look at the facts. “John John just royal flushed the whole surfing game,” Jamie O’Brien tells Stab. “He made the best movie ever, won the Eddie Aikau, and a World Title. The only other person I can think of that could win the Eddie, then win in two-foot Brazil is Kelly Slater…and he has 11 World Titles.” Today, for once play counts and points aligned. And to become the people’s champ, you can’t enter through the side door. You must own the reefs, and there’s none more desirable than the Bay’s. That is what this year will be remembered for: The contrast between the beach breaks of Brazil and the El Niño closeouts of Waimea late February.
The difference in public response from Adriano de Souza’s 2015 world title to Mr Florence’s is curious. Adriano’s win was overshadowed when Kelly Slater unveiled his piping man-made wave in Lemoore, Ca the next morning. John’s a higher profile surfer. If we’re just looking at social media numbers (Instagram) ADS pulls in 330k, and John, a healthy 820k. Within 12 hours of Mr Florence winning in Portugal, there were upwards of 3,000 posts on Instagram tagging the young Hawaiian (by the time this story is published that number will be higher, within 10 minutes he was tagged with an accommodating photo 13 times). This includes everyone from Kelly Slater to Travis Rice, Mick Fanning to Tom Carroll, Brazilians to Australians to Americans. After ADS won–somewhere between the Pipe Master’s hangover and Kelly’s wave–his title was almost all but forgotten. “John is just more exciting to watch than Adriano,” Jake “Snake” Patterson tells Stab. “I think the whole world wanted Dane (Reynolds) to win a title a few years back because they know he’s the guy pushing everyone. It’s the same with John winning. People get behind surfers they like to watch and everyone likes watching John.”
“I’ve seen a lot of posts on Instagram saying the best surfer in the world is finally the world champion,” John’s acclaimed board builder, Jon Pyzel tells Stab after a long day of celebration in Portugal. “Joel Parkinson’s said that but I’ve seen a few others. I’ve heard him called the best surfer in the world a million times, but it’s pretty epic how many people are behind him being the world champ–more so than in past years.”
With John’s title, there’s been plenty of discussion regarding it being “good for surfing”. He’s the first Hawaiian to bring the accolade back to the Islands since Andy Irons (2004) and the first (male) American winner since Kelly Slater (2011). Hawaii’s glad to have the title back on the rock. “It’s good for the surfing world,” North Shore enforcer and Wolf Pak Captain, Kala Alexander tells Stab. “We’re so pumped to have the title back in Hawaii. The Hawaiians invented surfing, and although John’s not a Hawaiian by blood, he’s a local boy and grew up here. It’s just validation that Hawaii’s the best. We have the best waves and best surfers in my opinion, but John’s got the support of everyone. He’s humble; he doesn’t claim or think he’s better than anyone else. I don’t think there’s anyone rooting against him other than whoever happened to be surfing a heat with him. I’ve got to give props to the Brazilians, Gabriel and Adriano helped push John to win his title. And his mom, she raised those boys well. I hope this gets Hawaii and America motivated. It’s a super proud moment. Andy is looking down right now and is proud, Hawaii’s proud. I’m stoked on surfing right now.”
It’s not just Hawaii and America that are psyching on surfing, and the example of that is the flood of posts on social media singing praise at the moment. “The coolest part about John winning a world title,” says Jamie O’Brien, “is what Kelly Slater said, there are many more to come. He’s going to dominate the sport, and he has a good rival. Gabriel and John are in for a long-term rivalry, and that’s going to make both of them surf better.” A rivalry featuring the talent of John and Gabs hasn’t been seen on tour since Andy and Kelly. “We don’t want to watch boring heats,” continues JOB. “We want to watch John and Medina go back to back in big barrels. The level of progression in competitive surfing as well as the whole sport is increasing.”
“Because Gabriel and John are so young we could see the biggest rivalry in the history of surfing go down over the next ten years,” says Mr Patterson. “But I’m sure injuries or boredom on tour might have a say in this happening.”
But what exactly does “good for surfing” mean and how does this differ from the back to back Brazilian champs: Gabriel Medina and Adriano de Souza? Are more surfers in the water good for surfing? Probably not–at least for surfers. But can a white kid from Hawaii revive the US-centric surf industry and stir interest in surf the same way Kelly Slater did? “It’s great for surfing,” says Snake. “John can take pro surfing to the masses and people will get it and enjoy the ride. The kid is a freak and his highlight reel is next level. The general public is going to lap it up.
“I think when people say it’s good for surfing, it means it’s good for surfing’s growth,” says Pyzel. “Companies are saying this is good for surfing but the average surfer doesn’t want more surfers. I think John reaches outside of the normal surfing box. For me, it’s not better in a surfing sense, but for me as a board builder, who makes his boards it’s great.”
The question is, for the “good” of surfing do Americans need a champion to get behind? The same way American’s don’t care much for ice hockey (Canadian dominated) or soccer (anywhere but US dominated). And does the average surfer care about the state of the surf industry (which has been in a rut since 2008)? There will always be waves, boards and gear–even through challenging conditions. “For us, in America, it’s nice to have someone we can relate to directly,” says Jon. “Like that’s our guy. But everywhere you go people are psyched on John. All my Brazilian friends are psyched on John. In the sense of people being stoked about their sport, it’s something special. I saw grown men crying in the contest area this morning. Pat O’Connell told me he cried today and not because of money or things being good for Hurley, but because it’s a good day for surfing.”
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