I know I’m not alone here but John John Florence is, without a doubt, one of my favorite surfers to watch. But for me, it’s much more than his otherworldly ability to ride waves. It’s always been his approach.
Throughout his career, which started at an age when most of us were only worried about popsicles and Sesame Street, he’s carried himself so easily, as if nothing mattered except being in the ocean. He seemd to get the big picture really young: that the ocean is a playground, and you can find extreme joy in riding her waves in a myriad of ways.
That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I heard through the grapevine that John John had signed up for the grandest ocean race in the world, the Molokai2Oahu, where paddlers cross the notoriously-heavy Ka’iwi Channel, paddling 32 miles from Molokai to Oahu, fighting their way past the exhausting side currents at China Walls before landing at Maunalua Bay Beach Park. No doubt, it’s one of the toughest races on the planet. In any sport.
According to race director and M2O-founder Mike Takahashi and confirmed by John John’s people, he’s set to paddle the channel July 29th with his partner, Kona Johnson–a member of the North Shore’s iconic Johnson clan and a talented surfer in his own right–as part of a relay team in the traditional paddleboard division. They already have an escort boat and are registered. So it’s on.
And anyone that knows the Molokai Channel knows what a grind it is to try and cross. Heat, conditions that are less than ideal and the distance can make it an absolute soul-testing slog. But if conditions are perfect, it’s like surfing empty waves for miles, alone.
Aside from his surfing prowess, John is certainly qualified to paddle the Molokai. His sailing experience only adds to his understanding of open-ocean wind swell and how linking bumps can increase speed and efficiency during crossings (a technique that can really only be learned by doing). John John has also taken up foiling–as has his brother, Nathan.
That’s why Takahashi thinks the boys have a fighting chance to do well: “There could be a new course record for the team event,” Takahashi said, only half joking.
One concern for surf fans is how the crossing might affect John John’s ailing knee. Most traditional paddleboarders constantly switch between their knees (in a canoe stance) and laying flat in a prone paddling position so they can trim and control speed (that’s why their knees and feet get so scabby). One would have to assume John would have to remain in a prone position throughout the race to protect his ailing joint.
This isn’t the first time a CT athlete has delved into long distance bump running. Joel Parkinson and Wes Berg finished third in the team relay in 2012. Rob Machado, who had retired from competitive surfing, did the team event in SUP in 2012 as well.
John John’s entry into the fray certainly ups the ante. And adds even more legitimacy to an already-iconic race.