After aggravating the knee injury that took him out of competition last year, John John Florence is sidelined again. Florence pulled himself out of the competition in Brazil following a giant fly-away air at the Oi Rio Pro.
“I was going to try and do one turn,” John John said in the post-heat interview afterwards. “It was kind of breaking already, so I went to do a fly-away with all that speed. As I hit it, it kind of just bucked my back leg, which was the knee that got injured last year. It just felt like a really good tweak to it — a bit of pain — so I was just thinking in my head, ‘it’s super powerful out there right now and I get really excited to do airs, so I should just go rest it and try to make sure it’s all good…’ Looking in the long scale of things, the rest of the year is a lot more important for me at this point.”
The two-time world champion previously suffered a three-quarter tear in his ACL during a free surf after an early exit from the 2018 Corona Bali Protected.
“I was surfing down the beach from the contest,” he told the WSL a few months later. “I’d lost my heat, but the waves were super fun. It was really rippable and I was excited to try airs. I think I had surfed for two-and-half hours so maybe I was tired, but I injured it trying an air.”
Oddly, the tear didn’t occur when he landed. “It was actually strange how it happened,” Florence continued. “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.”
After speaking with doctors, Florence opted to avoid surgery. “I went to a lot of different doctors – some were saying surgery, only a few weren’t,” he recently told The Inertia in a wide-ranging interview. “For me, ultimately, with my ACL, I was able to walk fine. When I went down low or did more dynamic movements it started feeling weird. But I couldn’t picture going into surgery and not being able to walk and having to strengthen and heal it again. It was crazy though, I was still considering the surgery all the way up until January of this year. I went to (visit doctors) in Colorado and was still pretty sore with looseness and they were like, ‘At this point, it’s as healed as it’s going to be. It’s going to need surgery to fix it.’ That kind of made me fired up to heal it without surgery. So I was training super hard for all of January and February, trying to get ready for Snapper.”
Coming into the 2019 season, Florence took the yellow jersey with a commanding lead. A semi-final finish at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast and wins at both the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach and the Margaret River Pro put him far ahead of the pack, but he wasn’t counting his chickens before they hatched. “I’ve never had a lead this big so it’s hard to look at it that way as it’s still relatively early, a lot of things can change,” he said. “I’m not really keeping track of points. It’s definitely too early for that.”
Knees are complicated bits of the body, often requiring long stints of rehabilitation. And while the exact prognosis of John John’s knee injury isn’t known at the time of reporting, surf fans are hoping for a quick recovery by surfing’s Golden Boy.