Senior Editor

The Inertia

John John and Nathan Florence know. They know there’s nothing quite like the joy of the downwind run. And its evolution has been fascinating to watch in the last decade or more. From outrigger canoes, to prone and SUP paddleboards – to foils. And then a whole new evolution once us humans started figuring that out.

Foils have allowed innovation in all sorts of genres: from prone surfing, to kiting and winging, SUP, and beyond. And like I said, John John and Nathan figured out what I like to call “wilderness surfing” a long time ago. The brothers, who grew up on the windblown North Shore, first started doing downwind runs on the ol’ prone paddleboards, ala 10-time Molokai champ Jamie Mitchell. Then, when they discovered foils, everything changed. This week, the duo announced they’d partnered with Lift Foils to create a series of tools for “deepwater exploration,” as the brothers like to call it. Whatever you tag downwinding, it’s a whole lotta fun, trust me. And it has nothing to do with the lineup.

“John and Nathan are awesome people,” Nick Leason with Lift Foils told me. “And we’re absolutely thrilled to be working with them. It was almost five years ago that I was talking to my peers and dreaming about how great it would be to get these guys on the team, and here we are. What’s most exciting is that it’s not some effortless move on their part. They are so fired up on foiling and have a list of things that they want to build and dig into. That just means that the sport is going to get so much better for everyone. I’m excited to build some toys.”

It definitely brings some legitimacy to it all, despite the fact that former Championship Tour surfers like Michel Bourez and Joan Duru have also been foiling for a while now. Plenty of surfers have ’em stashed in their board racks. And riding open-ocean bump will absolutely help your surfing. Knowing how to pull power out of wind swell and chop gives one an intimate understanding of how to find the power in any kind of wave, on any kind of board.

“Finding power is so interesting, and transfers over to surfing,” says John John. “You’re out there and you’re riding wind chops and it’s not swells. You have to find power and efficiency in everything. You go back to surfing and you know where that power is at.”

“Everything about the foil has caused a study of maximizing efficient energy and speed out in the water,” added Nate.

It took the guys a while to find that power, tweaking their equipment to create efficiency in their downwind paddling. Nathan’s and John’s local run is from Turtle Bay to Pipeline, about five to six miles. The fitness aspect of running downwind can’t be understated. Whether using a paddle, or doing it prone, fitness is achieved in a big way. The brothers started out on small prone foil boards built for the surf. They would go reef to reef, catching a wave then pumping cautiously out to the wind line. Fall and you have to get back in to where you can pop up on a wave near shore and continue pumping down wind. If you get too far out and fall, that’s a helluva paddle back in.

Now, it seems, they’ve got it dialed. They’re using bigger boards, and by the looks of it, John John is even using a paddle with a new generation downwind SUP board – a narrow design that allows one to get up on foil outside, in the wind line, instead of having to continually stay close to shore to get back to your feet.

As mentioned, the Florence brothers have developed a new line with Lift Foils (a solid brand that’s been in the game since the beginning) so it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with next. “There’s nothing else like it,” says John of chasing open-ocean swell. “When the waves are bad, we go downwind, when the waves are good, we go surfing.”


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