John John Florence is on fire. If you were to look up “momentum” in the dictionary right now, a picture of John John is all you’d need to define the word. If the World Tour season ran from July through June Instead of April through December each year, John John would be blowing the field away and locked in for his first title. Then again, my Dad always says “If your aunt had balls, she’d be your uncle.” Moral of the story: There is no picture of John John in Webster’s and the World Tour doesn’t start in the middle of the year. So while we can’t crown him the 2015 Champ just yet, pre-Snapper seems as good a time as any to call the year-end result.
So mark it down. Juanito Florence will be your 2015 World Surfing League Champion.
For a full decade now, finishing in the Top 10 in the previous year’s standings has been the only way to capture the throne. With the exception of Gabriel Medina’s 2014 title (14th in 2013), no surfer had finished lower than 8th before going on as top dog the next year. In nearly half of those runs, the lucky number heading into a World Title year was third place. As in, the third place finisher in one year has gone on to win the next year’s title. You should see where I’m going with this by now–John John Florence did in fact finish third in the 2014 World Tour Rankings. The most obvious explanation for having a closer reach to the number one spot is the favorable match ups it provides out of the gate. A top-5 surfer is going to face lower seeds in earlier rounds, making a quicker path to semifinals and finals appearances that make up World Title resumes. That’s what John John Florence is walking into as the Quiksilver Pro kicks off at Snapper Rocks.
But stat geek analysis aside, let’s go back to my original point–John John Florence is on fire. No surfer was hotter in the second half of the 2014 campaign. And with his Volcom Pipe Pro title to start off 2015, we can assume the momentum he ended the 2014 season with carried into the Year of the Goat. I’d drop the microphone and end this piece right here if John John’s zodiac sign was Aries. Unfortunately he’s a Libra, so you shall endure more. Even if you wanted to credit home field advantage for his 4th Pipe Pro title, there’d be no denying the dominant fashion in which he won. Florence took first place in each of his heats. He topped Kelly Slater in the four-man final–the same Kelly Slater he admitted to being afraid to face early in his career. But with his recent surge he also admits that anxiety flipped from fear to an eagerness to beat the king himself.
And that brings us full circle to where and when John John’s competition struggles turned into dominance last year. Through the first six CT events of 2014, John John was barely keeping his head above water. Four times he was sent packing by the third round, including a pair of losses to Gabriel Medina in that same stretch. Then things changed. The Tour moved on to Tahiti where Florence went on to face Slater in what will go down as one of the greatest heats ever. The semifinal matchup was a mere .46 points away from becoming the first perfect heat in WCT history, with both surfers racking up 19.77 two-wave scores. He didn’t beat the 11-time champ at Teahupoo that day, but he did kick off one hell of a run down the homestretch of 2014. Florence one-upped himself with a second place at Trestles weeks later. Then he captured his second career World Tour victory at Landes in the Quiksilver Pro France. It was his first top finish since January 2013’s Volcom Pipe Pro, and perhaps the most important to date. The run from Teahupoo to Landes had propelled Florence from starting off the year in fear of losing his place on the ‘CT to the thick of a championship chase. John John had another solid showing in Portugal, bowing out to Jordy Smith in the semifinals and taking third place at Moche. A finals appearance would have left him in the running for a title as the tour headed to his stomping grounds at Pipe. And who knows what would have happened on the North Shore if that had been the case. But like pops says, “if my aunt had balls…”
Even out of the title hunt, John John placed fifth at the Billabong Pipe Masters to finish out 2014 as the surfer with the hottest hand. That run from August to December left the entire surfing world asking just what changed after J-Bay? According to John John, he started to cut down his free surfing outside of contests.
“When I was around the events, I was surfing in the morning and after the contest ran, and I’d get really tired from just too much surfing,” he told SURFER magazine in December. “I’ve got my little program now that’s working after these last four events, and having a fresh year in front of me to restart, I can’t wait to see where it goes.”
We can’t wait either, John. So count it, hashtag it, and mark it on your calendars, folks. As they say on Oahu, #GoJohnJohn