The surfing world knew John John Florence was the best. On Tuesday, he made it official.
With more than a month to go in the World Surf League’s Championship Tour, Florence, 24, a native of Oahu, Hawaii, claimed the title of world’s best surfer at the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal in Peniche.
The tour’s conclusion, in December, at Florence’s home surf break Pipeline in Hawaii, will now be a victory lap.
Florence seemed destined for greatness as soon as he started surfing the Banzai Pipeline. His mother, Alexandra Florence, notoriously first put John John on a board at 6 months old.
At 13, he became the youngest surfer to compete at the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. In 2011, he became the youngest surfer to win it. Florence qualified for the world tour in 2011, and placed third in 2014. In 2015, he released “View From a Blue Moon,” a surf film he helped direct and edit. The movie — the first surf film shot in 4k resolution — is considered one of the greatest surf movies made by many.
“We’ve all watched him since he was 7 or 8 surfing around the North Shore and paddling out at Pipe,” Kelly Slater, the 11-time world champion, said. “I think if he didn’t win, it would seem like the natural order was out of place.”
It is the second major victory Florence added to his résumé this year, after the Eddie Aikau invitational in February.
But Florence’s world tour season got off to a rough start in March with a fifth-place finish on the Gold Coast, followed by two disappointing 13th-place finishes: at Bells Beach and at Margaret River, all in Australia.
His season turned around with a win at the Oi Rio Pro in Brazil in May, followed by consistently strong finishes in events around the globe.
Florence has long been considered the world’s best free surfer. But earning a world title demands a strategic, tactical approach. The question was not whether Florence would win a world title, but when, and whether he even wanted to.
“There’s a whole history of guys who were nowhere near as good as John John Florence who have titles on their mantelpieces,” Matt Warshaw, author of The Encyclopedia of Surfing, said.
Last year’s world champion, the Brazilian Adriano de Souza, was one of the first to admit that. “I think that John Florence is the best surfer in the world,” he told Surfer Magazine in March, just months after winning the World Championship Tour himself. “He’s the best in all conditions, and he blows me away.”
Florence is known as a surfing purist, and his style is punctuated with a look of ease in all conditions. While his Brazilian competitors are known for a disciplined work ethic and a drive for self-improvement, Florence is known less for his tactics and more for his comfort in dangerous waves.
It was that way with the previous Hawaii resident to win the title of world’s best surfer, Andy Irons, who won the title in 2004 (and died in 2010).
“John is the guy that is going to stand there with his hands dangling around his waist just like Andy used to,” Warshaw said, listing dangerous breaks where Florence looked as if he was “just standing in a parking lot.”
“He’s riding waves that everybody else on tour would just be clenched up and barely making it, and he’s just slouched — calm as can be — in the middle of the most ridiculous circumstances.”
Florence credits his demeanor in the ocean to growing up in Hawaii, and to pure joy.
“I’m excited to go surfing every time,” he said. “I have fun in any kind of wave in the ocean.”
He will return to the North Shore to compete at Pipeline Masters in December. He said it had been a dream of his to win the event in his own backyard.
“I think this is just the beginning,” he said. “Winning a world title has always been the dream and ultimate goal. I still can’t believe I won it.”
So what exactly is next for Florence? Whatever he wants.
“John John has done so much,” Slater said. “He could really just say, ‘I got my world title’ and walk away.”