Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, John John Florence feels the flow

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The surfing world has divided attentions. Many of the best surfers compete in El Salvador, home to the ISA Surf Games – an often overlooked and now mandatory international competition for anyone competing in the Tokyo Olympics, where surfing makes its debut. Meanwhile, the sport‘s preeminent competitive circuit, the World Surf League’s Championship Tour, is in the midst of speculation after its months-long Australian round ended, asking if a non-Brazilian can, at this point in the season. , win the Title. But ask John John Florence, arguably America’s best since Kelly Slater and recipient of his coat, where his focus is, and Florence shows off her knee, three weeks after major surgery and less than two months before the start of the Olympics.

“The body is fine,” Florence told The Manuel, her blonde hair messy but with clear eyes. “Once you hit that three week mark, it gets so much better every day.”

The swelling is decreasing, the range of motion returns. As recently as today, he got back on his Peloton bike (Florence was announced as one of nine company-sponsored athletes in April), and as his knee sounded like July 4th, crackling and popping , he pushed. “It felt good to move my legs like that,” he says.

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If there is anxiety about an impending date with History and Legacy via the Olympics, the 28-year-old is not flaunting it. Newcomers to the sport of surfing, including tens of millions this summer, will learn that Florence has won the WCT twice (2016 and 2017), meaning that for two years she has been the best in the world, proven in the best conditions at the best beaches and reefs in the world. But Florence was whispered for decades before this accomplishment despite her relative youth. Growing up on the Banzai de la Rive-Nord pipeline, the sport’s legendary proving ground, he has come to dominate his sacred breakaway like few have. More importantly, with his championship wins, he assumed the title of America’s best surfer, a title that Slater, who dominated American and world surfing for decades, had claimed. Slater, who continues to compete in the WCT at the age of 49, was American third in the 2019 WCT and, due to the small size of the 20-man Olympic squad and the limit of two athletes per country, was relegated to the first deputy. (Kolohe Andino from California, who currently comes from an ankle injury, he also represents the United States)

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But the day we talk about surfing, we don’t talk about Slater. Instead, we’re talking about Florence’s own generation, its Hawaiian roots, and the people and places that influenced it. It’s obvious the sport has changed from Slater’s Baywatch days (really), and few are a better example than Florence’s childhood neighbor and local Pipeline colleague Jamie O’Brien. O’Brien, 37, was Florence before Florence was Florence, considered a pipe prodigy and, like Florence, won her preeminent competition, the Pipeline Masters. But O’Brien, although he competes occasionally, is now a successful YouTuber and freesurfer, the latter breaking away from the constraints of the competition system and jersey to chase the best waves around the world or at home to. Requirement. Even Florence’s younger brother Nathan has found success on the platform.

“I’ve been in Australia for three months in a row, event after event after event, and I see [Nathan] in Tahiti, Mexico, I’m pretty jealous, ”says the elder Florence. Surfers were featured in Jack Johnson or Taylor Steele films, their best waves distilled collections of two or three minute pieces sewn together and screened in small theaters along the coasts. Glossy magazines also reigned, their names almost identical – Surfer, Surfing, The surfer’s diary, etc. – obscuring the different lenses used to visualize the facets of sport. But today, it’s through the eyes of O’Brien and young Florence, along with several other Hawaiians and a few Haole boys, who are attracting both clicks and ad dollars. John John, not his peers, is the anachronism and the anomaly.

“In a way, it’s sad, because [social media] dilutes surfing and its creative side, ”explains Florence. “But I like a lot [that] it allows freesurfers to have more control over their own destiny. They created their own world and it’s inspiring to see.

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As with skateboarding, the Olympics are anathema to the freesurfing mindset. But skateboarding, which is also making its Games debut this summer, is a fitting parallel with a parallel American star: Nyjah Huston. Huston, 26, can go very, very big but, limited in the format of the contest, seems to rise to another level, achieving blanket-like dominance. Florence has about the same conversational advantage as her counterpart: relaxed and modest, but confident. “The competition is fun,” he says. “It’s pretty cool to have this platform to push yourself mentally, physically, everything. It is difficult to reproduce in freesurif. There is something really special about competing at the highest level in our sport. “

Of course, even without recovering from an operation, Florence would have her hands full with the Brazilian press. As Florence shines in her races for world domination in ’16 and ’17, three different Brazilians have won every other title since 2014, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the fiercest competition just might be the Olympic. Brazilian. team, for which, like the United States, there are only two places. Add to this that, in the same way as the Hawaiians dominating in large surfs, the Brazzos seem specially designed to excel in the smaller ones and have aggressiveness to match. It is with this mix that their team paddles to a Japanese summer beach break, which will likely be closer to their home conditions than North Shore Hawaii.

“It’s a different kind of surfing,” says Florence. “Strength has so much to do with small waves. You don’t just take off on a wave and the wave pushes you as fast as you want it to. Between the equipment and your strength, you have to generate your own speed and be in the right places on the wave to maintain the speed.

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Time is not on his side – Florence admits that if all goes well with his rehabilitation, he will be back in the water no earlier than two weeks before he needs to fly to Tokyo for the Games. When he can surf again, it will be in Californian waters, not Hawaiian, to prepare for less powerful waves that could mimic competitive conditions. Yet he is less concerned with strategy than with inspiration. “I am inspired by speed [the Brazilians] have, the technique they have in these small waves, ”he said. “It takes a lot of work, but you work at it, and then all of a sudden you’re flying and going really fast.”

And so, as the surfing world shares its attentions across the globe, Florence focuses on her body. Soon he’ll be back in the water, testing new gear and selecting a final quiver of boards before boarding a plane to Japan. There, he will face the best of the best in the world. Each toss will see the stakes rise exponentially, and with a shaky knee the results are far from certain.

But literally decades have brought Florence to this point, and if there’s one main inspiration it’s in her “older brother” O’Brien. About O’Brien’s surf, which last year earned him the coveted “Winter Wave” at Pipeline for a monstrous barrel that would piss off most of us looking over the ledge , he still remarks with awe. “There isn’t even a fraction of a second hesitation,” said Florence. “It’s like when you see someone competing and they know what they’re doing and they’re right on that lane. He’s in this flow.

“You mustn’t hesitate,” he said, “and you must have confidence.

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