Ross Williams didn't step into an easy role as John John Florence's new coach. After all, when your client is already a World Champion the downside risk is significant. Plus, how much improvement can you expect when your client has already climbed to the top of the mountain?
Well, Florence's performance in Western Australia provided the answer. There's no question he's raised his game this year. So, to find out how, we decided to catch up with our old friend, Ross.
Let's start with the obvious… what got into John over there in West Oz?
Ross Williams: Honestly, I think it was really just him loving where he was, and the power of that wave. It reminded him so much of the waves at home, y'know. It can look mushy but Margaret's is really powerful. I was ducking a 5-foot wave the other day and it cartwheeled me three times underwater and dragged me forever. John is used to that. We've got plenty of those waves on the North Shore that are powerful with big playing fields, so he was right at home.
But he's been way more consistent in his approach. Is that your doing?
Well, I mean, we're just sticking to a routine, keeping it super super simple. I really just try to send him out with one or two thoughts of what he's trying to accomplish heading into each heat to simplify the process, and increase his odds of winning the heat.
Is he somebody who follows orders well?
(Laughs.) Well, look, without divulging too much, John's one of those guys who doesn't like to be locked down to a certain plan, especially in the ocean, where things change so much. He likes to have options. So we go over what those options look like so he feels like there's a lot of flexibility.
He certainly seems more confident in heats. Even during his nail biters on the Gold Coast, he wasn't making silly errors. It looked like he was operating off more of a game plan, which seemed new.
Yeah, I actually think that started to show up last year, as the season progressed I saw him tightening up his act more, especially compared to his first few years on Tour. I mean when he first got on, all he did was try to go out there and rip. There was no plan, and I remember being the exact same way when I was that age. He was just young. But as you mature there's a desire to develop, and that's what we're working on now. It's kind of how this whole thing evolved.
Well, at one point last year I remember thinking how much I wish I would have had a coach when I was on Tour. I had enough talent to do better, and damn if I don't wish I did this or that better. It's one of the things I really look back on now and kick myself for. And, y'know, John and I are good friends, we have a lot of mutual friends, so when we were talking about competing and stuff I made that point. I told him how much I regretted not having one. I wasn't selling myself as a coach or anything. I was perfectly happy doing the commentary thing. It was just a conversation. Then once Bede announced he was going back on Tour it was one of those things where John eventually asked me about stepping in.
Was there any hesitation?
Well, it wasn't an overnight thing. It was this ongoing conversation after the season. I wasn't sure if he was really asking at first. But once I realized he was serious I was like, ‘Hell yeah, let's do this.'
On the Gold Coast you told me how nervous you were. You said it was way worse than being in a heat?
Way more nerve wracking. That was funny. It was my first event, so it was crazy. I mean, as a commentator you're totally detached; but as a coach you're 100% invested. He was having all those close heats, too. So yes, I was a wreck. But the lesson I learned there was we need to do 99% of the work before the event. It's really a preparation thing. Most of my work is done away from the contest now, that way I can enjoy the contest a little more. I wasn't nearly as bad at Margaret River.
Well, yeah, when he's throwing up 19-point heat totals I imagine that feels a little better.
Yeah, his surfing just spoke for itself. It was great to see him really use his power game. That was fun.
What has your role been on the equipment side of things? Because it looks different. There seems to be more power and flow.
Well, John is super involved with his equipment. He's not one of those guys who just says shape me a bunch of boards. He and [John] Pyzel, his shaper, work really well together like that. I've been a pretty big proponent of getting more volume in his boards, and getting him on bigger fins.
It looks like he's pushing against more foam, which explains a lot.
He is. I think that's the reason you're seeing a lot more grunt in his turns this year.
Now, historically, Bells is not one of his best locations. How do you keep the momentum?
Well, all these guys know how to push the reset button. Each event is brand new. John's not coming in expecting he's going to drop 19s. That said, he's had a few flashes of brilliance at Bells, so if we can level him out a bit, keep things simple, we'll see.
Were you able to digest just how incredible his Margaret's performance was? Because when guys like Kelly and Mick are calling it a full game changer that's gotta feel pretty good? Or were you too close to it?
Y'know, you really do get insulated at the event. It's hard to appreciate the wider scope because you're so focused on the task at hand that day. I was amazed, but I really wasn't putting it into perspective the way I would if I was in the commentary booth. But when guys like Kelly and Mick are praising John like that… well, I know John… that's not going to be missed.
How does John celebrate a win like that?
Super mellow. John's not one of those guys who's going to rip the lid off the town. He's pretty laid back, and he was banged up after that day. So he just kicked back with a big meal, some wine, had a good chuckle with a bunch of his buddies.