NewsQuiksilver Pro Gold CoastJohn John Florence

John John Florence: The Ocean Is Everything

Editor's Note: The below are excerpts from a story by John John Florence for The Players' Tribune. Read the full story here.

Part I

John John Florence of Hawaii celebrates becoming a 2X World Champion at the 2017 Billabong Pipe Masters.  Florence dreamed of winning a World Title in Hawaii and that dream became a reality today when he backed up his 2016 World Title which he won in Port John John Florence, center, celebrating his second World Title in December with his mother, Alexandra (left). WSL / Kelly Cestari

When people ask me about how I came to be who I am, or what inspired me as a kid, I usually tell them about the North Shore of Oahu.

First, though, I talk about my mom.

She surfs every day. Always has. When I was growing up, she was on the water any chance she got. And to this day, when she's not working or surfing, my mom is at the skate park. She loves skating almost as much as she loves surfing.

I remember these times when I was super young, like eight or so, and the waves were pretty big … and I was a little bit scared to go out on my board. My mom wouldn't make me go, or pressure me, or anything like that. She'd just look at me and kind of shrug her shoulders and say, "O.K., well I'm going out."

It was like … O.K., bye.

And I'd just kind of look at her like, Wait … what? You're going out?

This is at Pipeline, mind you, right in front of our house on the beach on the North Shore. There are really big waves in the winter. Serious stuff. And, this is my mom.

Just ready to paddle out on her longboard and have fun and see what happens.

I could've stayed back, for sure.

But what was I gonna do ... sit around on the beach and watch my mom surf? No way.

So I'd follow her out into the ocean.

And every single time I did that, I'd have so much fun. I never regretted it.

So, yeah, that's my first inspiration. Definitely. My mom. She's classic.

My mom also gave me the nickname John John -- she'd first heard it used for JFK Jr. And she's the one responsible for my love of the North Shore. She worked really hard so my two younger brothers and I could live right on the beach with her at Pipe.

Part II

John John Florence (HAW) finisd second on Semi Final at Quiksilver Pro France 2017 in Hossegor, France Florence in France, 2017. WSL / Laurent Masurel

I think a lot of people assume surfing came easy for me. But that's definitely not the case.

I started competing in events when I was really young. One result of that is you end up losing a lot.

At first, that was fine. As a super young kid, I loved traveling around to different islands for little surfing events because I met so many friends that way. It was just a fun way to spend your weekends. We'd all pack up and go to Kauai or Maui, and the contest would be on and you would just be hanging out with your friends all day.

Everything about that was fun.

But when I decided to compete in the Qualifying Series for a spot on the World Surf League Championship Tour, the losing part became, I don't know … less fun.

I just kept losing and losing and losing. I was nowhere near qualifying. I'd make one heat, and then I would lose again. And it just continued like that for two or three years.

At one point I considered giving it up and doing something else.

Right around the time when I was thinking about taking another path is when I broke my back surfing at Pipe.

I was 18, and it was the type of wave I'd ridden a million times. But the ocean is unpredictable, especially at Pipeline … and for whatever reason this wave decided that, instead of barreling, it was going to rise up and then slam down right on my back.

I was out for four months, which was brutal.

But because of this injury, my whole mindset shifted. I was so excited to get back in the water and surf again, and within a year I qualified for the Championship Tour.

At that point I sort of realized what had been holding me back for so long in competitions.

It was all about my approach.

Basically, what I love most about surfing is being out on the ocean with my friends. Just laughing and having fun and enjoying whatever the waves bring our way.

Even in rough times, you know, it's still fun. You can be getting just completely beat up by the ocean, and when you're out there with your friends or your brothers, and everyone's in it together, all of a sudden you find yourself laughing and joking with each other and being like, "That was so sick." Something that would be scary, somehow … it's funny.

And there's something, I don't know … not competitive … about that.

So, yeah, a few years ago I realized that I'd basically been free surfing during events since I started competing. And that had been fine when I was younger and not trying to qualify.

But after all that losing, and after I broke my back, I came to a realization that competitions are actually a really unique opportunity to get to know yourself better, because you have all of these ups and downs and you have to figure out how to deal with those emotions.

I started to see competitions as a chance to learn about myself. And that's when I really started improving. Now, as weird as it is to say, I almost think that competitions are more mentally gratifying for me than free-surfing sessions.

I just needed to dig in and make it about learning.

After that, everything changed for me....

Part III

John Florence (HAW) Above: Florence at Pipe, circa 2009. Some things haven't changed at all. WSL

I can't really say for certain what this year will bring.

I'm still sort of unwinding from this past season, and it really hasn't fully sunk in that I won my second world title. It all happened so fast.

You put a lot of hard work into it throughout the year, and you're so committed and so focused on each event that you kind of lose track of where you are in the year. Not in the standings … like on the calendar, in the actual year.

And then, all of a sudden, you're at the end and it's like, "Oh wow, I'm coming into Pipe, the last competition of the year, and I'm leading this thing right now."

Before you know it, the whole thing is over, and you're trying to think about what next season might be like.

One thing I know for sure is that, as much as things have changed for me over the past two years, so much of what I'm all about has remained the same. And I don't see it being any different in 2018.

Read Florence's full story on The Players' Tribune here. Catch him competing live daily at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast from March 11 - 22 on the WSL.

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