Editor's Note - As of Sunday, October 11, Florence has made it to the Quarterfinals in the Quiksilver Pro France.
On paper, John John Florence (HAW) has every reason to paddle out at this week's Quiksilver Pro France with confidence: He won the event with crowd-pleasing performances last year, made the Quarterfinals there in 2013, and has an otherworldly talent for finding barrels.
But Florence has also had a tough few months, starting with an ankle injury in May that sidelined him for two events. By August he was back for the Billabong Pro Tahiti and earning huge scores, but was defeated by reigning World Champion Gabriel Medina (BRA). Some have called their heated battle the best of the event, despite ending Florence's run there in Round 3. At the next contest, the Hurley Pro (where he was runner-up in 2014), he was eliminated in Round 2.
Not suprisingly, Florence is taking it all in stride -- but that doesn't mean it's been easy. Before the Quik Pro, he reflected on coping with setbacks and his mindset for France.
Anna Dimond: You're defending champion of the Quiksilver Pro France. How are you feeling about the contest, and what have you learned that you think you'll take into it?
John John Florence: I'm excited for France, I will definitely watch the waves more this time [than at Trestles]. And even if there are not a lot of waves I'm going to make sure to catch more waves. But for sure [I'm going] to go out there and have fun, I love France and the waves are insane. You have beach days every day, you can find your own little sand bar.
AD: How has your return to competition been so far?
JJF: I was super excited, I was stoked when I got to Tahiti, my first event back. The waves weren't like the year before, they were a little different. But I still was super excited and ready to get back. My first heat was a little nerve-wracking but I won it and started to get back in the groove of things. I didn't even know who I was surfing against in my second heat until a few minutes before, and when I saw it was Gabriel [Medina] (BRA) I got a little nervous, but then calmed down and just focused on getting out there and surfing while enjoying myself.
To lose with a heat total like that, all I can do is laugh.
I didn't win it but it was a great heat and I had fun. The last two years too I've lost in Tahiti, but I've had 19 points [one point away from a perfect heat total] despite losing. So to lose two times in a row with a total like that, all I can do is laugh. I just have to laugh it off and realize I got good waves and had fun. That's what will stick with me in the end.
AD: Is it tough to keep up that attitude?
JJF: Right after that, absolutely. I wanted Lowers to happen right then. But, moving on to the Hurley Pro I had a couple of weeks and some downtime. Once I actually went there I had two bad heats in a row -- that's when the morale goes down and it's hard to catch waves and it brings you down.
AD: What is your strategy in those cases? Gabriel, for example, tends to be very active in the water -- do you have a plan that you stick to?
JJF: Well, going into my heats at Lowers, the waves were pretty fun. However, I was expecting more than it actually was while most people were doing the opposite. My first heat I waited too much and the timing was just the worst possible timing. But that happens, it's just how mother nature works. But my second heat I lost against Glenn Hall (IRL) because I was sitting out there just waiting and not planning accordingly.
I had two bad heats in a row -- that's when morale goes down.
I have to be much more active and not just sit there. But that's how you learn. I went out there just not expecting it, once I paddled out there I was just like, 'Where did the waves go?.' I thought it would just be firing Lowers and so I was caught off guard. It's crazy to think that I've been doing contests my whole life and the Tour for a few more, and I'm still learning every time I surf a heat -- learning so much and it's always something new every time.
AD: You are among a handful of CT surfers who have been injured this year. What was the recovery process like? What rehab was involved -- not just physically, but mentally as well?
JJF: It's funny, it seems like a lot more surfers are getting injured. Airs are getting bigger, waves are getting bigger, barrels are getting crazier alongside everything else. I've been injured a few times now, so I'm learning with each time what to do more and more. It's pretty crazy because you get injured and you're done. After my last one I wasn't in the water for 2-3 months. And you're spending those two months just sitting and watching events go by. You watch good swells go by and it can be pretty taxing.
However, my last two injuries on my ankles were my 'best' ones that I've come back from. And I think that's because after it happened I just accepted the fact that I was out for the next two months and then thought, 'You know, I can take a break. I surf all year long, I can take this time to do other things I normally don't have time to do.' Once the two months were up I thought, 'Wow is it really over that quickly?'
I was also in California about every week to get my ankle worked on as well, seeing guys who I've worked with in the past and really know what they're doing. It was a lot of back and forth between here and home, but it was nice because I was able to enjoy my time at home while getting good treatment here in California at the same time. Of course, toward the end of everything I was getting anxious, but that made it all the better once I was able to get back in the water because I was just so excited to surf.
AD: What did your daily life look like then when you weren't working with a physical therapist?
JJF: When I was at home I did a lot of sailing, I'm really into it and have a few boats, so I would be out there almost every single day. Back at home in Hawaii there's a lot of wind [in the summer] and the surf is usually dead flat, so it's beautiful and great for sailing. It kept me busy and of course is a fun hobby to do to keep my mind off of things.
AD: Did you watch any of the WSL contests when you were at home?
JJF: This time not so much. I didn't want to think about it. I wanted to relax and do other things. It ended up working perfectly because I came back so amped to go out surfing as opposed to just sitting there being bummed out that I was missing events and beating myself up.
I came back so amped to go out surfing, as opposed to just sitting there being bummed out and beating myself up.
AD: Was sailing enough of a mental outlet for you?
JJF: For a while, yes. It's fun, I have a 35-foot sailboat and a little Hobie cat as well. Our little Hobie Cat is so close to surfing it's crazy. We take it about two miles outside of my house where there are these little wind waves and you go so fast coming over the ledges of them, like we're dropping in and surfing them. It's pure adrenaline and so much fun.
AD: What was the toughest part of being injured? What is the biggest obstacle for you when you're sidelined?
JJF: The toughest part was sitting at home and all of sudden a swell popping up there. Because obviously I'm trying to keep my mind off of surfing. I had watched some highlights from earlier events, like Owen [Wright's] two 10s in Fiji, and if I had been watching that live I would have just been depressed.
But seeing those waves right in front of my house and I'm just sitting there like, "All my friends are surfing in front of my house and I can't get away from it." It's just one of those things where all my brothers and friends get together to catch swells and waves either at home or like in Tahiti and I have to stay behind it's just such a bummer. When it's right there and I can't get away from it, that's the hardest part for sure.
AD: Do you have any specific coping skills? Meditation, or anything to get your mind off those things when they happen?
JJF: I'm learning as I go, still. I have a lot of little hobbies that I do. I love photography, I even have a dark room at my house. I print and develop all my own film. So when the waves are good I just lock myself in my dark room and go through photos and develop all day. It's a bit of my own form of meditation, helping me keep my mind off the waves and on something else.
AD: Looking ahead to the rest of this year and 2016, what would you say is your number one goal?
JJF: I'm going to use the rest of this year to figure out what I need, my dream is obviously to win a World Title. Unfortunately that's out of the picture for me this year, so I'm going to use each event to practice different things and learn different things so I can come into next year fired up. See what works and get a good little formula together.
AD: In terms of big picture, when you arrived in the public radar a lot of people assumed that you, Jordy and Julian (among others) would win Titles early on. Then Gabriel Medina slips in and wins a Title. Has that had any affect on your thinking? Did you feel pressure, or were there higher expectations for you from an early age?
JJF: Maybe expectations, but at the same time not really. Gabriel is such a good surfer, and he's always been like that, even since I was doing the QS [Qualifying Series] he was so active on waves and consistent. When he qualified for the Championship Tour (CT) he won two events the first half of the year, and then he won [in Tahiti] and then the Title and that gave me motivation to step up to it.
Watching Gabriel surf has definitely inspired me.
I thought going into the year [in 2014] I was very motivated, but then I lost a few events but bounced back after getting second at Margaret River. Competition is such a funny mental game. You come into the year so excited and ready to win, but then you lose and try not to be negative. You win and you lose and it's just constantly changing. But watching Gabriel surf has definitely inspired me and a lot of other people.
AD: I heard that in your upcoming movie, View from a Blue Moon, that there is a little bit of a lens on Brazilians and their relationship with surfers from other places. Is that true?
JJF: No, not really. I wouldn't say that at all. Filipe [Toledo] (BRA) is one of my friends, he helped me with film stuff in Brazil and he's just such a fun surfer to watch and was a huge help. To be able to go on a trip with him and watch him surf was both incredible and cool. He's doing these crazy fast spins that make me want to do the same.
AD: How would you describe that dynamic, between Brazilians and surfers from other places?
JJF: All the Brazilians on Tour to me are really cool. I could see why the supporters of this sport want that fire, want that rivalry in this arena. We don't really get to see that anymore since Kelly [Slater] and Andy [Irons], which was so fun to watch. So it might be fun for people to create that, but for me on Tour we're all friends and travel together and do events together. It might end when we surf adjacent one another in a heat, but the second that heat ends we're back to being friends.
Catch Florence and the rest of the Top 34 paddle out at the Quik Pro France live here daily through October 17. Catch Florence's new movie, View from a Blue Moon, in early November.