While the Title race was decided in the final rounds of the MEO Rip Curl Pro, John John Florence's incredible sprint to the top in 2016 required a great deal of stamina, especially after he fell more than 10,000 points behind Matt Wilkinson early in the year. Florence, you may recall, suffered back-to-back early-round losses at Bells and Margaret River before turning things around. Here are five moments Florence won't soon be forgetting.
Five Milestone Moments on the Hawaiian's Road to the Title:
Breaking Out in Brazil
After his early exits at Margarets and Bells, Florence knew he needed a massive result. And while he's revered for his expertise in waves of consequence, at the Oi Rio Pro people took notice of John's more determined performances when the swell wasn't cooperating. He showed impeccable poise in tricky beachbreak surf, grinding out crucial wins over his new nemesis Caio Ibelli (who eliminated him at Bells and Margaret River) and reigning World Champion Adriano de Souza, en route to his victory in the Final over Australian rookie Jack Freestone.
Taj's Send-Off in Tavarua
There are few better ways to cap off a Championship Tour career than in pumping surf at Cloudbreak. Heading into their Round Three heat, Florence had mixed feelings about going to battle with one of his childhood heroes during his final CT event. But when the sets started pouring through, there was no need to scrap. Florence and Burrow exchanged huge scores in a remarkable display of backhand barrel riding. John edged out the win by a fraction of a point on his way to a solid fifth-place result in the Fiji Pro. A very stoked Burrow retired with fond memories of gaping blue Fijian barrels.
Taking on the King in Tahiti
Any time John John and the 11x World Champ meet in hollow surf, a tube-riding clinic is guaranteed. That's exactly what happened this year when they clashed in an emotional Final at the Billabong Pro Tahiti. John John has considered Kelly Slater a mentor since he was in diapers. The 44-year-old won his first World Title the same year Florence was born (1992). Watching the two generations exchange below-sea-level barrels at Teahupo'o was a thing to behold. Although Florence didn't end up taking the win, a choked-up Slater was clearly honored to have the chance to compete against the Hawaiian.
"Heat of the Year" in France with Filipe
While John clinched the Title in Portugal, he did a lot of the hard work at the Quiksilver Pro France. His non-elimination Round Four heat with Filipe Toledo set a new bar for performance in competition. Peaky beachbreak ramps combined with side-shore winds provided an ideal platform for the pair to go berserk above the lip. Even after Filipe took out Round Four with a perfect 10-point full-rotator, John wasn't rattled. He earned his revenge when he beat Toledo in the Quarters, and finished the event with a solid Semifinal result.
Perfection in Portugal
Although the Hawaiian didn't get his fairy-tale finish at home on the North Shore, his performance at the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal was pretty close to perfect. The Jeep Leader refused to falter in the shifty Portuguese beach breaks, posting huge scores in everything from onshore slop to draining barrels. Even after he secured the World Title, the Hawaiian continued his winning form in the Final against Conner Coffin, adding another win to his impressive 2016 campaign.
Now that the weight of the yellow jersey is off his back, the 2016 World Champ can go home and celebrate in Hawaii. But make no mistake; his year is far from over. While Florence has won nearly every contest on the North Shore, from the Triple Crown to the Eddie, there's still one event that has eluded him: The Pipeline Masters. Growing up a stone's throw from the sand at Pipe, John scratched into his first wave when he was just five years old. Since then, he's developed an impossibly casual approach over the shallow lava reef. Although he's come close, Florence still hasn't secured a win at the most prestigious event on the CT schedule.
This year, there won't be any distractions. With the World Title trophy sitting squarely on his mantle, John will be oozing confidence heading into the final event of the year. All he has to do now is get barreled in his backyard.