It is indisputable, John John Florence has owned this season on the North Shore of Oahu. With a lifetime spent surfing his local breaks, returning back to form from a devastating knee injury, he channeled his energies into a maiden Pipe Masters last December, bagged a bomb at an outer reef with Ride Of The Year potential a couple weeks ago, and has now earned his fourth Vans Triple Crown trophy.
"You're really putting it all out there, going for broke on every single wave," Florence explained of this year's new, pandemic-responsible, digital Triple Crown format. "It was like going on a freesurf trip and trying to get the best clip, but it's kind of like you're in this somewhat of a competition format."
The youngest surfer to ever win a Vans Triple Crown -- an honor ranked only second to winning a World Title -- Florence first one the prestigious event in 2011. His next Triple Crown victories arrived in 2013 and 2016. And how's this for surfing's ultimate trifecta, in 2016 Florence not only won the Triple Crown, but also the World Title and the Big Wave Invitational In Memory Of Eddie Aikau at Waimea Bay.
And now, his fourth win comes in the form a unique digital format tailor-made for the times. The Covid pandemic forced the Vans Triple Crown to go digital, with the video submission contest running between December 21, 2020 and January 15, 2021. Still, it was a sanctioned World Surf League event and the clips were judged by the same exacting standard as live event, with some special Vans criteria thrown in (self-expression, innovation and location-specific surfing).
Competitors submitted their two best waves from Pipeline, Sunset and Haleiwa, the three jewels in the Triple Crown. Without the pressure of an audience, time limit or heat strategy, this format really allowed some of the world's best surfers to unleash their best work.
"It's a really cool event because it allows so much freedom and it really allows the surfers to go above and beyond on their waves rather than building a heat structure in that short 30 minutes and trying to get the best waves you can in 30 minutes," Florence explains, who is in an exclusive club of multi-winners, which includes legends of Hawaiian surfing [Sunny Garcia](/athletes/1668/sunny-garcia, who has six crowns), and Andy Irons and Derek Ho with four apiece.
Florence's campaign got off to a hot start as he dropped a pair of bombs at Haleiwa. His 29-point ride (out of 30) was the highest wave score of the event.
"I went and I remember taking off and just thinking in my head that I just want to do a really big turn," describes Florence.
"When I went into it, I just was thinking about doing a big turn and the face was so clean and I was riding a smaller board. I just felt like I was going a million miles an hour on it. It just felt amazing," he continues. "And coming out of that turn, I wasn't really expecting the barrel to be right there. I kind of just came up and I was like, oh, barrel. And it was just this perfect double up and I just stood there and then came out and had that end section."
This level of success was almost preordained for Florence, a child prodigy who grew up on the beach at Pipeline surfing with his brothers. The mastery possible with such an early grounding at some of the world's heaviest, most challenging waves on the planet is still revealing itself.
After two World Titles and four Vans Triple Crown trophies, Florence still has plenty of gas left in the tank. In many ways, he's just getting started when it comes to redefining some of the possibilities of the sport -- and we can't wait to see what's next.
For all the winners and entries from a memorable season on the North Shore, head over to VansTripleCrownOfSurfing.com.