With the Australian Leg of the Championship Tour set to kick off on April 1st, we're taking a look at four of the dreaded heat draws going into Newcastle. To be the best you gotta beat the best, and these competitors are the toughest on Tour.
John John Florence keeps his cards close to his chest. Whip smart and supremely intelligent, there are very few, if any, tells in his game.
Big barrels or big rotations, without saying a word he has the innate ability to making magic out of whatever the ocean deals him. This makes him, at the same time, both the most dangerous man on the Championship Tour, as well as the most enigmatic.
When the surf gods forged Florence, they gifted him that ultra rare, magic combination which few possess: style, ability, drive, a deep relationship with the sea and an aloofness that keeps fans hooked on his every move.
The shades of Tom Curren are unmistakable. Look no further than what we've learned -- or haven't learned -- about Florence during and after his 14-day Australian quarantine.
While others were scaling the walls and issuing push-up challenges, Florence stayed quiet. His most interesting Instagram post featured him mischievously flinging a jigsaw puzzle across the hotel room (much to the dismay of his wife, Lauryn).
Other than that, things have been mighty quiet in the Florence camp. His latest YouTube drop is all slow motion footage, which is incredible if you're trying to bite his style, but does little to convey the state of his surfing right now.
Florence's trainer, Kid Peligro, tipped their hand ever so slightly when he posted, "We have trained everyday since the start of this period and I can attest that the froth level is very, very high."
Peligro's words don't come lightly. A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu champion who received his black belt from Rolyer Gracie of the iconic Gracie family, Peligro grew up surfing in Brazil and now lives on the North Shore of Oahu.
He's trained everyone from Jordy Smith to Mahina Maeda and has been a foundational member of Florence's recovery team as he's gotten back into fighting shape after his two knee injuries. And it's not just the work they do on the mat, Peligro has infused an "Art Of War" mental toughness in Florence that is often overlooked.
Last December, Florence claimed his first Pipe Masters victory in an event fraught with unusual distractions. In January he followed that up with a win at the first digital edition of the Vans Triple Crown, largely thanks to a wave that many considered to be "the best wave ever ridden at Haleiwa."
That's a dicey statement considering all the greats that have paddled out there, including Curren in 1990 on his famous logoless pintail, but it speaks to the kind of company Florence is currently in.
Sitting atop the WSL Leaderboard at the start of the mega Australian leg, of course, there are criticisms of Florence. One is that he's spent the last year surfing in Hawaii and transitioning into the less powerful Australian beachbreaks may be problematic, especially against an invigorated wildcard like Crosby Colapinto.
You can shut the door on that argument.
Florence has won in Brazil twice, in 2016, and most notably, in 2012, his first full season on tour, when he beat Joel Parkinson (who would go on to win the World Title that year) in the Final courtesy a statement-making nine-point ride. He's a master in shifty beachbreak conditions.
Then there's the argument that his heat strategy may not be as well honed as some of his rivals. Nope, that doesn't fly either.
Before he was derailed by injury in 2019, Florence was as hot as they come in Australian waters. Taking third at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast in challenging conditions at D-Bah, he went on to run the table at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach and Margaret River Pro to create the strongest start of any season in his career.
By the time the Tour moved to Brazil he was the obvious World Title favorite. And it's worth noting, Florence was already into the Quarterfinals at the Oi Rio Pro and seemed pretty unstoppable before his knee quit on him.
And in 2017, the last time Florence won a World Title (and finished a full season without injury), he notched thirds on the Gold Coast and at Bells, but more importantly, put in what may be the most dominant performance ever seen at Main Break en route to his win at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro. He also finished runner-up there in 2015.
With sky-high confidence after his Pipe Masters and Triple Crown wins, a body and mind that's clearly formed out, and the entire surf world wondering what's next, Florence is going to do what he dies best -- we just have to watch and try to keep up.
Watch the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona live April 1-11.