This story is over 5 years old.


"Look Mom, I did it:" John John Florence Won His First World Title and The Whole Surfing World Is Really Pleased About It

"Today is the day where the most talented surfer in the world was actually crowned the best surfer in the world" - 2012 World Champion, Joel Parkinson.
Screenshot courtesy of Youtube/WSL

John John Florence has made history and fulfilled a lifelong destiny by becoming the 2016 World Surfing Champion during the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal, with one event to spare.

By making the final of the Portuguese leg of the WSL Championship Tour, Florence has held off a late charging Jordy Smith and a World Title favourite in Gabriel Medina, and secured enough points to put his first place position out of reach before the final event of the year – the Billabong Pipe Masters in Hawaii this December. He is the fourth Hawaiian to win a World Surfing Championship, and the first since the late Andy Irons in 2004.


When the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal began, there were mathematically nine surfers in contention for the 2016 World Title. The hype, however, was surrounding just world no.1 Florence, and Gabriel Medina, trailing him by just 2,700 points.

From Medina's perspective it was relatively simple: he would need to make just the quarter-finals to keep any champagne from popping in Portugal, and force a showdown at Pipeline, regardless of how Florence performed. That'd be no huge feat for the 2014 World Champion considering his ability to perform in clutch moments, and the momentum he was carrying into the back half of the 2016 season. In fact, so far removed was the idea at the beginning of this contest that Medina might not be around on finals day, that the thought Florence was capable of getting his first title here and now, and not in Hawaii in December, took the surfing world by surprise.

And almost as quickly as it was realised as a minor possibility, the dominoes for a historic John John Florence World Title fell into place. Gabriel Medina lost his Round 3 heat.

In shifty, tidal, difficult beach break conditions that make the Portuguese event the hardest of the year, Frenchman Jeremy Flores faced Gabriel Medina and found more waves with scoring potential than Medina did. And Medina, who is usually an expert at pulling scores out of waves that shouldn't be able to provide them, couldn't do so this time round.


Florence didn't look too hot in the early rounds either. Coming last in his Round 1 non-elimination heat against qualification hungry Jadson Andre, and relatively unknown local wildcard Miguel Blanco. He would face Blanco again in Round 2, and defeat him with little trouble, but without notching a single wave score north of 5.37 in either of his first two heats he did not look like someone who would be called World Champion by the end of the week. He did, however, manage to pull himself together by Round 3, understatedly building his first semi-decent looking score for the event (16.27 out of a possible 20), and winning the heat over another local wildcard, Frederico Morais. Suddenly, at just the end of Round 3, the path seemed clear.

The Medina vs Florence battle has been the storyline for the last six months, with foreshadowings of a rivalry that could define a new era. Kelly Slater commenting on the live broadcast while Medina's event, and 2016 Title, unravelled, "This is the new talent, these are the guys that are going to run surfing for a long time and be the top dogs, and you know short of being injured, they're going to be the two top guys for the foreseeable future, at least the next decade. So it's interesting, this is just one of many times this is going to play out over the years."

However, one anomaly started clearing their own path on the other side of the draw. Twenty-eight year old South African superstar, Jordy Smith, fourth in the world, and a mathematical chance, was trying to work mathematical magic. Yes, John John would eliminate Medina out of the Title race if he made the final, but he would not win the title in Portugal if Jordy Smith won the event. And while Medina, known for not choking, choked, Smith, known for not being clutch, surfed clutch.


Smith comboed (beating your opponent by more than a full potential wave score) Kai Otton in Round 3, smoked his Round 4 non-elimination heat, and then won his quarter-final with a perfect 10 on the last wave surfed before the final day. As the surf got better, so too did the performances of Smith.

However, the morning of the final day saw a shift in pace. John John Florence, with the first surf of the day, won his semi-final against Kolohe Andino, and confirmed that Gabriel Medina would not be winning a second World Title, at least not in this year. It was then to Conner Coffin, in semi-final no.2 to try and stop the rampaging Smith.

There are two corresponding storylines at the tail end of a WSL season. The storyline at the top, with the World Title contenders battling it out with their eyes on the big prize, and the storyline at the bottom, where surfers at the lower end of the ratings are fighting like their careers are depending on it, because they are, to make sure they are above the qualification cut off of the top 22 by year's end.

Semi-final no.2, Conner Coffin vs Jordy Smith, is where these two storylines converge.

Coffin, a 2016 rookie, was on the wrong side of that critical 22 heading into Portugal. He surfed the heat of his life, finding the tube of the day, a 9 and a back up of a 6, to trump Jordy's pocket 7s, and secured himself a spot in his first career final. The bigger story of course was that he secured John John Florence's maiden World Title.


"I'm so stoked, it's been such an amazing year and I couldn't have done it without everyone at home. I still can't really believe it, I thought this was going to go to Hawaii for sure." Said Florence, "It's been my dream and I've worked my whole life towards this moment, I grew up watching Kelly and Andy, I'll probably cry about it a little later, but right now I'm just super stoked."

The 24 year old Hawaiian has been labelled a future World Champion since he was just six-years-old. Raised by his single mother Alex, with his two younger brothers Nathan and Ivan, on the North Shore of Oahu, a stone's throw from the the most famous and challenging competitive wave in the world, Pipeline, he was featured as a playable character in a Playstation video game by the time he was eight (Championship Surfer, so good!). He entered the Pipe Masters at just 13. And he won the Hawaiian Triple Crown (for the first time) at just 19. Last year, he released View From A Blue Moon, the highest grossing surf film of all time.

At the beginning of 2016 he joined the elite and exclusive club of having won the Eddie Akaui Invitational, a prestigious, bordering on spiritual, specialty big wave event that has only been run eight times in its 30 year history.

And now, in October, he has won the 2016 World Title.

The last half-decade has seen Florence widely considered the best, most talented surfer on the planet, certainly of today, and possibly to have ever ridden a surfboard. The harder question has been whether he would be able to bridge the disparity between that prodigious talent, those nuances that make great surfing great, and the formatted heats and judging criteria of a surfing competition. If he would be able to work out a way to fit a round block into the WSL's square hole. This 2016 World Title marks for the first time in a very long time that the guy everyone thinks is the best surfer in the world, is the official WSL World Champion.


Legendary North Shore photographer Brian Bielmann summed it up simplest, and best, when he posted to Instagram: "The greatest surfer in the world is now the world champ…"

2013 World Champion, Joel Parkinson repeated the sentiment: "Today is the day where the most talented surfer in the world was actually crowned the best surfer in the world."

Oh yeah, and Florence ended up winning that final, an exhibition of a victory lap, unshackled by the weight of World Title expectations that have sat on his shoulders his whole life, he surfed with the sort of freedom usually reserved for video parts. Stomping a huge and controlled alley-oop as only he can, the aerial of the contest. Surfing, and winning, has never looked easier. He beat Conner Coffin by a margin of 8.08, coincidentally the area code of his home of Hawaii.

If John John's story is a fable – the kid, raised by a single mum out the front of Pipeline, who went on to conquer the world – then there leaves just one thing he hasn't achieved in his epic. The Pipe Masters. But you get the feeling that for John John, winning might be a cakewalk from now on, now he knows how.

The final event of the 2016 WSL CT season finishes with the Billabong Pipe Masters on December 08.