John John Florence - Surfing's Reluctant Prince
August 27, 2012
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John Florence rode his first wave at six months with the aid of a life vest on the North Shore of Oahu. Two decades later the sun-bleached boy wonder is considered surfing's new messiah.
Competing today in the final rounds of the Billabong Pro in Tahiti (Live webcast at BillabongPro.com), the fifth stop of the 2012 ASP World Tour, the 19-year-old plays down the fact many call him the next Kelly Slater.
“I’m just taking it one step at a time. I qualified last year and this is my first full year on tour. I’m just having fun with it and using it as a learning experience.” Florence told USA Today Sports on Sunday.
Florence came of age among surfing's elite, raised in a beach house next to the famed Banzai Pipeline surf break - the sport's Mecca - by a single surfing mother, flanked by two younger brothers.
At 5 he was paddling into the North Shore's powerful waves alone and by 13 became the youngest person to compete in the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing Championship. A darling of the surf media Florence has had more photos in magazines and conducted more interviews before 18 than most pros enjoy in a lifetime.
His promise mushroomed in late 2011 when he actually won the Vans Triple Crown earning a perfect 10.0 ride in the series final event – the Pipe Masters.
In 2012 Florence’s momentum continues. He achieved a win at the Billabong Pro Rio in May and now sits 5th overall among 32 top professionals.
Joel Parkinson, 31, current world number 3, lost to Florence in the final of the Rio event in May. "He's such a amazing talent. Growing up in Hawaii he's got the package of knowing big waves and small waves. He's got everything. I can't fault his surfing.”
Kelly Slater, 40, has won 11 world titles and 50 World Championship Tour victories; records many experts say will never be broken. Yet there’s one benchmark Slater holds towards which Florence can take aim.
“The only thing would be to win a world title younger than he did (21)” Florence said. “If it happens it happens but if it doesn't it doesn't. My main goal is to win a few more contests and have some fun along the way.”