Sean Doherty On: The Best Surfer On The Planet

25 Oct 2016 8 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

One of his three final alley-oops against Coffin, Photo by WSL / Poullenot

One of his three final alley-oops against Coffin, Photo by WSL / Poullenot

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The best surfer in the world is now also the best surfer on the planet.

The eternal schism that divides surfing into hemispheres of sport and way of life isn’t easy to bridge, but today John Florence did it. A kid who grew up a few tiny steps from Pipe, who was thrown out there at age six, will now return to Pipe as world champ and will turn the Pipe Masters into a victory lap for himself… and all ‘o Hawaii.

Okay, I warned you yesterday we were approaching Peak John and we’re just about to hit it… but it ain’t such a bad thing. This guy is gonna get tributes for days, so let’s start with how it happened today in Portugal.

Well, for starters someone must have sprinkled something into Mr. Spikey’s tank under the broadcast desk, because the lobster that was grey and flatlining yesterday after a week of neglect was this morning trying to clamber out of there and gnaw at Strider’s throat.

SEE ALSO: Sean Doherty On, Peak John

But Mr. Spikey’s sudden lust for life was in stark contrast to the mood on the beach. John Florence would shoot for his world title on a cold, hazy Tuesday morning in a fishing town in Portugal in front of a few hundred Portuguese fans, most of who had slept in the car park and hadn’t showered in days. There’d be no one there. No Mom John, no brothers, just a handful of other tour surfers and Hurley crew. Just Pyzel and Kiron from home. Kelly, of course. And the Mayor of Peniche’s head in every single frame. Must be election time again.

The equation wasn’t simple. If John won his semi, Gabe Medina was out of the picture for the world title. If John then finished ahead of Jordy Smith, who was lurking on the other side of the draw, the title would be his.

But John had a gnarly draw in Kolohe Andino. Brother has been spontaneously combusting all week, and it was always going to be interesting how he handled a potential world title heat against a friend, a fellow hot-housed child prodigy and a label-mate. Kolohe wouldn’t ever roll – not his style – but would there be a wink and a nod at a crucial stage? Any thoughts Kolohe might help walk John John through ended at the 12-second mark of the heat when Kolohe paddled around John, got tangled in his legrope, fell out of the lip head-first, then started wildly waving at the judges claiming an interference. It was more a statement of how much Kolohe wanted to win this event than it was a sign of how much he wanted to beat John though. Kolohe is an ambitious mofo, but that tangle also marked the end of all hope that the heat would be a high performance shootout. There were no fireworks, and John won with a couple of cheeky inside barrels that he doggy-doored. That was all it took. Medina was out of the world title race and he was into the final... All this by 8.32am. 

A favourite all round the world, JJF is carried through his crowd, Photo by WSL / Poullenot

A favourite all round the world, JJF is carried through his crowd, Photo by WSL / Poullenot

The Tuesday morning Portuguese fans clapped politely, while back at home in front of televisions tuned to Oceanic 250 in Hawaii his crew were going Monday night apeshit.

Then the unscripted script flipped over to Jordy, who needed to win his semi and win the final today, then win another dozen or so heats at Pipeline to win the world title. A walk in the park. Well it all ended today, although Jordy put on a good show and looked to have Conner Coffin covered for most of their semi final. That was until Conner, who’d been out there waiting patiently, slid into the wave of the day and Jordy was the final domino to fall.

John Florence was the world champion, and a montage of his world title year ended with a scripted voiceover pre-recorded a month ago saying, “John John is your new world champion. You can’t script this.”

That script, in many ways, was written almost 20 years ago.

I think John sensed he was going to win here today. If he’d surfed without pressure against Kolohe, then he literally surfed the final against Conner in moon-gravity. Five minutes into his world title reign he started work on his next film-drop with alley-oops and flips and he won the final in a trot. For most of the season John had mastered the dark art of competition and stayed in third gear, but in the final he popped the clutch and went to fifth. Conner fittingly needed an 8.08 for the win against the Hawaiian but never got it... And it was all done by 9.55am.

SEE ALSO: Sean Doherty On, Beyond The Pines & Cabbages

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to happen today. Deep down I wanted the world title to go to Pipe, for John to win at home, in sight of the house he grew up in, for the whole buzz in the islands where they haven’t had a male world champ since Andy 12 years ago. But I think it was kind of fitting John won today in a far-flung fishing town in Europe. He’s an understated guy who’s never been comfortable being at the centre of everything. He just wants to surf. So it’ll mean he’ll be able to go home and he won’t be bunkered down under house arrest in his place down at Logs. It’s done. He’ll be able to actually get out and enjoy it.

And as much as I’ve had fun ripping off Gigs all week, he nailed it this morning when he said that John’s world title seemed “righteous.” It really was. The world title was back in the islands, and it’s the guy who won the Eddie, the guy with the best movie parts, the most obscene airs and the least Instagram posts. John John is a surfing purist before everything else.

The best surfer in the world is now also the best surfer on the planet. 

The new King! Photo WSL / Cestari

The new King! Photo WSL / Cestari


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