In an EOS blog piece on Eve Babitz and her hot take on the ’72 premiere of Five Summer Stories, Matt Warshaw says her work was a reminder that, “unless your name is Bill Finnegan, the best surf writing is invariably done by non-surfing outsiders.” Some surf outsiders are prodigious ingénues. But many, many more surf outsiders are not prodigious ingénues, which might be cause for concern upon first hearing of GQ staff writer Zach Baron’s profile on the World No.1, titled “Surfer John John Florence’s Very Wavy World.” Will it be kooky? Choked by symbolism and men’s magazine cologne?
Our take: it’s pretty darn good. Give it a full read here.
Important is the disclaimer from Baron that he’s not a surfer, nor is he trying to be one. With that out of the way, we can follow an articulate outsider simply watch John at home and attempt to put words to what he sees — which, let’s be honest, what Florence does is difficult even for a lifelong surfer to describe. Baron has some lovely, quiet observations about certain moments in John’s career, from his winning Eddie wave (“[It was] so big it’s actually disorienting to see a human in the same frame—your first reaction is that something has gone badly wrong”), to how he surfs dangerous breaks (“He’ll appear to briefly stop the wave, even roll it backward a bit, until he’s done whatever he’s doing with it”), to his look as a grom (“angelic and blonde and unbothered”).
One big-budget movie, a world championship, and many revos and foam-ball rides later, the nonchalant talent Florence brings to the water is easy to take for granted. So maybe the truest literary service that Baron gives us in spending time with John, and describing him surf, is the flashback of that first impression. It’s a memory worth strolling back down.