On Thursday, February 25th, John Florence began his day in the dark, pedaling his bike toward the headlands of Waimea Bay, where a massive crowd had already gathered for the Eddie Aikau Invitational. Some 25,000 people stood shoulder to shoulder in Kam Highway through the dawn. They jostled for a good view, as Florence and 27 other surfers paddle into a once-in-a-decade swell, named for the late Brock Little, who had passed away the week prior and who sent a posthumous wink in the form of 50-foot waves. “The energy and how many people were parked all the way down the street was crazy,” Florence said. “I’ve lived here my whole life, and I've never seen it like that.” Though the giant Eddie check he hoisted over his head eight hours later – four waves total, for 301 points out of a possible 400 – had no bearing on his 2016 ‘CT ranking, his performance in Waimea was the beginning of what would be his biggest year ever. "I've never been part of an event like this," Florence said, as the afternoon light gave way to dusk. "Winning this event was the highlight of my life." Photo: Ellis

Photos: Ellis

At the beginning of the Gold Coast event, it seemed that a different Florence had shown up to the party this time around. In his first few heats, Florence linked carves and tight snaps in the pocket rather than going for massive airs on every section (with the notable exception of a lofty punt against Michel Bourez in Round Three). His coach, Bede Durbidge, told Florence he needed to focus on surfing for the scores he needed, rather than throwing it all on the line at every opportunity, and it was that savvy surfing that saw Florence to the quarters. But then, holding priority, Florence faltered with his wave selection in the dying minutes of his quarterfinal, and Stu Kennedy made him pay for it. You could see the situation sinking in as Florence rode the wave, looking out the back while Kennedy tore Florence’s heat strategy a new one. “[My] wave was so bad I just looked out the back, and I was just like 'Dammit,’ and watched [Kennedy] do turn after turn after turn, all the way in,” Florence later said. But hey, there are worse ways to start a season than in the quarters. Photo: Joli

Florence started things off with a bang at Bells, making short work of Jordy Smith and Jadson Andre in their Round One match up. Florence made his intentions known early in the heat with a beast-mode combo on a set wave, featuring a flexing drop wallet followed by a tail-drift-turned-layback on the inside section. It was just the right amount of flair to put the wave in the excellent range and send him straight to Round Three. Unfortunately for Florence, poor wave selection spelled disaster for him once more against Caio Ibelli, who surfed conservatively, but found himself on all the biggest, cleanest faces. Florence would get 13th place in the event. Photo: Joli

In challenging conditions at Margaret River, Florence began the event with three of its highest scores—an 8.83, 9, and 9.83—in the first fifteen minutes of his Round One heat, smoking Ace Buchan and Sebastian Zietz along the way. But like Groundhog’s Day, in the closing minutes of his Round Three heat against Caio Ibelli, again with a narrow lead and again holding priority, Florence would let a wave sneak through into Ibelli’s hungry hands. With a minute on the clock, Ibelli would deliver one of the event’s big upsets, dropping an 8.5 and sending Florence packing.
Photos: Mosqueira

After two years of Brazilian domination and seemingly no end in sight, the 2016 Oi Rio Pro served as a primetime international event, with the Brazilian Storm looming large over the punchy beach break and the truly astounding crowds throughout the event. Nothing would demonstrate this more than the semifinal match-ups—defending champ Adriano DeSouza vs. rookie phenom Jack Freestone and Gabriel Medina vs Florence. As the two towheaded regularfoots laid waste to a few of Brazil’s favorite sons, it marked a turning point in the year for Florence, who found himself third in the rankings after besting Freestone in the final with one of the year’s highest heat totals, an 18.97. Photo: Moran

Photo: Miller

Florence fell to an on-fire Matt Wilkinson in the Quarters at the Fiji Pro, but he put on one of the best shows of the event during Taj Burrow’s last heat ever. The two traded 9-point rides in Cloudbreak perfection, but Florence edged his idol out of competition in the heat’s dying minutes using one of the best backside barrel-riding techniques in the business. Photo: Joli

At the J-Bay Open, Florence proved to the world that this was his year. He surfed with control. He surfed strategically. Although Mick Fanning eventually took the win over Florence in the finals, fans, coaches, and other competitors took note of Florence’s dominion and his newfound focus. "He’s always been competitive, but his heat strategy has changed,” said fellow Tour competitor Matt Wilkinson. "He’s worked really hard on that this year. He always seemed like he was floundering around in heats, but now he doesn’t make any mistakes." Photo: Moran

There isn’t anything much more entertaining in surf than watching John Florence toy with the South Pacific’s slab at the end of the road. With 12 waves in the 8-10 point “excellent” range throughout the Billabong Pro Tahiti and arguably the most exciting semifinal of the year, against Gabriel Medina (19.66 vs. 19.23), Florence put together the best highlight package of his title-winning year. At the event's summit, he met Kelly Slater in the final, snagged a second place, and left Chopes wearing the yellow jersey for the first time of his career. Photos: Mosqueira

Photo: Thouard

It’s hard to imagine John Florence not manufacturing a decent result at the skatepark of the World Tour, but that’s exactly what happened this year at Lower Trestles, his throwaway. He went out and destroyed Davey Cathels and Brett Simpson in their Round One matchup. However, when he met Simpo again in Round Three, he couldn’t string together a combo like the on-fire Huntington Beach wildcard. Simpo went on to battle his way through the rounds, eventually falling to Jordy Smith, who would win the event. Photos: Chachi

Florence earned his title points-wise in Portugal, but this was the event that got Florence so close to his dream he could taste it. Up against Ryan Callinan in Round Three, Florence opened by combo-ing Callinan in what looked like a well-surfed but ho-hum heat, until Callinan torqued his way through a hail mary backside whirly-bird revo and netted himself a 9.13. Suddenly, with eight minutes left in the heat, Florence had to play defense and rely on priority strategy, rather than ludicrously ambitious performance surfing.

 

In the end, that heat, as well as Florence's entire run at the Quik Pro, was a display of the well-roundedness that finally made Florence the world's most dangerous competitive surfer. He surfs better, he catches better waves, and he knows how to shut it down when it matters most. His lead over Medina in the title race shrank after Florence lost out to a possessed Keanu Asing in the semis, but no matter. It was clear that Florence was going for the crown, as the race moved on to Portugal. Photos: Parry

Who doesn’t love when World Champions clinch their crowns with an event win? Florence was officially champ once Jordy Smith lost to Conner Coffin in the semifinals, but it feels so much better that John John got all the glory in Portugal.

 

Florence lost in Round One, then smashed everybody the rest of the event. None of his heats were close. Draining, sucking, storm-washed waves poured over the Portuguese sandbars, and there was Florence, no trouble finding fillet-able, punt-able sections, and even less trouble finding the most gurgling of tubes. He dispatched everybody by at least two points, then, after clinching the title at the end of the semis, he mic-dropped his Rip Curl Portugal win with an absurd alley-oop-to-lip-smash combo for a 9.5. It'll be an enduring bit of contest surfing history, an exclamation to one of the most pleasing, yet expected, World Titles the sport has ever seen. Photos: Moran

Photos: Miller

Photo: Moran