By Daniel Ikaika Ito
Sunset Beach did its best Backdoor impression during the final of the Vans World Cup of Surfing on Friday. Nineteen-year-old John John Florence convincingly took the win, and now leads the overall ratings in the Triple Crown race. This was John John's third contest victory on the North Shore in 2011, having won the Volcom Pipeline Pro and Da Hui Backdor Shootout earlier this year.
"Pipe — that's my home break, and the main wave I surf all the time — so [the Pipe Pro and Shootout] wins were great, but this is a much bigger event and there are more guys," said John John about the different vibes of winning. "Sunset is such a challenging wave and I'm stoked!"
Sunset Beach pumped for the final with 6-to 8-foot barreling rights, reminding us how good the wave really is. Young John John took full advantage. After making a crucial equipment change before the quarterfinals, switching from a 6'8" to a 6'6" Pyzel, John John sat on the inside bowl and found barrels on nearly every wave, punctuating them with roundhouse and drop wallet combos. The standout of the event, John John easily claimed the second jewel of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, with a 17 out of possible 20 points in the final. His highest scoring ride was an inside barrel through which he rode over two creases that surely would have bucked most off their boards.
"It wasn't even that big [of a wave]," said John John about the 9.5-ride that was the winning wave. "It was just a smaller one and I got into the thing over the bump and got a good little pump to it and made it out."
When asked how much of a factor having Pancho Sullivan as a board caddy played in his win, John John seized the opportunity to deflect the spotlight.
"It's everything. He's the best guy out here and I'm so thankful to have him be on my side and be in the water for all my heats. I couldn't have done it without him."
Finishing runner-up behind Florence was Michel Bourez, who is now ranked third overall and in contention for the Vans Triple Crown title. The Tahitian had a chance to overtake the lead in the last seven minutes of the final with a throating barrel. But a water patrol Jet Ski that was dropping off a water photographer in the lineup created a wake that caused the lip of Bourez's wave to crumble. Thus, shutting down the barrel on "The Spartan."
"I didn't know if it was the Jet Ski [that crumbled the lip the wake]," said Bourez who despite falling on the wave scored a 6.5. "I knew there was something wrong on the wave and the guys came out to me and said the Jet Ski blew it…but [the Ski driver] did the best he could do and I thanked him for everything he did for the event. Things like that happen."
Behind Bourez was Aussie Adam Melling, who is now in second place overall for the 2011 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing title. And with fourth place finish Maui's Hank Gaskell was awarded a wild card into the Billabong Pipe Masters, and is ranked seventh in the Triple Crown race.