Photo: Sherm

Yesterday morning, at 8:55 a.m. under an overcast sky in Portugal on the final day of the MEO Pro, the WSL finally confirmed what the rest of us already knew: John John Florence is the best surfer in the world.

His world title came as no surprise, but that it happened at Supertubos — rather than six weeks from now at Pipeline — was. Before Portugal nobody was talking about John clinching early. Not Hurley. Not John’s camp. Not even the WSL. In fact, John told us that even he had no idea it was possible until the evening before his first heat, when a local reporter asked him what it would it mean to win the title in Portugal during a pre-event press conference. Of course, for it to happen, she told him, a few unlikely things would need to fall John’s way.

And then they all did.

A few hours after winning the title and the event in one fell swoop, we tried to get John on the phone, but the waves were still firing, and so John was still surfing. Go figure. He apologized for not being able to talk and said he was heading off to a world title dinner straightaway. As humble as ever. One of the many reasons we’re so excited to call him our new champ.

So while it took a little longer to have our chat, this is what the new world champ had to say one day after achieving a lifelong dream.

Interview by Zander Morton

Photo: Timo
Photo: Jimmicane

SURFING: First of all, congrats — from all of us here at SURFING. Have you recovered from last night yet?

John Florence: Thanks so much. And yeah, we didn’t go super big, actually. Not yet. [laughs] I was just too tired. A crazy, emotional tiredness. I slept the best I’ve slept in the last two months last night.

I can imagine. Yesterday you finally had a lot of weight and expectation lifted from your shoulders.

It was a pretty crazy day. The weight is off my shoulders, the nerves are gone…I’m finally able to relax. But I’m still tripping.

Has it sunk in yet?

I don’t think it has. I keep replaying it in my head and telling myself, “Wow, that really happened.” I was expecting it to go to Pipe and so I thought I’d still be in that mindset of competing right now, of having to get ready for the next event.

Going into Portugal, did you even know you could clinch there? Did you know the math?

I had no clue. I found out at a press conference the day before the event. And then Gabe lost, and I overheard that at that point it would happen if I made the final and Jordy lost. But I tried not to think about it and just win every heat because once you get caught up in the math it just spins you out. And then, on the final day, it all happened so fast…

Speaking of fast, did you imagine you’d win your first title at 24?

The world title was always my goal. 100 percent. That’s what I always wanted to do. But it wasn’t until this year that I put all of my time and energy and focus into it, rather than taking time off between events to go on a freesurf trip, film a movie part or work on a web edit. The last few years I’d do an event and then go straight on a trip. Then I’d go home for a few days and back to an event again. There was no time off for recovery. It was a crazy, nonstop circle. And this year I put everything into contests.

Photo: Corey Wilson
Photo: Chris Gurney

Does it give you even more confidence knowing you were able to accomplish that goal the first time you really put everything into it?

For sure. At the end of last year when I finished the movie was when I went, “OK, how do I work on my competitive surfing now, and where can I improve.” Coming into this year I had a good idea of what I needed to do. And it was always in my head to win the world title this year, but at the same time, if it didn’t happen I was OK with that, too. But for everything to pay off, and to know that all of the little things I’ve changed have worked, it’s pretty awesome.

Is there any part of you that would have liked to win your first title in your own backyard?

Yeah, definitely. I always thought if I won a world title it would be at home, with my family and friends, and I’d be finishing at Pipe — like the famous finals I watched growing up between Kelly and Andy. I guess that’s how you picture yourself doing it. And like I was saying, even going into this event I thought it was going to Pipe for sure, so when it happened early like this I was almost like, “Whoa, wait. What just happened?”

Well, at least you have another decade or so to win one at Pipe.

Yeah, and at the same time, to be able to go home and surf the Triple Crown and surf Pipe with no pressure and no worries — I’m so, so excited for that. I honestly cannot wait to surf Pipe with one other guy in the water and not have the pressure of a title on my back.

That’s a great mindset for you, and a dangerous one for the rest of the World Tour. And that Pipe Masters trophy is one I’m sure you really want…

That’s my next goal, and I just have to apply everything I’ve learned competing throughout the year out at Pipe and see how it works out.

Back to Portugal for a minute, can you talk us through that Conner/Jordy semi final?

I came in from my semi with Kolohe, and I’d won that heat, so I went straight back into contest mode and started thinking about winning the final. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too early. So, I was listening to music and even up until the last few minutes of Conner’s heat I was thinking about how anything can happen. And then he [Conner] got that 9.5 that was insane and a back-up 7, and with 10 seconds to go Jordy needed a 7 something, went on a left and tried a flip, didn’t make it, and I realized, “Holy shit, this is actually happening.” I didn’t expect it and so it was really hard for me to believe it.

Photo: Brent Bielmann
Photo: Erik Knutson
Photo: Duncan Macfarlane

After winning his world title last year Adriano de Souza did an interview with SURFER, and when he was asked if winning the world title made him the best surfer in the world, he said: “John and Gabe are proof that the WSL World Champion — me, in this case, is not always the best surfer in the world.” Does a title feel like validation? How does it feel when people call you the best surfer in the world?

It’s incredible. But everyone surfs differently and better in their own ways and you can never really call someone the best objectively. I enjoy surfing big waves and I enjoy surfing small waves. I enjoy doing airs. I like surfing in general. All around. But who’s to say I’m a better competitive surfer than Adriano or Gabriel? Adriano is one of the best competitive surfers in the world, better than me, and same with Mick. So there’s so many different dynamics and things to the way people surf. I’ve heard it so many times, that the best surfer is the one having the most fun, but I’ve found it to be so true. Those are usually the people that excel. Kelly in the past. He enjoys competing and has a ton of fun doing it. And when you’re having fun you’re not overthinking anything or stressing yourself out. You’re just surfing. And for me that led to a world title this year. But I don’t believe you’ll ever be able to definitively call one surfer the best.

Photo: Jimmicane
Photo: Brent Bielmann
Photo: Trevor Moran

Now that you’ve won, and that pressure is off, will you take things year-by-year or are you setting loftier goals to win multiple world titles?

Year-by-year, for sure. I’d definitely love to win another world title and I’ve had so much fun working on the competitive side of my surfing this year. It’s a whole different way of looking at my surfing, rather than just trying to pump down the line and do the biggest air I can or go out and try to get super barreled. To compete and win you have to combine that with so many things that I’ve overlooked in the past and am starting to really enjoy. Like, how do each of my boards work in every type of conditions? How do I generate speed in mushy surf? How do I surf like Filipe Toledo in knee high waves? It’s fun to learn those type of things and also to work on my competitive mindset and how to deal with pressure in a heat in every scenario. It’s been a huge challenge to work on myself and to better myself in all of those places so I can be my best in any given 30 minutes. I still have tons and tons of little flaws and I’m having so much fun working on each one of them and seeing where that takes me, and where it takes my surfing.

Photo: Quinn Matthews
Photo: Shane Grace

How does it feel to win another world title for Hawaii?

It feels great to be able to bring it back to Hawaii for the first time since Andy. There’s been such a crazy outpouring of support from everyone there. I can’t wait to get home…and just be home. [laughs]

I know you have a lot of hobbies outside of surfing — photography, sailing, flying airplanes — how much did those help in achieving this goal?

It all goes back to having that open mind to learn new things. Just like I made it a focus to really learn about competing this year, I really love learning about flying, or sailing, or whatever it is I’m into at the moment, since I’m kind of switching it up all of the time. It’s important to have those breaks from surfing. I go home in the summer time and go sailing for a week and forget about the pressure of competitive surfing. I go into a totally different world. Those mental breaks, those things that I enjoy outside of surfing, and being able to learn about people that have different hobbies…it’s all played a big part in getting to this point.

Photo: Luis Niza