John John Florence wasn't supposed to bomb out of the Quiksilver Pro Australia in Round 2. He was expected to contend for the top spot on the podium, but in fickle conditions at Snapper Rocks on Queensland's Gold Coast on Monday, Florence was upset by South African journeyman Travis Logie. The surf was infrequent and uncooperative, which led to a slew of failed air attempts and low scores. As we've come to know, Florence is at his best when the waves are pumping, and these were not ideal conditions.
With his eyes on an ASP World Title and longtime mentor Kelly Slater in his sights, ESPN The Magazine caught up with Florence to get a feel for where his head is at going into this season. Look for the full interview in the next issue on newsstands this week.
ESPN The Mag: What's up with the name?
John John Florence: My real name is straight John. My mom called me John John after John F. Kennedy Jr., and it stuck. I'm OK with whatever people want to call me, though. Some know me as Two Johns. It's pretty funny.
You've been dubbed a natural, a prodigy. After hearing that you were the "next Kelly Slater," has it been weird surfing against Kelly? Like, "Yo, I'm the next you."
[Laughs.] Not at all. I honestly don't think about labels. I'm so amped on surfing that it's all I really think about. And Kelly's cool. He gives me advice about pressure, like when I surf the Pipe event. I don't want to lose at home in the year's last event.
When asked about his late-career motivations, Slater once said: "I'd like to surf a final at Pipe against John John." How does it feel to know you motivate him?
It an awesome feeling, for sure. Last year he kept telling me, "I'm so stoked to be in the Pipe final with you." I was stoked too, but I wanted to win more than anything. To be so close to beating Kelly in the final and not get the win was a big letdown.
Any part of you hope Kelly retires and lets you kids win some?
[Laughs.] I hope he stays around. If you win a world title without Kelly on the tour, it's just not the same. I want to beat him.
Is the jump to the top taking longer than you'd expected? Or, at 21, are you where you hoped you would be?
I'm more than where I wanted to be. I had a bad couple of years, but it made me realize what it takes. In 2012, I didn't expect to finish in the top five. I came in fourth. Last year I hurt my ankle and missed three events. I was like, "Whoa, I still made top 10." The dream to win the overall title someday is definitely there.
You broke your back in 2011. You've recovered physically, but does it affect you mentally?
Breaking my back was a bad one. I was sore for a while and went on a bad streak of contests. I was just terrible. But, really, the worst injury I had was my ankle. It took so long to feel no pain. I'm still stiff now, actually. But as I surf more, I don't think about it.
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