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The rise of John John

There are a lot of tattoos out there that speak to Hawaiian pride. A simple map of the islands is tasteful. Of course, there are any number of water and mountain imagery that make up sleeves. There's the more traditional Polynesian artwork originally banned by missionaries that has become a strong cultural tie. And then there's your straight up Hawaiian Pride neck tats.

20-year-old John John Florence doesn't have any ink. But right now, he is as strong a source of Hawaiian pride as you're going to find in the Islands.

Florence made the cover of Surfer magazine getting barreled in Indonesia as a grom, a rather massive introduction to the surfing world. He joined the ASP World Tour in 2011 and quickly notched his first Vans Triple Crown win. With aerial skills and that innate ability to ride the barrel, Florence is loved throughout the islands.

In 2012, Florence has simply been astounding. He started the year with a win at the 5-star Volcom Pipeline Pro and then shortly after starting his first full year on the ASP Tour, won the Prime-rated Telstra Drug Aware Pro. He made the semis of the Nike Lowers Pro in May and then went to the Billabong Pro Rio where he took his first World Tour victory. He notched semifinal finishes at Teahupoo and France and made a pretty good run at a second consecutive Vans Triple Crown title. For the second half of the season, he was in the thick of the title race with Kelly Slater, Joel Parkinson, and Mick Fanning, an experience that's sure to forge his character.

All of this has many wondering: could John John Florence bring a world title back to Hawaii?

Aside from Fred Patacchia, who just requalified, Florence was the only Hawaiian on tour in 2012. (This year, they are joined by Sebastian Zietz.) That's kind of a strange thing, considering Hawaii's role in the history of surfing. To put it as simply as possible, these Islands are the history of surfing. But if you go back to 1976, and the birth of pro surfing with the fledgling IPS circuit, you don't see a Hawaiian world champ until Derek Ho in 1993. Then there was Sunny Garcia's title in 2000. And these were one-offs.

There wasn't a true dynasty until Andy Irons' run from 2002 to 2004. So when Irons left this world with cloudy circumstances surrounding his cause of death in 2010, it left a giant hole in the heart of the Hawaiian people. And although Florence (like Irons) is Caucasian, he is accepted as Hawaiian. And with that comes heavy interest in his quest for a world title.

"Ho a'e ka 'ike he'enalu i ka hokua o ka 'ale means to show your knowledge of surfing on the back of the wave. In Hawaiian, it sums up Florence»s remarkable rise to the top of the surfing tour and to possibly win the world title in 2013. John John has shown he has learned the art and mastery of riding a wave," says Tom Pohaku Stone, a legendary Hawaiian waterman and teacher of Polynesian culture.

"He has shown and proved he has what it takes to represent Hawai»i as the best surfer today following in the footsteps of Andy Irons and others like the Ho brothers and Sunny Garcia. Yes, we are proud of his accomplishment as a professional surfer," adds this historian.

Nothing is as Hawaiian as surfing. It held great significance in ancient cultures and still does today. The film "Bustin Down the Door" by Shaun Tomson did a great job of telling the story of how Hawaiians put so much stock in water skills. After centuries of losing their way of life to first the English and then the Americans, it was the one thing Hawaiians still had. And when the Bronze Aussies disrespected that, it caused a major to-do.

Hawaii still sees itself as an independent entity in the sporting world. Duke Kahanamoku won multiple Olympic swimming medals. Technically, they were medals for the US Team, but as far as Hawaiians were concerned, the medals belonged to Honolulu. Today, Hawaii is still its own region on the ASP books.

Nick Beck, 72, is a legendary Hawaiian paddler from Kauai. He was a teacher and Vice Principal at Hanalei School before a 25-year tenure as principal.

"I had all the kids you saw surfing competitively: Andy Irons, Bruce Irons, Dusty Payne, Reef MacIntosh, plus a thousand others who just surf," he says.

And as he explains, Hawaiian pride is paramount, not necessarily any particular island.

"When Andy won, of course he had a lot of support from everyone at Hanalei School, but no matter where in Hawaii you're from, you spend winters surfing on Oahu, so you belong to many of the islands. It just matters that you're from Hawaii," he states. "You are representing, really, Hawaii. Not the United States. They surf as Hawaiians and (Florence) is the first time since Andy passed away that we've had someone else, and it means a lot to the people in the islands to have someone there from the islands, who rides the waves there, be a world champion. Of course the guys in the local breaks feel proud because the kids have grown up there and surfed, but they embrace a Hawaiian champion from any island."

 

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