Hawaii’s John John Florence has stood on the sand here at Sunset Beach watching the crowning of surfing champions since he was 6-years-old. Today, at 19, he stood on the podium, having realized his childhood dream of winning the Vans World Cup at Sunset Beach, and taking the lead on the coveted Vans Triple Crown presented by Rockstar Energy Drink series ratings. It was an overwhelming victory for Florence, who surfed in his first Vans Triple Crown event at the tender age of 12.
Today was also a dream come true for the Vans family, who brought John and the Florences into the fold when he was eight years old. At that time they recognized a child with prodigious talent, a gentle nature, and a genuine appreciation for the ocean and the fortunate opportunities it represented.
A Cup Full of Dreams. John John Florence (Hawaii).
“Vans has a long tradition of family, from the Van Dorens to the Florences, and John has been part of our family since he first learned to surf,” said Doug Palladini, Vans’ VP of Marketing. “We are so proud of what John accomplished today, what he has done to live up to his potential this year, and we marvel at the possible impact he will ultimately have on surfing beyond his 19th year.”
In the final, Florence led a spectacular tube-riding battle in perfect 10-foot surf against Michel Bourez (Tahiti, 2nd), Adam Melling (Australia, 3rd), and Hank Gaskell (Maui, 4th) to win $40,000. His two-wave heat total of 17 points (9.5, 7.5) eclipsed the field, leaving the other three in need of a two-wave combination of scores to overtake the lead.
Florence began his Vans Triple Crown campaign two weeks ago at Haleiwa, where he placed fifth. The third and final leg of the Vans Triple Crown now awaits him on his home doorstep at Pipeline. The Billabong Pipe Masters will get underway on December 8. Florence began his 2011 campaign at the Banzai Pipeline in February, winning the 5-star Pipeline Pro. From there, he leapt off onto the global ASP tour with hopes of securing a berth among the elite Top 32. He has achieved that, now ranked 19th in the world.
“I’m having fun, I surf for a living and that’s a dream in itself,” said Florence.
“This is my first 6 star Prime win, it’s at home, it’s one of my home breaks and all my family and friends are here, so it’s one of the best moments of my life, for sure. It means everything. I’ve watched these guys since I was so little growing up here and coming to events when I was six years old, getting their autographs.”
On the upcoming Pipe Masters: “I live right there at Pipe and I surf there almost every day in all conditions. Its going to be fun, for sure.”
There was as much adrenaline on the beach as there was on the waves for the final. Sunset turned on like a giant wave machine, pumping out a succession of rides that saw every finalist get barreled. But Florence’s performance was astounding; he covered an expansive lineup seemingly picking off waves at will with every one of them offering an impossible amount of tube time. Bourez and Melling fought hard to catch him in the 30-minute final. At one point, Melling found himself inside a game-changer of a tube ride, traveling for more than 100 yards and disappearing for six seconds, but he failed to emerge through the curtain of whitewater. After his runner-up finish at Haleiwa, and his third here today, Melling is ranked second on the Vans Triple Crown ratings and will follow John John to Pipe.
“It would have been good to go one better than the last contest, but I guess that’s how it is,” said Melling, from Australia’s Lennox Head. “But if there’s barrels and John John’s around I’m sure he’s in them somewhere.”
On his tube ride that was the longest of the final: “It wasn’t that great! I didn’t make it! But it would have been good. I was coming through it, I raced, and I got through one hard bit and then just into the next and it dropped out on me. I thought I had it there for a little bit. It would have been nice to come out of it.
“The Triple Crown means everything. Since I was young coming over here I’ve always wanted to win it, which would be amazing. Last year I did alright out at Pipe but I’m guessing this year’s going to be a little bit different. I think it’s going to be big Pipe. I’ll have to get out there this week and get a bit of practice in.”
Bourez is the most successful Tahitian surfer in the 29-year history of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. A former champion of the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa, his powerful surfing style is a natural fit for the North Shore’s famous winter waves. Now rated third on the Vans Triple Crown rankings, and headed to Pipe, 2011 has seen him reach a new high.
“It’s such a good feeling just to be on the stage right now, to have made the final with all the boys,” said Bourez. “I’m just glad to be on tour and be in the final with them today.
“My first wave, oh my god, that was a bomb. Just right at the end I didn’t make it and I thought if I made that one, it was close to a 10 maybe. To start the heat with a 10 would have put so much pressure on the others, but it didn’t happen.”
Fourth-placed Hank Gaskell is an underdog fairytale. A quiet achiever who doesn’t travel on the tour, Hank lives for waves like those he rode at Sunset today. From the neighboring island of Maui, Gaskell found his way into the Triple Crown by virtue of winning the local Hawaii series this year. He made good on the opportunity and now gets his second wildcard to Pipeline.
“This is really special to me,” Gaskell said. “I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life. I’ve never done this well in the Triple Crown before so I’m so happy to do this good and make a final. Now Pipe. I’ve got to get psyched for that. I think I’m ready. I’ve surfed in Pipe twice before, not in a few years tho so I’m really happy to be back in that event. I’ve had a little luck and put in a lot of hard work, so it’s paying off. I’m proud of myself.”
Brazil’s Raoni Monteiro, the defending champion of this event, lost out in the semi-finals to Florence and Gaskell, placing equal 7th overall.
Florida’s Evan Geiselman, 18, was eliminated in the round of 32 today but emerged as the JN Automotive Rookie of the Vans Triple Crown – a prestigious title that signals a stellar surfing future.
The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing presented by Rockstar Energy Drink is a three-event series staged on Oahu’s North Shore. It is famous for its three equally challenging venues of Haleiwa, Sunset Beach and Pipeline that represent the ultimate test of a surfer’s ability. To win the Vans Triple Crown is second only to winning the ASP World Title.