BY JODI WILMOTT – Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, HAWAII — Hawaii’s John John Florence started surfing the deadly Banzai Pipeline at age eight and barely four feet tall — about the same time the surfing world’s spotlight fell in love with him.
Ten years later, at 18 years of age and heaped with expectation, he proved there hasn’t been an ounce of energy wasted on him, winning the $120,000 Volcom Pipe Pro title at his home break today.
An Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) five-star event, this was exactly the kind of springboard into professional surfing that Florence has long dreamed of, and it came in the first rated event of his first season on tour.
It was a hard-earned victory for Florence who had to work his way through five grueling rounds – four of them held today in barreling waves two stories high. His final ascent required him to take down five-time Pipeline champion Jamie O’Brien and proven Pipe specialists Chris Ward (San Clemente, Ca.) and Aamion Goodwin (Kauai, HI).
Determined not to let the opportunity slip, Florence embarked upon a flurry of insane tube-riding in the opening 10 minutes of the 30-minute heat, locking in back-to-back scores of 7.67, 8.43, and 9.93 to shut the door. He never caught another wave. He didn’t need to. His top two-wave total of 18.36 stood untouched and earned him $16,000, 1,000 ASP ratings points and, more importantly, a wildcard to take on the world’s best in the Pipe Masters, December 8-20.
It has been an incredible month for the now-towering teenager who tasted victory just three weeks ago, right here in a specialty “Backdoor Shootout” event, setting his trajectory for 2011. Somehow, despite a decade of photo shoots, magazine spreads and interviews, he seemed to be the only one surprised with the result.
“Two contests in a row out here, I’m so stoked right now. I’m still kind of in disbelief,” said Florence. “It’s satisfaction. I love doing it and putting it all together and just having fun.”
On his plans to travel the world this year in a bid to qualify for the elite ASP World Tour: “This means everything, my first (ASP) win and my first (ASP) final. I’m gonna try, you know. I’ve got a pretty good start on it. I love it, and I love traveling. Going to all different places, surfing, meeting different people. It’s the best thing ever.
“It’s just crazy to be in a heat with Jamie. I’ve grown up with him and I’m just really stoked. I’ve wanted to win here ever since I was little, ever since I started surfing out here.”
Florence’s rhythm and rapid fire annihilation of the heat was uncanny, breaking out of the gates with a lifetime of motivation behind him. His tube-riding was flawless – the biggest waves, the steepest drops, Backdoor rights, Pipeline lefts; they all seemed to play out the same way: deep, long and successful.
“With guys like Chris Ward, Jamie, and Aamion you know anything could happen. If a good set comes Jamie could get a 10. Anyone could have gotten the scores. So, it wasn’t until the last 40 seconds that I was like……YES!
“I kinda just lucked into it, you know. I got that first one and it was alright and then I paddled back out and got that second one, and then just paddled straight back into that left.”
O’Brien didn’t give up and is well known for rising to the challenge. He answered back with an 8.57 and a 6.77 (15.34 points total) in the final, but ultimately never found the score he needed to bridge the gap. His consolation was a wildcard into December’s Pipe Masters and $8,000.
For Ward and Goodwin, it might have been a matter of peaking a round too early. Aamion posted the second highest heat score of the entire event in his semi-final against O’Brien, Fred Patacchia (HI) and Ian Walsh (HI) – 18.54. Ward had one of the highest single rides of the competition in his semi-final against Florence, Kai Barger (HI), and Damien Hobgood (FL) – a near-perfect 9.07. Like Florence and O’Brien, Goodwin and Ward win wildcards into the Pipe Masters.
“It was amazing,” Goodwin said of his semi-final heat and best finish in an ASP event. “I’ll remember that for a long time.”
For Ward, it was nothing but satisfaction. His last appearance in a final was here at the Pipe Masters in December of 2009, against world champion Kelly Slater. To podium again was confidence boosting.
“The waves are amazing today, so perfect,” said Ward. “I mean, if you’re in the right spot, your going to get shacked off your head. It’s right up my alley. I love Pipeline and I love surfing with four guys out at Pipeline. This is one of the best contests you can surf in. I’m glad to be hear and glad to be on the podium.”
Other awards handed out today included the Electric Visual Perfect 10s – $1,000 bonuses to the two surfers who posted perfect 10-point rides during the event: Maui’s Ian Walsh, and Oahu’s Kekoa Bacalso; and the Todd Chesser Memorial Spirit Award that went to wildcard charger Kalani Chapman (HI). Wildcards into the Pipe Masters were also won by Hawaii surfers Kai Barger, Fred Patacchia, Bruce Irons, and Evan Valiere.
The highest placed non-Americans in the event were Brazilian pair Wiggolly Dantas and Leandro Bastos. They both lost in the quarter finals, placing equal ninth overall. Bastos lost to O’Brien and Dantas lost to Ward.
The 2011 Volcom Pipe Pro appreciates the support of Surfline.com, the official contest forecaster; Electric Visual; Transworld Surf and Fuel TV.
1. John John Florence (HAW) – 18.36, $16,000
2. Jamie O’Brien (HAW) – 15.34, $8,000
3. Chris Ward (USA) – 14.46, $6,000
4. Aamion Goodwin (HAW) – 10.6, $5,000
*Competitors listed in order of placing, 1st through 4th.
H1: John John Florence (HAW); Chris Ward (USA); Kai Barger (HAW); Damien Hobgood (USA)
H2: Aamion Goodwin (HAW); Jamie O’Brien (HAW); Fredrick Patacchia (HAW); Ian Walsh (HAW)
H1: John John Florence (HAW); Kai Barger (HAW); Cory Lopez (USA); Kekoa Bacalso (HAW)
H2: Damien Hobgood (USA); Chris Ward (USA); Wiggolly Dantas (BRA); Kalani Chapman (HAW)
H3: Fredrick Patacchia (HAW); Ian Walsh (HAW); Bruce Irons (HAW); Evan Valiere (HAW)
H4: Jamie O’Brien (HAW); Aamion Goodwin (HAW); Leandro Bastos (BRZ); Marcus Hickman (HAW)
Round of 32
1st and 2nd advance to Quarter-Finals
H1: John John Florence (HAW); Chris Ward (USA); Brad Ettinger (USA); Cory Arrambide (USA)
H2: Cory Lopez (USA); Wiggolly Dantas (BRA); Reef McIntosh (HAW); Sunny Garcia (HAW)
H3: Damien Hobgood (USA); Kekoa Bacalso (HAW); Mason Ho (HAW); Tim Reyes (USA)
H4: Kalani Chapman (HAW); Kai Barger (HAW); Dane Gudauskas (USA); Damien Fahrenfort (ZAF)
H5: Fredrick Patacchia (HAW); Leandro Bastos (BRA); Flynn Novak (HAW); Roy Powers (HAW)
H6: Bruce Irons (HAW); Aamion Goodwin (HAW); Olamana Eleogram (HAW); Nathan Yeomans (USA)
H7: Marcus Hickman (HAW); Evan Valiere (HAW); Kevin Sullivan (HAW); Dylan Graves (PRI)
H8: Jamie O’Brien (HAW); Ian Walsh (HAW); Makuakai Rothman (HAW); Charles Martin (GLP)