John John Florence grew up watching the late Andy Irons surfing the beach breaks right outside his home in Hawaii, hoping one day he would be able to clinch a world title of his own.
And now his dream has finally come true.
Florence clinched the 2016 World Surf League Title in dramatic fashion with a victory at the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal in Peniche.
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It’s the first time a Hawaiian has held the crown since Irons won it back in 2004.
“I honestly can’t believe it right now, it’s obviously not sunk in just yet,” Florence said immediately after realising he was the new champion.
“I know my mom and family are watching online right now and I really wish they were here with me. I’m so stoked. I’ve worked my whole life towards this and I have so many people to thank for this.”
“I’ve watched Kelly (Slater) and Andy and all those guys win world titles.
“I bet I might cry or something later,” Florence laughed.
Florence’s season started out slowly with mediocre results across the Australian leg before posting a victory in Brazil in May.
The Hawaiian carried the momentum of his Rio de Janeiro win to strong showings in Jeffreys Bay (2nd), Tahiti (2nd) and France (3rd) while challengers Gabriel Medina, Matt Wilkinson, Jordy Smith and 11-time Champion Kelly Slater failed to maintain consistency, eventually falling out of reach in Portugal.
“It’s been a long year, but one of the best years in my life, so many fun events and just having a really good time all together and I’ve learned so much,” he continued.
“I was expecting it to go to Hawaii and I was just trying to keep surfing through heats.”
Florence, 24, has been competing on the WSL tour for six years.
He’s been touted as one of the greatest surfers in the world for a long time, seeming destined for surfing excellence since stepping foot on board at two years young.
“My whole life has gone into this, everything I’ve done but just this year especially, learning so much about competitive surfing, focusing completely on it and having so much help and support, it’s been amazing.” Florence added.
“The title was my goal this year so at this point I’m just going to go out and have fun.”
And that he did.
He went out in the final against rookie Conner Coffin having already won the title but he still put on a show for the fans.
Florence took things to the air with numerous massive rotations while Coffin kept chasing the tubes, successfully navigating a deep one for an excellent 8.60.
Florence’s flair peaked in the Final with a huge alley-oop for a 9.50 and the win.
Coffin secured a career-high runner-up spot on the Championship Tour and rocketed to No. 19 on the Jeep Leaderboard.
“This feels amazing, I love Portugal, the waves are so fun and the people are amazing, food’s good, it feels kind of like California and I feel right at home here,” Coffin said.
“Obviously I know John and everyone in his camp from Hurley and Pyzel but I wasn’t thinking of his title too much in my semifinal heat. I was focusing on doing my job, I had a lot to do here in this event to stay on tour for next year so that was my goal. ”
The tour now heads to its final stop, fittingly, Pipeline in Hawaii, where John John lives.