John John Florence Talks Eddie:

Guest Blogger: Scott Hulet

With a field as broad as it is deep, calling the 30th Annual Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau “stacked” would be a gross understatement. Dynamic personal histories; far-flung geographical waypoints; wildly contrasting skill sets... all are in evidence this year.


With a 30-year spread between the youngest and oldest participants, you can be assured of divergent approaches to the chessboard that is Waimea Bay. Where pure high-performance is concerned, one young surfer stands alone. John John Florence brings the flair.


Born less than two miles from the Waimea take-off spot, Florence was reared on the North Shore. His comfort level in ridiculous conditions is baked in, leading to a relaxed, experimental attack in waves that have most surfers tapping the brakes. That said, The Bay is a different beast entire.


“I'm pretty terrified when I go out [there],” says Florence. “You'd have to be scared unless you were crazy, you know? I think everyone is scared.”


Indeed, he finds trouble even finding an appreciation for the experience until safely back on the beach.  “It's how you feel at the end of the day— it's the most amazing ever,” he says. “You've surfed big waves with your friends and the preparation, the session, this whole thing comes together in one big package.”


Waimea’s net effect is much more than waves alone. The ancient valley, the ancestral burial heiau on the ridge, and the modern surf history of the site sees to that. The gravitas of place and the legacy of the event’s namesake isn’t lost on the 22-year-old. In fact, he has been tracking with it his whole life.


“I've been going to the [opening] ceremony with my friends and little brothers since we were little kids,” he says. “To be in the actual event… It's definitely kind of scary, the amount of people and the power of Waimea. Even when you're out there on a normal day, it's a pretty intense wave. It's right there on the rocks, right off the boil. During the Eddie it's the most people we have on the North Shore ever. It's crazy. People camp at Waimea to be there for the next day. I'm definitely pretty nervous thinking about that.”


It’s a poetic time for the young regular foot to be pressed into action. Indeed, the iconic action photo of Eddie bombing across a boil-ridden Waimea wall was snapped when Aikau was almost exactly John John’s age. Like Eddie before him, Florence will have to hold his ground, wheel in with a couple of extra strokes for good measure, and fling himself down the shaft.


Humble and self-effacing, Florence knows the Aikau had the sort of bona fides that can’t be duplicated with a simple contest victory. He sums it up succinctly:


“You hear the stories of Eddie your whole life growing up. He was that guy who was going out to save people. To put yourself in that position when the waves were big, that was incredible.” 


While Florence-the-pro-surfer is a different man than Aikau-the Waimea-lifeguard, John John brings a style of surfing that has both classicists and the new school cheering for him. If that sounds familiar, one need only look back to 2002 Eddie champion Kelly Slater. John John recognizes the symmetry. When asked what it would be like to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with surfing’s greatest competitor of all time, Florence grins and respectfully chuckles through his dream scenario.


“Kelly is so unpredictable. You'll forget that he's a big wave surfer until you watch him pulling into  giant barrels at Waimea, [like] the last time they ran the Eddie. I definitely want to do better than him, sit by him... and catch his waves.”