That John John Florence is already succeeding wildly on the world stage surprises nobody. Fact is no surfer in history has grown up under the eyes of media scrutiny like Florence, whose backyard just happened to be the most photographed wave in the world.
Back when he was an 8-year-old muppet with an unruly mop of long white locks, Florence made tiny little footprints as he waddled down the beach with his tiny board and paddled out at Pipeline, the surfing world’s most testosterone-laced lineup. He would quickly become a regular on the small days, but even then his bravado was stunning.
By the age of 10 Florence had graduated to much heavier stuff, and was moving around the world’s fiercest lineup with the swagger of a local celebrity. His tiny frame and blond beacon were impossible for the cameras to miss, and there was no shortage of photos showing him being mentored by every local and international standout, including Kelly Slater, as he absorbed generations of Pipeline’s secrets.
A decade later, he and Slater were locking horns in the semifinals of the Pipeline Masters in one of the best clashes ever seen there. Florence looked as if he was ready to grab the Pipeline reigns from Slater, who’s won The Masters six times in his 20-year career. In fact, Slater’s first Pipeline Masters (and world title) win came just a couple weeks after Florence was born in 1992.
Slater’s ability to keep the sun from setting on his career is one of the most incredible stories in sports. While the reputations of Barry Bonds, Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, are being weakened, the 40-year-old reigning world champion’s career stats have become a benchmark for dominating a profession. In the generation that he’s reigned, we in the media have flung dozens of would-be Slater-killers at the wall. Few have stuck. While guys like Andy Irons and Mick Fanning have scored blows, nobody has been able to finish Slater off. When he hangs it up it will be on his terms.
This December Kelly Slater will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of his first ASP world title by going for his 12th at Pipeline. Meanwhile a very well-rounded John John Florence will be going for his first, trying to beat Slater to become the youngest world champion in history.
Now I don’t want to discount the other title contenders like Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson, but if the gods are kind the ultimate battle will come to fruition with a rematch of last year’s epic showdown between Slater and Florence, two of the most gravitational forces in the sport. It seems like the perfect moment for the student to finally take the reigns from the master. But if he does, will he be worthy of the honor?
Of course Slater’s shoes will never be filled, but Kelly himself acknowledged the inevitability of Florence’s future after getting past him in the waning seconds of their quarterfinal clash last year. “I’m just trying to keep John John at bay a little longer,” said Kelly. “He’s going to be dominating this place for the next 20 years.” Whether Slater can keep him at bay any longer is the question of 2012. -Chris Mauro, GrindTV.com
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