Out of the water, it is exploration and nature that fuels one of surfing’s most interesting personalities.
“Nature is where I find myself getting the most enjoyment out of life,” John John Florence told Wavelength. “Being in the ocean, surfing, sailing, or in the mountains exploring just feels natural. It’s where I choose to spend my time. It all starts with getting moving, using your feet.”
As a motto for life, John John Florence’s ain’t that bad. Sure, he is mostly known for being a surfer. As a 2X World Champion who is universally regarded as one of the best humans to ever ride a surfboard, that is understandable.
Yet unlike most professional surfers, John’s hinterland, or the depth and breadth of knowledge of matters outside surfing, is vast. It is steeped in nature and exploration. He has said that exploration has helped him foster a sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude.
Growing up on the North Shore of Oahu has helped shaped this sense of immersion. In front of his house was Pipeline; one of the world’s most dangerous and beautiful waves. A few miles inland lay volcanic mountains, rainforests, deep green valleys and waterfalls.
He recalls surfing each morning as a kid at first light and returning, just about in time, for school. In The Players’ Tribune he wrote, “When we couldn’t delay any longer, we’d throw on our T-shirts, grab our backpacks, and run across the street to school barefoot. (Our teachers were always so cool with it.) When school was over, I would do the reverse — run home barefoot and just go straight to the beach with my friends and my brothers.” No wonder then roughly two decades later he has teamed up with Vivobarefoot to sustain his holistic, barefoot, nature-connected philosophy.
Nature was accessible and abundant at home on the North Shore. Alongside his surfing, he immersed himself in it every chance he could. The Venn Diagram probably maxed out on December 2021, when the day after finishing the Pipe Pro, John set off with brothers Ivan and Nate and friend Ryan Moss for a 37-mile hike along the Ko’olau Range; the remains a 9,800-foot shield volcano that has since been eroded to its current 3,100-foot-high point at Konahuanui.
Amongst the signature fluted cliff face of the Ko’olau’s windward side lie some of Hawaii’s most scenic, beautiful and gruelling, treks. The trail is notoriously muddy, often overgrown, and prone to vanish. After two days of walking and two nights camping in the elements, the group made it home, bruised, battered, and elated.
The sense of exploration and nature comes with a passion for protecting it. In 2020 he sailed his catamaran Vela the 2000 miles from Hawaii to the Palmyra Atoll in the Line Islands. The Palmyra is in the Marine National Monument, the world’s largest marine protected area. It is Ground Zero for the testing of various conservancy methods, which, once proven effective in this micro-environment, are applied on a larger scale.
“When I started looking into the chain and Palmyra, and seeing what they were doing down there through The Nature Conservancy, I was pretty amazed,” Florence said in his Vlog of the trip. “It falls right into a lot of the stuff that I like to support in my life, just growing up in and around the ocean and naturally wanting to protect it.”
The exploration theme does spill over into his surfing. In a conversation with the climber, photographer and director Jimmy Chin, he said, “That exploration side of it is one of my biggest driving factors in surfing for me. This dream I have is just to go search for waves. There’s something so special about it.”
When he isn’t scouring the oceans looking for waves or conservation tips, Florence immerses himself in nature close to home. He grows his own fruit and vegetables in the backyard patch, and in 2018 developed an interest in beekeeping. “Every time we open up the hive and check things out and make sure all the bees are doing well, I’m learning,” he said. “And getting stung.”
Add his love of snowboarding, hiking, downwind foil boarding, and photography to his surfing talents and his hinterland is rich, varied and with deep roots in nature. He has said that exploring nature can serve as a source of inspiration, creativity, and reflection, allowing him to gain clarity, perspective, and a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
As a waterman, passionate conservationist and barefoot adventurer, wildness runs in his veins. He just happens to surf pretty good too.
John John wears and recommends the Vivobarefoot Tracker Decon Firm Ground 2, as his go-to lightweight men’s hiking boot. It has multi-terrain grip, extra flex and he even chose his exclusive colourway; Obsidian-Dark Shadow if you must know.