An exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of a surfing outlier.
Last week John John Florence lost in the Round of 16 of the 2023 J-Bay Open. It was a close, and controversial, loss. His opponent surfed a wave in the dying seconds to win by 0.25 of a point. The defeat moved John John down to 7th on the WSL rankings, out of the all-important top 5, which is needed to secure a place in the WSL Finals and a chance to win a third World Title.
With so much on the line, the loss could be considered devastating. And yet for John John, it wasn’t. It couldn’t be. Uniquely his approach isn’t defined by wins and losses. He has shaped his life, and his surfing, around a deep connection with nature. The unbelievable power of his surfing; let’s call that his yang, is balanced with how he connects with nature or his yin.
While his surfing has been under the spotlight since he was a kid, the underlying building blocks behind his success haven’t; until now. The reveal has come through a new, pivotal collaboration Florence has with Vivobarefoot. Their mission is to connect people to the natural world and help them achieve their potential through regenerative, barefoot living. John has been living the 24/7 barefoot lifestyle and has now revealed how he goes about it.
Turns out, it’s pretty simple. Through the four simple pillars of Train, Explore, Sail, and Relax, John John has channelled his strength with finesse and control. He’s become a World Champion, overcame injuries, mastered his craft and become a force of nature. And with Vivobarefoot help, he’s demonstrated how nature has fuelled his success. In the first of an in-depth series, we take a how a look how he does it. And how you can too.
Be it trekking the mountains at home in Hawaii or sailing the Pacific, exploration has been key in providing John with serene and rejuvenating moments. While the physical benefits like reduced stress levels, lower blood pressure, and decrease anxiety are performance enhancers, with John it has fostered a sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude. He says this provides clarity, perspective, and a deeper understanding of himself and the world around him.
John’s training approach is based on the principles of functionality, mobility, and longevity. His belief is that movement is essential to human health and performance. To put that into practice, he has enlisted the help of Kelly Starrett. Starrett is known for his work in the fields of mobility and movement and for his bestselling book Becoming a Supple Leopard.
John and Kelly have been using the concept of “position, don’t punish,” which emphasises the importance of maintaining optimal positions during training and everyday activities to avoid unnecessary strain on the body.
We know that time in blue spaces can have a profound effect on our well-being, promoting relaxation, restoration, and a sense of connection with nature. Unlike many elite professional surfers, John is a true waterman, using time in, on, and under the water to aid in stress reduction, improve mood, enhanced cognitive function and increase overall happiness. Sailing has helped in that regard, and John John’s missions in his catamaran Vela in recent years have added further connection with nature and the ocean. This helps him to draw the lines he does on 10-foot waves and maintain a calm and collected flow state of mind to allow him to perform at his best.
Have you heard of a deep, parasympathetic state? No, we’ll be honest, neither had we until John explained it. He believes athletes are prone to overwork and under-rest. The orthodoxy in elite sports is that the harder you train, the better the results will be. And yet John’s focus is on unlocking a deep parasympathetic state; calming the body, stimulating the vagal nerves responsible for digestion, heart rate and immune function, to find flow and the right mindset to enjoy surfing and competing. Again, it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the approach.
In this series with Vivobarefoot we will dig a little deeper and look at these four pillars individually to show how John John has achieved his potential using nature, and how it’s possible for all us to do the same.