• Nick Abramo-Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Florence is on top of the world


COURTESY WSL / CESTARI

Haleiwa’s John John Florence, above, was paraded around the beach after he clinched his second world championship during the Billabong Pipe Masters on Monday.

Haleiwa’s John John Florence didn’t flinch under heavy pressure Monday and secured his second straight world surfing championship in the Billabong Pipe Masters.

The clinching moment came at about 1:30 p.m., when the only other remaining competitor to the throne, Brazil’s Gabriel Medina, lost to France’s Jeremy Flores in the quarterfinals of the World Surf League championship tour’s season-ending contest at the world famous Banzai Pipeline break.

“It’s been a wild day,” said Florence, who kept on advancing in the contest before losing his bid at a first Pipe Masters championship in a dramatic final against Flores. “I woke up this morning and I was like, ‘OK, this is the final day.’ There were some ups and downs and some stressful moments, but winning the title, all the pressure was just off shoulders. Oh my gosh.”

As the day played out, the drama continued to build. By late morning, though, after Medina successfully navigated through the fifth round, it became clear that for the Brazilian to add a second world title to the one he won in 2014, he would need to win the Pipe Masters and hope that Florence did not make it to the final.

A WSL-estimated 7,000 fans cheered throughout the day, mostly for Florence, who locked down the world championship in front of the hometown faithful this time. A year ago, Florence secured the first world crown of his career in October in Portugal before the tour made the December stop at Pipe.

This time, the momentous occasion was extra special because Florence’s mom, Alexandra, was in attendance. Her son made sure to mention just how much she has meant to him in his climb to the top of surfing’s ladder.

“I wouldn’t be here without you,” he said while accepting the trophy and the Pipe runner-up prize.

Earlier Monday, the 25-year-old Florence advanced to the Pipe final with a fourth-round win over Brazil’s Ciao Ibelli and Australia’s Joel Parkinson. He then knocked off 2014 Pipe Masters champion Julian Wilson of Australia in the quarterfinals and then he came back late with an 8.73 wave to defeat Brazil’s Ian Gouveia in the semifinals.

For Flores, it was a second Pipe Masters championship. He also won it in 2007, and did it in eye-popping fashion Monday, squeezing by Florence with a beautiful gaping barrel with 10 seconds left for a slim 16.23 to 16.16 win. Both surfers were in the water for a few minutes waiting for the scores to be announced.

Even though his surfing proved otherwise, Flores was a reluctant winner who really didn’t want to be the one to spoil either Medina’s world-title hopes or Florence’s run at a first Pipe title, and he spoke from the heart about that: “It was a very emotional day. I was that guy who had to surf against a world-title contender and it’s definitely not a cool feeling to kind of crush a dream to be a world champ and I was feeling for Gabriel, but, I mean, these guys are winning everything already so I was thinking this is my turn now. They’re both my good friends. Congrats to John John. He’s a freak. Gabriel is one of my favorite surfers also. To win against John John, the champ, in the last seconds at the Pipe Masters in a perfect Backdoor barrel, it’s the best scenario I could dream of.”

Florence was kind-hearted to Flores, despite the latter’s surprising last-second theft.

“It was a bit frustrating,” Florence said. “When that last wave (for Flores) came, I felt pretty relaxed, knowing that I did everything I could do in that heat. Congrats to Jeremy. That’s really hard to do in the last seconds like that.”

Florence mentioned the statewide fan base that gives him extra fuel.

“There’s been such huge support through this whole thing, last year and this year,” he said. “Everybody I see is always telling me, ‘C’mon John, you’ve got this.’ It really fires me up and I want to give a big thanks to everyone in the whole state, pretty much. Everyone was so stoked and so supportive.”

Griffin Colapinto, 19, of San Clemente, Calif., broke through for the Triple Crown of Surfing trophy, which goes to the highest-scoring surfer in the three year-ending Hawaii events combined (the Hawaiian Pro, the Vans World Cup and the Pipe Masters). Colapinto is the first surfer from California to win the Triple Crown, which is in its 35th year.

Florence is on top of the world

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