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(Kenny Hurtado)

What John John Florence Has Learned Under Lockdown


Switching it up was exactly what he needed


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In late 2019, John John Florence had a decision to make. He was just four months removed from reconstructive surgery for a torn ACL that forced him to miss several events on the World Surf League tour. A third world title was out of the question for the 27-year-old from Oahu, but with a single event re­maining—the Billabong Pipe Masters—Florence was still in the running for one of two spots on the first-ever Olympic surf team. “I was getting a little nervous,” he says. “Like, This is gonna be close. I think I might have to do Pipe.”

It can take about a year to recover from ACL surgery. And only two weeks before the contest, Florence hadn’t been on a shortboard since the injury, which he suffered while competing in Brazil. So he adjusted his mindset. “I just looked at it like, if I don’t qualify for the Olympics, then I have two months off to go and do something else,” he says. “I tried to see it in a positive way.” The waves weren’t ideal, but he remembers thinking, “ ‘Maybe I’ll paddle out for this heat, and if I see a wave I like, I’ll go on it.’ I just went like that through the event: ‘OK, this wave looks pretty good, I’m gonna go.’ ”

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(Kenny Hurtado)
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(Kenny Hurtado)
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(Kenny Hurtado)

Florence surfed well enough at Pipeline to make the quarterfinals, which secured him the Olympic berth. Then, just a few months later, the coronavirus turned the world upside down. Events everywhere were canceled, including the entire 2020 World Surf League season. The Tokyo Olympics were postponed. “It’s unfortunate,” Florence says, “but at the same time, I sat back and was like, This benefits me, in a way. I’m going to focus on slowly recovering and enjoying being at home rather than trying to win another world title and the Olympics. It’s not always a bad thing to slow down. We were all moving pretty fast there. This has halted everything in the world. If you immerse yourself in that, you can reconnect with life and where you’re at.”

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(Kenny Hurtado)
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(Kenny Hurtado)
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(Kenny Hurtado)
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(Kenny Hurtado)

For Florence, slowing down meant starting a garden. He owns a small chunk of farmland up the road from his house on Oahu’s North Shore, and he planted a section with bananas, pumpkins, kale, tomatoes, and fruit trees. He’s been sailing his Hobie Cat with his brothers and has gotten into riding a Specialized gravel bike to strengthen his knee. “There are all these big dream things [connected with surfing],” he says, “but at the same time, that’s not all I am. I can switch and say, ‘This is exciting over here. How about I do this now?’ ”

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(Kenny Hurtado)
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(Kenny Hurtado)
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(Kenny Hurtado)
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(Kenny Hurtado)

About the Photographer

The first time Kenny Hurtado visited Oahu’s North Shore, it was December 2004, peak season on the best seven-mile stretch of surf on earth. Each winter, the world title is decided at Pipeline, and every pro surfer worth their salt spends at least a couple of weeks on the island. It’s a circus, and the then 22-year-old photographer was blown away. “The first time walking up to Pipeline and seeing it face-to-face, it’s intense,” says Hurtado. The trip kick-started his photography career, landing him a staff position at Surfing and a few years of nonstop jet-setting to exotic surf locales.

So when Hurtado, now 38, returned to Oahu in March to photograph Florence at the surfer’s home near Log Cabins—another storied North Shore spot—he was determined to capture a more subdued side of the island, and one of its most revered residents. “The North Shore is crazy in December,” Hurtado says. “The waves are so aggressive. I wanted to focus on the quieter side.”