John John Florence’s Tahiti quiver. Photo: Jon Pyzel
If there were no sword, there would be no Zorro. Without a pistol and a lasso, a cowboy would just be some guy in a stupid hat chowing on campfire beans somewhere near the summit of Brokeback Mountain. And if he didn’t have a good car, Dale Earnhardt Senior probably would have been a state senator or at least the guy who cured HPV — it’s rampant in his neck of central North Carolina and big Dale was just too good to never be great. The point is that talent takes you pretty far, but tools take you further. John John Florence has enough talent to make a whole colony of people average. He also has the tools to drive that talent forward thanks to a man named Jon Pyzel. Jon has built John’s boards since the earliest days and still shaves the foam that makes John’s preposterous surfing possible. With JJF all healed up from an ankle injury and set to return to competitive surfing at the 2015 Billabong Pro Tahiti, we called Pyzel to get a few details on the boards that may or may not lead John to his first win of the year.
Jon Pyzel: I actually shaped these boards for Fiji. Then John got hurt and didn’t go to Fiji, so he’s bringing them to Tahiti. Shaping for events like that is a lot different than shaping for some of the other waves on tour. For example, at a wave like Lowers there’s a bunch of different conditions that John could be surfing in — it could be overhead and perfect or it could be waist high and crumbly — and he needs different boards to cater to that whole spectrum. But in bigger, barreling waves, he’ll ride the same designs at different lengths for different sized waves. If it ends up being small, he just rides a shrunken version of the boards he rides when it’s pumping.
The approach to surfing Teahupo’o has changed over the years. These days, you’re trying to get under the lip behind the peak. I try to make boards with a bunch of paddling power — they’re really beefy under the chest. I shape the back end and the rails to get a lot of bite. The tails are super thin, which makes the boards feel engaging. We also go with a lot of rocker and a little bit of double concave, so they roll rail to rail easily. John’s bigger boards are actually really loose.
Here’s what John did last year at the Billabong Pro Tahiti. Photo: Brent Bielmann
If you watch how he’s surfing Teahupo’o, you’ll see that he’s not just drawing a straight line. He’s changing directions and using his body to gain speed. A bigger board doesn’t react as quickly in that situation, so that’s why he tends to go smaller. The biggest board that John will ride out there is a 6’8”. He was riding a 6’6” on the final day last year.
There aren’t any quads in John’s Tahiti quiver because he likes sticking to the basics. You have more control of your speed on a thruster. You don’t want to outrun the barrel there, so you’ve got to slow down sometimes. If you’re in the right position in the bowly part of the wave you’re going get so much speed anyway, you don’t need to go any faster. I won’t rule quads out for John though — we could see him on one someday.
John has good instincts when choosing which board to ride. I have so much confidence in him that I never worry about that. I’d never suggest that he rides a certain board and most of the time, he ends up riding the board that I would have selected for him anyway. He’s really in tune with his own surfing. I’m sure that shows.