Some folk seem to have it all. At 28, John John Florence has already enjoyed a career as one of the world’s most talented professional surfers. He lives on the north shore of Oahu, opposite the famous Pipeline wave which he is renowned for dominating. And when he’s not touring the world competing on the World Surf League (WSL) tour he’s surfing optimum waves with his younger brothers.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Florence recently married Australian model Lauryn Cribb and qualified for the Tokyo Olympics representing the USA surfing team. So what does someone who seemingly has it all do when not surfing? He sails. ‘JJ’ began sailing on a Hobie and a J/35 but has progressed to a foiling Phantom 18 and a Gunboat 48. He is also in the business of inspiring dreams, thanks in part to his production company, Parallel Seas, which documents his water exploits in video – including his recent cruising in the Pacific.
In 2019 Florence tore his anterior cruciate ligament while competing in Brazil, an injury that forced him out of surfing for a few months, but gave him a rare break to sail his Gunboat to some isolated Pacific islands. It also unlocked a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stay on the protected atoll of Palmyra, giving Florence and his crew the chance to witness the unique conservation work happening there.
The trip made for a beautifully shot travelogue-style video series named after his Gunboat 48 Vela and it has turbocharged Florence’s cruising experience. I spoke with him in March after he landed in Sydney for the 2021 Australian leg of the WSL tour, where he was able to describe their cruise in detail from his COVID quarantine.
For Florence’s first big cruise on Vela after a year and a half of ownership, he and his regular crewmates brother Nathan, close friend Kona Johnson and photographer Erik Knutson were joined by French pro skipper and multihull sailing veteran Jacques Vincent, on a month-long voyage to the Line Islands.
“I had been competing on the road and the way our tour system works with surfing, it doesn’t really allow a lot of time for doing bigger trips like this,” Florence explains. “Getting injured kind of gave me that silver lining to go sailing and do this dream trip I’ve been wanting to do.”
As one of the closest Pacific islands to Hawaii, and one with renowned waves, Fanning Island, some 1,200 miles south, seemed like the logical destination. The Line Islands chain stretches across the equator, in the midst of the Pacific wilderness.
“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. 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.” He contacted the scientists on Palmyra and managed to arrange a stopover to learn more about the conservation underway there.
Vela departed Honolulu in the Hawaiian summer of 2019. Planning was one of the biggest challenges, says Florence: “It felt particularly hard because it was going to be a month-long… there’s no fuel down there, no food that you’re picking up for the most part. And five grown men eat a lot of food!”
“It just never feels like you’re ready to go. Yet the moment we left the harbour and raised the main you just settle in and all of a sudden it feels incredible – like you’re more than ready to do this.
“Sailing for days and days like that, it’s pretty cool how your world just shrinks down so small, to what’s there in the moment around you.”
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