Breaking the Waves
Outside Magazine|September/October 2020
What has life under lockdown taught the greatest surfer on earth? That switching it up was exactly what he needed.
By Matt Skenazy

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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