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Beach Grit

Vacant: GQ plumbs the shallow depths!

Chas Smith

by Chas Smith

The men's magazine spends a day with John John Florence!

Do you miss Ross Williams as much as I do? Oh don’t get me wrong, I love the spice that Kaipo brings and want him to stay but I still miss Ross Williams. And I miss him even more after reading a long feature on John John Florence in the newest GQ magazine.

The writer, who is neither surfer nor pretends to be, describes John John’s North Shore world through a non-jaded lens. All the color, all the character. Let’s read his description of Ross real quick!

(John John’s) been surfing the same boards—a sleek, slim model Pyzel calls the Bastard—for the past three years, but today he’s trying out a couple of new Pyzel designs. Trying to find that magic one, as Ross, a sardonic, powerfully built former professional surfer who is presently coaching John John, explains to me.

Sardonic and powerfully built! Can’t you just picture Ross’s military haircut right now? The bulge of muscle beneath tight WSL polo? Come back to us Ross! Come back!

My favorite part of the whole feature, though, was when the writer tried to ask John John an emotionally charged question about his father who ran off, leaving the family behind. Let’s pick it up in the middle!

(John John’s mom Alex) was married to a man named John L. Florence. An unhappy story, though I know this more from his account than hers. In 2014, he self-published a memoir, F.E.A.R., with two explanatory subtitles: Fuck Everything and Run and Face Everything and Recover. Though he does not seem to have recovered at the time of writing. The book is disorganized and determinedly self-lacerating—a strange document of a guy listing all the ways in which he is terrible, and yet not quite believing any of them. He describes himself as an alcoholic, a criminal, and a thrill-seeker—“I am an ‘egomaniac with an insecurity complex,’ ” he writes—and questions whether early head injuries led to his lack of impulse control. In the book he tells of meeting Alex, whom he calls Surfer Girl, and their Bonnie and Clyde-style courtship. I will not repeat the demeaning, unverifiable details here. Suffice it to say the book ends shortly after John John’s birth, with a present-day cry for help: “I sit here with an overwhelming sense of DOOM as I try and figure out how to pay for my DUI attorney. The attorney wants $15,000 dollars that I don’t have. Here, at the end of the first part of my life story, I return to the beginning: I always have been and always will be doom

When I ask John John about his father and namesake, this is what he says: “I spent a bit of time with him for a while before he moved, because he used to live in town. And then he remarried and had another kid. We have a half brother. Super nice. Yeah. Super cool. But they live on the East Coast now.”

Do you guys have a relationship?

“Yeah. It’s good.”

This is maybe not the entire case, but I understand. His options here, in front of a reporter, are not great. Especially once I bring up the memoir.

“I have no idea,” John John says. He’s visibly uncomfortable. “I haven’t even seen it.”

It’s called ‘F.E.A.R.’

“Really? Interesting.”

So you haven’t read it?


It depicts a guy in a tough spot.

“Yeah. He’s in a funny situation. But just, my relationship with him is good and whatnot. But I’ve just kind of grown into myself and focused on my own thing, you know? I’m pretty comfortable and happy with how my life has gone.” I believe him. John John and Alex and their family are far from the first to take shelter from the world here, on the North Shore, and to build something purer in its stead.

And ha! The buzzsaw of surf journalism! A completely shallow answer to an emotionally charged question! I think, in most fields, completely shallow answers to emotionally charged questions just mean the subject is blowing off the journalist. In surf, though, there is a shallowness so amazingly deep that I’m sure John John’s answer about he and his dad being cool was honest.

I have spent the better part of my professional life plumbing the depths of these shallows. There is literally nothing there! Nothing at all! Nothing! Nothing in me. Nothing in you. Nothing in John John. Nothing in his dad. Nothing in any of us.

Let’s surf! And read the rest of John John’s Wavy World here!