Surfing’s grand debut in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, being held in 2021, is mere weeks away and professional surf fans are growing increasingly thrilled, three questions dominating conversations and minds: How will Japan-by-way-of-Huntington-Beach’s Kanoa Igarashi take being unseated as darling by Australia’s Sally Fitzgibbons? Will John John Florence’s knee heel from his unspecified surgery in time for competition or will he cede his spot to runner-up Kelly Slater? Will Stab magazine savage the Olympics like it does the World Surf League or elevate its tone to match the gravitas of history?
On the penultimate, a new, wide-ranging interview just released today provides clues about the state of Florence’s knee but does it provide clarity?
“Body’s doing good,” Florence tells The Manual, his blonde hair a trademark mess but with clear eyes. “Once you get to this three-week mark, it just gets so much better every day.”
The swelling is down, the range of motion coming back. Just today he hopped back on his Peloton bike (Florence was announced as one of nine athletes sponsored by the company in April), and while his knee sounded like the Fourth of July, cracking and popping, he pushed through. “It felt good to get my legs moving like that,” he says.
But on the day we talk surfing, we don’t speak of Slater. Instead, we talk of Florence’s own generation, his roots as a Hawaiian, and the people and places that influenced him.
Time is not on his side — Florence admits that if everything with his rehab goes smoothly, the earliest he’ll be back in the water would be two weeks before he’d need to fly to Tokyo for the Games. When he’s able to surf again, it will be in California waters, not Hawaiian, so as to prepare for less-powerful waves that might mimic competition conditions.
Time to sort the tea leaves.
Is a knee that sounds like the Fourth of July good? I’m no doctor, I’ll admit, but it doesn’t sound good and rehab needing to go smoothly in order for Florence to have two weeks of training also doesn’t sound good but, again, no doctor.
Also, is not talking about Slater but rather the people and places who have influenced him Florence’s way of letting Kelly know that he will not give up his slot even if injured? I think it may be a reasonable assumption to draw.
If I was going to put money on it, after reading this interview in any case, I would push it all on Florence heading to Tokyo, Slater heading to Tokyo too, and maybe Shane Stant coming as Slater’s plus one.
My professional surf journalist opinion.