Fast And Loose On The North Shore: John John Florence

An extract from Fast And Loose On The North Shore from Tracks 546 on sale now.

Words Luke Kennedy 

It’s a Saturday morning and Rocky Point is a four foot, glassy wonderland with zippering left ramps and pitching right corners that break like a more user friendly version of backdoor. I arrive via the vacant lot at Rocky lefts which is the most popular spot from which to check the waves. The beachfront Real Estate is worth millions on the North Shore but the block at Rockies has been empty for as long as anyone can remember. The block has become part of North Shore folklore and is the kind of place where fire twirlers come to practice their craft, families hang beneath the trees and surf filmers post up to capture the Rocky Lefts action. However the owners of GoPro have recently purchased the land and it seems its future as the North Shore’s most famous undeveloped block might be short-lived.

Out in the water the Rocky Point air show is in full swing as the pros roll into the side-winding wedges, accelerate to light speed and launch from the buttery lips like their livelihoods depend on doing something other-worldly. They all know that if you land something big at Rockies the surfing world is going to know about it. One of the stand outs is Victor Bernardo, a sleek-skinned, Brazilian kid who looks like a Jackson Five throwback and does crazy dance moves above the lip. Everybody is talking about Victor because he has been ripping at Rocky Point. While Pipe might be the spot to man up and earn your barrel stripes, in one good winter at Rockies you can become a big name in performance surfing. It’s intriguing to watch the high jump show from the sidelines but for most everyone else it’s just a fun Saturday surf in the wake of a growing swell that will render Rockies unrideable by late afternoon. For now though there are turtles bobbing and plenty of peaks to go around.

I paddle out over at Rocky rights, where a dreadlocked hippy chick with a dental floss G-string is throwing so much reflection off her exposed butt cheeks that it blinds the surfers in close proximity. In Hawaii, like the rest of the states, topless bathing is banned but that simply means the focus shifts to the bum as the ultimate beach display item for girls. Every kind of disappearing bikini bottom imaginable is flaunted in Hawaii. It’s just a cultural difference but if you’re an Australian unaccustomed to such daring displays of the derriere it can be a little distracting. It’s definitely important to learn how to block such things out when you are paddling into a slabbing six-footer at Rocky Point that threatens to deposit you on what they call death rock if you get it wrong.

After surviving the various obstacles, I make my way in through the shallow inside rock pools where kids play and dogs roam the beach. A loud whistle echoes from one of the beachfront houses and I’m reminded of the infamous Wolfpak whistle at Pipe which signified someone leaving the water had been targeted for a beat down for an infringement committed in the water. This was no call to arms though, it was Jon Pyzel sitting in his front yard watching the morning unfold. Pyzel is best known to the world as John John’s shaper, but on the North shore he’s got his own act going. He’s a charismatic former Californian with an upbeat attitude and plenty to say. In an American movie he might be the fast-talking, cool guy who gets all the chicks. On this morning Pyzel, who is actually first and foremost a family man, is eating farmer’s market burritos with his wife and kids, and enjoying the world class surfing view from his lawn. His best friend is his neighbour, Trent Johnson, who is Jack’s brother but in the course of the morning it seems like almost everybody swings by Pyzel’s yard to say hello as they either head out or come in from a surf. As a shaper his beachside house at Rocky Point rights serves as the ultimate venue from which to network and also means he gets to observe how every kind of craft is performing at the North Shore hot spot. We talk for an hour or so and amongst other things he tells me that after committing so much to the production of his movie in the last two years John John is more ready than ever to zone in on a world title. “He’s even willing to dumb down his surfing for the judges if it means getting through heats,” Pyzel assures me. “That’s sad but if it’s what you gotta do …” he says with a look of resignation.

Pyzel is obviously still excited and intrigued by the whole scene which unfolds just beyond his front yard at Rocky Point. “Man, I love this place,” he tells me with conviction as he fumbles for his phone to get a shot of the rainbow that is now bending luminous beyond the lineup.

Not all moments at Rockies are quite so idyllic. A couple of days later I paddle out on the lefts on what promises to be a mellow session with surprisingly few guys out. The only visible challenge is the treadmill current that sucks you over to the rights and makes you earn every left you catch. When the current is running at Rocky’s, just staying in position on the left requires an almost iron man effort. The best Rocky’s surfers have the explosive, fast twitch fibres required to boost airs combined with the endurance and mental fortitude to keep paddling against the current. New WCT graduate, Ryan Callinan is cleaning up, using his long arms to power against the side-rip and swooping into solid wedges that allow him to explore his vast aerial repertoire. “I can’t believe there’s only like six guys out here,” he beams as he cruises past. However one big, white guy with the build of a former Gridiron player whose gone flabby, is having trouble keeping up with the moving water and has decided to take out his frustration on everyone else. He scowls menacingly at anybody that paddles past him and tries to taunt them into a confrontation. “Are you looking at me funny, kid?” he snarls at a young Brazilian who isn’t quite sure what to make of it and frantically paddles away. “What are all these cunts doing out here?” he bellows to no one in particular. For a solid hour he lurks around the lineup like a wounded beast convinced it’s got the strength for one last kill. He glares at everybody, trying to tempt them into returning the gaze so he’s got an excuse to zone in on them and get physical. He’s not just angry, there’s something clearly amiss – drugs or mental illness are involved – but fortunately he’s too fat and slow to chase anyone down. The only thing he successfully does is kill the vibe on what would have otherwise been a fun session.

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