The Portuguese Pipeline

John John with flag

John John Florence grew up surfing Pipeline, a wave on the North Shore of Oahu that breaks in his backyard. When he clinched his first world title he was more than 7,000 miles away, in southwest Europe. But it happened on a Portuguese wave that looks a lot like his home break. “Supertubos” produces Pipeline-sized tubes and breaks close to the beach, just as Pipeline does. Portuguese photographer Ricardo Santos Luis was there in the port town of Peniche to witness what happened.

Quotes are taken from interviews conducted by World Surf League

John John at Peniche
Florence contemplates Supertubos in a yellow jersey, uniform for the No. 1 ranked surfer in the world. “My dream is to win the world title so I’m going to do everything I can to do it.”

John John riding Subertubos

Florence was long considered the most talented surfer in the world, a rare combination of power, creativity and flexibility. But since turning pro in 2011 a world title had eluded the Hawaiian. Outside Magazine asked:  “How can he be the best surfer in the world if he can’t win a world title?”

John John in air over Supertubos

Winning the world title in pro surfing is a matter of compiling more points over the course of 11 events, a task that rewards consistency as much as skill.

“I have worked my whole life towards this.”

Before Portugal, the tenth event of the year, roughly 2,700 points separated Florence and Gabriel Medina of Brazil. A first place finish meant 10,000 points and a clear path to the trophy. “I prefer to chase,” Medina said. Florence acknowledged: “There is a little bit of tension there.”

John John grabbing his board over Supertubos

Florence took a more tactical approach to the tour that year and paid close attention to contest strategy. So he was ready in Portugal when Medina lost in the third round, giving Florence a mathematical chance to win it all before heading home to Hawaii. He clinched the title during the semifinals of the event.

John John with flag

John John and Kelly
Supporters carried Florence down the beach after he won, a tradition in the surfing world, and Florence hoisted the Hawaiian flag. He became the first from that state to win the title since Andy Irons in 2004 and the fourth ever. The last American to win the title was 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, in 2011. Kelly (in sweat pants and hat) recorded the moment atop the victory platform.

John John running down beach, Peniche

The victory for Florence came just seven days after his 24th birthday. “I have worked my whole life towards this.”