Martin Dunn on watching John John
Earlier this week, John John Florence dropped a clip with a difference. Though six-and-a-half minutes long it featured only nine waves, all of them shot on high speed film and played back in slow motion.
Now, slow motion can trigger irrational anger in many surfers, yet no-one complained after this clip. Shot tight it provided a glimpse of the stylistic and technical nuances of the two-time champ.
The common refrain with John John is that he keeps his arms low, and it's true, at times he does, yet there's much more happening then that simple observation.
To nut it out, Swellnet called up Martin Dunn. Martin's got 35 years experience as a coach, in which time he's worked with 25 CT qualifiers, making him arguably Australia's most succesful surf coach.
Also, Martin had conveniently spent two days on the beach at Newcastle filming both his students and John John who was also in the water. This came in handy when we threw some questions at him.
Swellnet: In your eyes, does John have a unique style?
Martin Dunn: Yes he does.
And what is it about his style that makes it unique?
Well, there are certain things about his surfing that are not perfect in the way that, say, Kelly Slater's technique is perfect. John John does things a little bit differently. Besides being a big bloke, a big man in stature, I suspect that he's also been gifted by his parents of having a more explosive body than the average.
Can you elaborate on that?
I mean just the way that his anatomy and his body works. Some people are sprinters, some people are long-distance runners. What I mean by that is some people are power athletes, they explode out of the gates, while some people can apply their power over time. So they've got lovely styles, but they're not very explosive.
I think John John, if he were in athletics, would be a high jumper, where he would be really good at one execution. The power that he could innately apply would be more than someone of a similar size and stature. That's what I suspect. Obviously, you need testing to do that, but that's what I suspect. He's got all that power going on, but he's also got that something extra about him.
Compared to many surfers, John John doesn't use his arms as a counterweight when pumping for speed or setting up turns. How is it that...
You're talking about his forehand action?
Ah, is there a difference with his arms going backside?
Yeah, on his backhand he uses his arms more traditionally. If you'll bear with me for a second...
Sure. (Keyboard clicks can be heard as Martin tees up some fresh footage of John John shot at Newcastle)
I shot a bit more of him yesterday. I've only come across two or three waves that I shot today. But if I look at his backhand surfing, he fundamentally has a very similar style on his backhand as other people.
Yep. Other than that, backhand he tends to look down the line a little bit when he's doing a manoeuvre, which doesn't usually work yet obviously does for him, I think because he's got really good hip rotation. When you've got good hip rotation, your backhand can work really, really well.
On his forehand, you're right, the arms stay low, but I think he can get away with it, because I think inherently he's got that extra power that other people haven't got as much of - which is what I was talking about before.
Where in his body is the power coming from, if not by using the arms?
Well, I think it comes from the bending and straightening of his body, his torso, and it comes from the internal mechanisms of his muscles and structure of his body.
Again, I take it that he was born with that ability. Like, if he was an Olympic athlete, he would be in the power sports..
If he were an Olympic athlete..?
And he's not an Olympic athlete...well...he is now I suppose! (laughs)
You know what? When I look at his bottom turn - say when he's going into an off the top manoeuvre - he's got similar compression as other people, but yeah, his arms are low.
I filmed this wave yesterday where he did a huge layback and then did a big snap on a six-foot wave - very similar to stuff you've seen him do at Haleiwa. And as I'm talking to you now, I can see his arms, as you say, they're not out in counterbalance, they're down, his hands are down towards his knees and the like.
But then he goes into the bottom turn and the thing that he does differently is, unlike most surfers who, during a minor bottom turn, put their trailing arm out and it stays in front of the body like reaching to the wave surface, then maybe coming out of the turn the arm lifts up quickly. John does that action, where his right arm is in front of his body then quickly raised up, as part of his major bottom turn. Not many surfers do that. That's different.
OK. It's not something I've noticed.
Everything else is pretty much stock standard technique. The thing that's a little different is, as you say, the way he holds his arms when he's doing a manoeuvre.
When he first came onto the scene he was obviously very good, but he had a few flaws in his style. One of them was his forehand cutback. It felt to me that not holding his arms up higher, he couldn't maintain that flow and projection back towards the whitewash.
Yep. What he needed to bring it fully around and hit it hard, he needed the wave to be steep. Where he struggles on the cutback...say to bring it all way around is because he doesn't bend and hold the compression; he straightens his body a bit too early in the cutback.
Generally, that's a problem for a lot of tall surfers. But if the wave's got steepness and he does his cutback, it's equal to anyone else's: Mick Fanning, Kelly Slater.
It's interesting. Technique aside, the thing that makes John John so good, is that every wave he tries to do something exceptional. It may not be every manoeuvre, but every wave he intentionally tries to do something exceptional
I remember watching him at Bells a couple of years ago. He was out there and every single manoeuvre was committed. When he'd do a cutback, he'd bury the rail then do a high rebound. It was as if every single section was important to him.
There were probably twenty of the top guys in the world out there and their attitude was, 'OK, I'm going to surf well, and that might mean one classic manoeuvre per wave'. Whereas John John was trying to do two or three on a wave.
Why would he be doing that?
I think it's just the fact that he wants to keep challenging himself.
In that area of performance, people often do a really big turn and the next one they'll have a breather. They'll come out of that big turn and then it's as though with that manoeuvre they've done their job for the whole wave. There's a number of surfers you see who will do that, they'll do one big turn and the next one will be...like if the first turn is an eight the next one is a three.
Whereas John John will do an eight and then a seven five, and then he might do a nine. His mind is more focussed on absolute performances, the same way Toledo's is.
You know, absolute performance, every single section.
Where some people are content with a good turn, they're like, 'OK, my status is still high because I can do that turn'. Whereas for John John, his status isn't high unless he can do that turn, every time.
As a coach, would you encourage that sort of surfing?
Without a doubt. When someone's ready to move outwards...when they're ready to perform critical combinations, you're got to take them there. Surfers tend to get a level of mediocrity when they get good status. They might get good sponsorship, they might have good accolades from the people around them, and that can act as a barrier for their development.
And those that go beyond it..?
The ones who make the CT have got internal drive, otherwise they can't get there. It may not always come across that way, but I'd say John John very much has an internal drive.