It’s not the worst thing to be quarantined in Hawaii on Oahu’s North Shore. For professional surfer and 2-time World Surf League Champion John John Florence, taking a pause this year has been a blessing in disguise. With all major surf competitions canceled in 2020, Florence has used this year to focus on the things that matter most–reconnecting with his roots, focusing on recovery, and mentally resetting his expectations.
John John and his brother Nathan started using WHOOP over 3 years ago. Since becoming a WHOOP member, Florence has experienced some of the lowest and highest points of his career. In June of 2019, he was contending for another world title at the Oi Rio Pro in Brazil when he ruptured his ACL while competing. He felt his knee buckle and immediately knew something was wrong.
For the next 5 months, Florence’s primary focus was recovery. That meant rest, rehab, and basic mobility work to maintain range of motion. While he rehabbed, he used WHOOP to gauge his body’s physiological changes and monitor his baseline. He noticed that daily metrics like resting heart rate slightly increased, while HRV (heart rate variability) slightly decreased as he took a break from surfing and redefined his fitness.
“Before I got hurt, I had to be at least at 120, 130 [HRV],” says Florence, referring to his heart rate variability necessary for a green WHOOP recovery. “But now I’ll be at 100 and I’ll have a 98% recovery. It changes as you go.”
Monitoring the changes in his body has allowed Florence to fine-tune his training and see what types of behaviors increase his recovery and help him perform better. After 5 months of rest and rehab, Florence returned to the scene in December 2019 to compete in the Billabong Pipeline Masters. Despite barely being in the water as he rehabbed, Florence achieved what he described as a dream come true: He edged out one of the all-time greats Kelly Slater.
In Florence’s words, surfing is very much a stop and go kind of sport, similar to sprinting. You have moments of calm on the water while you paddle and wait, and intense, decisive moments of action while you navigate the waves. This unique blend of cardio, strength, balance, and adrenaline makes surfing vastly different from your typical endurance activity like running or cycling.
“When you look at your heart rate graph, it’s very up and down, up and down, up and down,” he says.
This constant ebb and flow translates beyond the water; it’s a daily game of balance whether Florence is trying a new activity (he wants to do more endurance-based activities like cycling in 2021), changing his mindset to stay positive, or planting bananas on his farmland at his home in Oahu. Although 2020 has been a disappointing year for athletes across the world, it’s given Florence an extra year to prepare for the biggest stage of his life.
It has also provided Florence the chance to work with WHOOP on a new line of watersport accessories. After losing his Strap in the water, Florence brought this concern to the WHOOP team. The result? A new accessory designed to keep his WHOOP 100% secure: The Hydrosleeve.
For Florence, being one of the top surfers in the world is a result of hard work, talent, and consistency. WHOOP is a tool that provides concrete data on his performance both in and out of the water, so he can evaluate his body’s daily needs and know himself better.
“The biggest benefit of using WHOOP for me is to be able to keep an eye on how much training and how much activity I’m doing, because I tend to overdo things. And so for me to be able to see it and be able to see the recoveries is very helpful for me, because if I’m not doing that, I’ll just keep going and going and going until something breaks.”
After being on WHOOP for a few years, he’s started to understand his trends very well and knows what his body needs to get back in the green. “I have a good idea of what my recoveries will be and what I need to do to recover. I know that if I strain from 18 to 20 one day, two days in a row, then I know that I’m in need for a big recovery day.”
And for Florence, a recovery day doesn’t necessarily mean taking a nap on the beach. Through WHOOP, he’s learned that maintaining a 13 or 14 strain on his off days actually helps his recovery the following day, as opposed to doing absolutely nothing and keeping his strain low. Active recovery could include some swimming, light gym routines, or tending to his farmland. This active recovery is proven by science; studies have shown that active recovery after intense periods of exercise can help athletes return to baseline quicker rather than passive recovery.
To be a world-class athlete, it’s just as much a mental sport as it is physical. For Florence, self-awareness is key. “It definitely makes me more mindful of what I’m doing,” he says. “WHOOP will help me accomplish my goals for 2021 by helping me regulate my recovery and my training.”
To learn more about John John and immerse yourself in the beautiful Hawaii landscapes, you can follow his Instagram or YouTube channel. For the full story behind his ACL recovery and comeback, watch his recent documentary “Tokyo Rising” available on Amazon Prime.