World surfing champion John John Florence just spent $2,995,000 to buy his childhood home in Pipeline for his mom Alex and it’s next door to Kelly Slater!
This is the feel-good story of the year!
The Florence family story, single mom Alex and her three boys, John John, Nathan and Ivan, is as good as possible.
In 1986, sixteen-year-old Alex from Ocean Grove, a seaside Christian community in New Jersey and the sweetest sixteen-year-old, told her parents she was going to the North Shore and told them asked if they would, like, driving her to La Guardia airport.
Surfing had been on her mind since she was 12 and she dabbled her brain every day in surf movies like Beyond Blazing Boards and skateboarded all over town and surfed in oversized wetsuits.
One day, Alex was sitting in a girlfriend’s bedroom watching surf videos on the portable TV with the giant VCR plugged in and said, “I’m going to be one of those girls!”
With a backpack and a skateboard and some c-notes in her purse, the petite blonde teenager landed in Honolulu, stepped out at the Nitmiz and just stuck her thumbs up. She got off at Haleiwa where another girl, who was 19 but seemed so worldly, picked her up and said:
“Say, girl, do you need a job?”
Well, we’re shooting this movie, North Shore and…”
Do what I did and download the movie and check out the Halloween party scene in 20 minutes. Of course, it’s a scene. Laird Hamilton wears lycra pants and his bare chest is painted zinc purple and lime green. A bearded Gerry Lopez is the brooding, beer-drinking, beer-drinking leader Hui Vince in a red bomber jacket and yellow t-shirt. And, there, but don’t blink, it’s mom John walking past first female Kiani and Arizona wave pool champ Rick Kane. Yes, that tangle of shoulder-length permed blonde hair in leopard-skin lycra is the same girl who, five years later, would give birth to the first of three remarkable children.
But, it’s 1986, and there’s no party to be had! The North Shore set, which also featured 80s surfing star Rob Page and perennial icon Mark Occhilupo, is a 21-day bender.
Three weeks is ending too quickly and Alex needs a place to sleep and a job. She gets a room in Velzyland, just south of Sunset, and the most Hawaiian of the North Shore’s beachfront neighborhoods. Fifty dollars a month for her room and Alex becomes one of five girls from the North Shore who actually surfs
And, yeah, V-Land is tough but heavyweights like that little blonde thing, that little sister to the mainland. At the time, the gnarliest cat was a guy called Junior Boy Moepono, a 300+ pound Polynesian menace. And, for some reason, Junior kept a protective arm around Alex.
Later, Alex moved to Kauai for a year, settling in Hanalei Bay, where the Irons children grew up, and then flew to Bali for six months. Australian surfers taught him to ride a motorbike in Poppies Lane. She hopped on a boat to Lombok for a while, then made the 24-hour bemo-ferry ride to G-Land where she was so lighted up with malaria that she had to call her parents to have them they go back to their place.
But do you think little Alex can live in Ocean Grove?
Looking for money and adventures, Alex took a waitressing gig at a cruise shop with a girlfriend who happened to be a beauty who had just won the Miss San Antonia beauty pageant. Her friend brought her boyfriend and together they sailed the Caribbean.
Soon, more adventure. This time Europe as a backpacker. The couple had separated on the cruise ship and Alex and the guy traveled to Europe, strictly as pals. Separate beds. Totally level.
But then, one night in Austria.
A few drinks.
Stumble in the cold night.
One night in 1990 and the creation of John John Florence, named after the American President’s little boy, the kid who bravely saluted his father’s coffin in front of millions of Americans. Yeah, it’s a name that has strength, that has courage.
The partnership did not work. How could he? Three little boys. There’s not a lot of money in the house they rented in Rocky Point. Dad quickly disappeared into the penal system.
Alex remembers driving her former Valiant, the departed ex-husband, John, five, Nathan, three, Ivan, a one-and-a-half-year-old baby, looking at his little boys and saying, “What “What do you want to do? We have nothing to do or be anywhere? We can stay out until 10:30! We can go to the thrift stores!”
Alex took her kids everywhere and despite what you might call a huge broken hand, she felt this sudden freedom. Total freedom. She took them everywhere. And that summer, after dad separated, Alex packed her things and, with her three little ducklings following her everywhere, flew to Bingin in Bali where she knew a local family who let them stay in their warung , cheap.
Of course, she didn’t have much money, but here they lived on 10 dollars a day, and they stretched their resources ($1200) for four sublime months. Little Ivan, who was just over two at the time, had broken his leg on the trampoline before they broke up but Alex was cool, she took her child everywhere.
Back on the Shore, Herbie Fletcher, a jetski pioneer in surfing, towed John John in bombs when he was seven. Here they are, back in Rocky Point, just a house set back from the sand, funded by hosting up to 10 boarders at a time, squeezing them into three bedrooms. Alex rented the floor space for $250 per month. Whatever it takes.
They built a half-pipe in the yard. British Vogue, US Vogue and Elle magazines couldn’t help but hear about this gorgeous solo surfer mom and her shaggy-haired boys. Alex felt like he had a guardian angel. No money, but she was on the beach feeding her three boys and, well, you tell me that’s not life.
Meanwhile, Alex was studying for his degree in English Literature at the University of Honolulu. And this is where it gets really good. Alex says if you saw the amount of her student loans, which she just paid off, you’d think she was the “gnarliest surgeon ever.”
But, her job used her loans to support the family, to raise the children. She didn’t want to leave her children to just anyone. So she went to school in the evening and took boarders. Yeah, sometimes dinner was cornflakes, but the kids played outside in the sun and were pushed (or towed) into the waves by a role of surfing icons including Nathan Fletcher, Danny Fuller, Kala and Kamalei Alexander, Herbie Fletcher and Pete Johnson.
Jamie O’Brien too, but he was still a little crazy and sometimes threw dog shit at the kids. But, he also took John to contests and pushed through the waves on his very first run, when he was four years old.
And it wasn’t just surfing.
Nathan, a smart kid, gobbled up every lit book Alex threw at him, from Bukowski to Tom Wolfe. He would devour a thousand-page volume in a day.
Yet they were, they are, foolish little children. Alex lost count of the number of times she threw a bleeding child in the car and rushed him to the ER. John “broke almost everything”, his neck, his back, his legs, his wrists, his arms, his ankles. Ivan got 55 facial stitches (rogue fin) after paddling a 25ft that would later be nominated for the Billabong XXL Wave of the Year.
Eventually they were evicted from the house by a sale, an owner who returned, whatever it was, Alex doesn’t remember.
So Alex and John John, now 10 but mature beyond his years, because he’s seen some shit out there on the Shore and he knows what it’s like to live on nothing, were walking down the street parallel to the beach and were talking about the situation, saying things like “Oh man, what are we gonna do now?”
And, as they walk, there’s this little house on the beach, just around the corner from where they live now, and Alex, being Alex, sees this car in the driveway, looks at John, who nods head, and they walk up to the owner, their brown faces break into million-watt smiles, and they say, “And that?”
And, suddenly, they are in Pipe.
Lo and behold, twenty years later and for five thousand dollars less than three million dollars, her little boy John, who is a few weeks away from turning thirty, gave his mother, this brave woman who moved to the Côte -Nord and who created the lives that made boys what they are, the gift of their childhood home.
(In other real estate news, John looked at a big chunk of land near the polo field in Mokuleia. The ticket price isn’t cheap, eight million dollars.)