The new normal: John John earns early Triple Crown lead

We may just have to get used to what is becoming the new normal.

Friday marked finals day for the Hawaiian Pro and it also marked what could be the beginning of another Triple Crown win for John John Florence. In some spectacular Haleiwa conditions, Florence headlined a jam-packed day and ultimately earned the event win for the early lead in the 2016 Triple Crown race.

With the world title already clinched before even paddling out in December’s Pipe Masters, Florence has started his homecoming tour in style. He was certainly the favorite in this field, but coming through time after time in four-man heats requires more than just skill. It requires a delicate balance of patience and aggression with longer waits for priority. It also requires little room for error. Not taking advantage of a good wave or taking off on a bad one can send you to the back of the pack in a hurry.

None of those things were problems for John John, who finished first in all five of his heats. But it almost wasn’t to be as he had to sweat out a flurry from runner-up Frederico Morais in the final. Needing a 7.34 to overtake Florence for the lead, Morais used his powerful style to record a 7.33 — twice! The Portuguese surfer’s final two waves each earned him an exact tie with Florence, but John John’s high single wave of 8.83 kept him in front via tiebreaker.

The finalists had all certainly earned their spots. Florence, Morais and third-place finisher Marc Lacomare were the three best competitors for the entire event. Lacomare had to begin in round one, winning his first five heats convincingly. The third-place result propels him to 21st on the Qualifying Series. Had he picked up the win, he would have been all the way up to 12th with a real shot at the world tour.

Having already won the Triple Crown twice, Florence has set himself up for success at what could be his only remaining unchecked goal. The Triple Crown closes at the Pipe Masters, which is really the final piece to Florence’s resume. He’s a world champ, a two-time Triple Crown winner, a four-time Pipe Pro winner and he won “The Eddie” this past winter. There isn’t all that much left to do other than win in his own back yard.

If he were to go on and win the Pipe Masters, it would almost certainly mean his third Triple Crown victory. So he could essentially be chaired up the beach as the Pipe Masters champion, Triple Crown champion and world champion, all at once.

That could be a fitting image with which to end 2016, but it’s still one major victory away. No matter what happens, it has been John John’s year, which is probably going to be a common declaration for many years to come.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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