Is­land of the Mind

Surfer - - Contents -

Far from the pres­sure and fan­fare of the World Tour, John Florence dis­cov­ers per­fect surf and un­likely kin­ship with Dave Ras­tovich on King Is­land

The plane doesn’t look big enough. John Florence sur­veys the pile of surf­boards on the tar­mac be­ing loaded in­side and scratches his head. It’s go­ing to be tight. The seven-seater Piper Navajo is sit­ting in the mid­dle of a sheep pad­dock that moon­lights twice a day as an airstrip. Tum­ble­weeds hus­tle past. The wind is blow­ing its tits off. There’s a 30-knot tail­wind to ne­go­ti­ate, but we need to get up in the air real soon—there’s a 50-knot change com­ing. The rough flight is cus­tom­ary. You only fly to King Is­land on the big­gest swells, and with the swell comes the weather. Hang onto your lunch.

I don’t tell Florence that a light plane with five Amer­i­can golfers crashed on the way to King Is­land last year—flew into an out­let mall on take off and burst into flames with no sur­vivors. I do tell him, how­ever, that if our pilot has a heart at­tack then he’s fly­ing this bird. Florence took fly­ing lessons years ago, prac­tic­ing mid-air stalls while dodg­ing in­com­ing air­lin­ers at Honolulu Air­port. Those lessons and his low pulse rate might come in handy in the event of a slumped pilot and a nose­div­ing plane.

We cross the coast over Point Im­pos­si­ble and fly out over Bass Strait. The ocean is whipped white, and the lit­tle plane jerks like a danc­ing pup­pet. Florence ’s eyes don’t leave the ocean below for the whole hour. The rest of us have white knuck­les but Florence is monas­ti­cally calm. He has an easy way of mov­ing through the el­e­ments, be they air or wa­ter.

King Is­land is a clod of ru­ral dirt sit­ting out in Bass Strait. It’s one of the last re­main­ing traces of the old land bridge that con­nected Tas­ma­nia to the Aus­tralian main­land dur­ing the last Ice Age. With a free week be­tween con­tests, Florence has gone ad­ven­tur­ing. He’s here for the waves, but also here for the kind of soli­tude that only an hour spent be­ing tossed around in a light plane can pro­vide.

From the air­port we drive straight to the is­land’s bak­ery. Florence stands in line with a bunch of work­ers on their lunch­break and it’s im­me­di­ately clear: No­body knows him here. The is­land has only 1,600 res­i­dents and a just hand­ful of lo­cal surfers. They don’t get many vis­i­tors. Pan­cho Sul­li­van’s board hangs on the wall from 15 years ago. Florence is im­me­di­ately dis­armed and takes off his hoodie. It’s prob­a­bly one of the only stretches of in­hab­ited coast on god’s green earth where he could go with­out be­ing mobbed. If you’re sick of the world talk­ing about you, King Is­land is not a bad place to be.

The bak­ery menu is pro­vin­cial. Pies, lots of them, but they’re noth­ing like the pies you’ll find on the main­land. There are lob­ster pies, wal­laby pies, chicken and Camem­bert pies—a menagerie of lo­cal crit­ters all stuffed in a pas­try sar­coph­a­gus. Florence plays it safe with a spinach roll. He’s not big on crit­ters or pas­try, which may re­sult in him starv­ing on King Is­land.

Dave Ras­tovich is sit­ting across the ta­ble, wear­ing a hand-knit­ted beanie and odd socks. Ras­tovich doesn’t ven­ture near the pie oven either—hasn’t been near one in two decades—and in­stead slowly chews on some hot cross buns. Through some kind of cos­mic align­ment, he’s also on King Is­land. It’s the first time Ras­tovich and Florence have ever met. On the sur­face, the world cham­pion and the en­vi­ron­men­tal cham­pion, the Golden Child and the Guru wouldn’t ap­pear to have much in com­mon, but you strip the whole com­pet­i­tive spec­ta­cle out of the equa­tion and think about them purely as surfers and as hu­man be­ings, then Florence has more in com­mon with Ras­tovich than he does with most of the crew he surfs with on Tour.

And then, of course, there are the bees.

(Left) World-class tube whis­per­ers John Florence, Dan Ross and Dave Ras­tovich.(This page) Florence has the oth­er­worldly abil­ity to look stylish even when wrestling an un­wieldy foam­ball.

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