Surfer

ISLAND   OF THE   MIND

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

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Surfer

Surfer7 min read
Livin’enviably
“They let their surfing do the talking” has long been considered one of the highest compliments we, as a culture, can bestow upon a surfer. It implies a kind of humble disinterest in the spotlight of surf stardom, as if to say that how we ride waves
Surfer14 min read
The Ghost of Waxed Windshields Past
“This is the road where locals would move cars,” said Leroy, as he crossed a winding, two-way street overlooking the ocean. Leroy, a second generation surfer at one of the most notoriously-localized spots in the U.S., told me about how, when he was y
Surfer1 min read
The Kimbo Twin-Fin
“I’d been riding a lot of twin-fin eggs in smaller waves in the summer, but I wanted to make a bigger one for Blacks in the winter. So I was already planning on making an 8’0" round-tail egg, but before I did, my dog, Kimbo, passed away when I was ou