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Thursday, December 10, 2009
Updated: December 11, 3:17 PM ET
Tree House of the Rising Sun

By Jon Coen
ESPN Action Sports

As the Pipeline Master kicked off Thursday, the usual assortment of past Triple Crown winners, ASP World Champs, and Pipe specialists were on hand. But it was a first-time competitor, 17-year-old John John Florence, who scored the highest heat total of the day with a 17.2. Florence might be the youngest surfer in the field, but he's obviously no stranger to Pipe. And when you're bagging Surfer Magazine covers at 12 years old, it's safe to say you haven't snuck up on anyone. Still, Florence's career up to this point has been that of a grom. After Thursday, no one's thinking of him as a little kid anymore.

After the most exciting day of his life, I swung by Florence's house to talk. It's a simple beach cottage overlooking Ehukai Beach Park. Florence is sitting up in a tree -- a platform really. Actually it's a tree house.

"Just call me John."

So, today you posted the highest heat total at the Pipe Masters. You're the youngest competitor. Talk me through your day.

I tried not to get nervous about it, all the pressure and stuff. I kind of just woke up and looked at the waves. I took my time and ate something. I paddled out, and my freesurf was actually bad. I barely got a wave. So, I sat around waiting for my heat.

A man among men at Pipe.

When my heat came, the waves were firing. I got a couple of fun ones -- two 8's or something. One was a right. I kicked out and headed right back out. I seriously paddled into the lineup and right into the next wave. I was like (makes panting sound) 'oh gosh, I gotta go.' I went on that left that was pretty sick, and got another score.

You've been one of the most celebrated groms in the whole world of surfing. What it's like as you're getting older to shake that image of being a kid.

A lot of people come out for the season and they're like, "Wow, you've grown up." They want to still see me as that little grom. But I've come up.

People look down the line at me like I'm going to hesitate on waves sometimes. And I'm like, "I'm going!" (laughs) They're watching me as if I'm going to pull off. At moments like that I just want to say, "Hey, I'm not a little kid anymore."

This 'aint a kid turn.

Who are the groms now? You've always been the youngest and now there are kids looking up to you.

I think it's sick. I like watching all these little kids get drainers out here -- the kids that are able to come out here, the little Aussie kids and my brothers -- it's definitely weird watching my little brothers get barreled.

Backside no-handed 360, under the tree fort.

How about the community support? You had a lot of people pulling for you on the beach today.

Everybody on the North Shore knows each other. There are a lot of people supporting me and I really want to say thanks to those people.

When you're the most exposed grom in surfing, it's hard to step out of that image.