World surfing champ Florence eyes new era

Hawaiian John John Florence will be chasing a third-straight world surfing crown.
Hawaiian John John Florence will be chasing a third-straight world surfing crown.

World champion John John Florence expects surfing's ceiling to rise ahead of its 2020 Olympic debut, predicting artificial waves will redefine what's possible on a surfboard.

The Hawaiian will begin his quest for three-straight world crowns on the Gold Coast this Sunday, aware he will have to start thinking of some new tricks to keep up with the pack.

For the first time, this year's World Surf League will include a stop at the artificial Surf Ranch created by 11-time world champion Kelly Slater.

Despite being the sport's current pacesetter, Florence says whoever spends the most time in that wave pool will be the one leading the way as the sport enters a new era.

"I think the wave pool's going to change a lot," he told AAP.

"It's (surfing) accessible to people now and it'll be a different type of surfing if they're growing up surfing in the pool.

"Even right now every year on tour it gets crazier and crazier, people going for it the whole time, Felipe (Toledo) doing huge airs at J (Jeffreys) Bay.

"With wave pools it'll just happen faster and it's going to be time in the pool, people trying this and that, who find a new level."

Florence will start as favourite to win three-straight titles and is taking the task seriously, having already flown in and out of the Gold Coast this year on a reconnaissance mission.

He jetted in during Gold Coast's big late-January swell and managed to settle on board selections that will give him a head start when the competition window opens on Sunday.

The addition of the Surf Ranch leg offset the removal of Portugal and Trestles in the United States, making this year's a 10-leg series.

Fiji's round has also been replaced by Indonesia, with Portugal and Trestles both expected to return to the calendar in the future.

The 25-year-old said it was mental improvements that would help him stave off challenges from Australians Julian Wilson, Matt Wilkinson and Owen Wright, who all won legs last season.

Powerful South African Jordy Smith will be another threat, while the Brazilian wave led by Gabriel Medina, Adriano de Souza and Toledo will be, at worst, fun to watch.

"Last year was a crazy year, there were 10 people at one point in world title contention," Florence recalls.

"But I had a few events last year that I really felt super comfortable with.

"I felt if I could be there at every event, if I could switch that on, that's my ultimate goal, to find that and figure out how to switch that on."

Australian Associated Press