"This is only my second time in New York," says surfer John John Florence, relaxing in a Rolling Stone conference room. "The buildings, the people, the energy – it's pretty wild!"
Florence, 23, spends most of his time in Oahu, Hawaii, where growing up he became a surfing prodigy who many see as the potential heir to his hero, Kelly Slater, one of the sport's all-time greats. Florence, who has won two World Championship Tour events, is in New York to promote his film View From a Blue Moon (out December 1st), which follows Florence and his friends surfing around the world in spots from Oahu to Africa. Narrated by John C. Reilly, View is the first surf film shot in 4K resolution. "I wanted to do a highly cinematic action-sports film, something shot really well," says Florence. "I'm really into the camera side of things, so a project like this was just really insane."
Florence is a big music fan; Led Zeppelin, the Talking Heads and Black Sabbath are a few of his favorites. When he was thinking of music for the film, he decided to call in a favor from an old family friend friend: Jack Johnson. "We both grew up in the same place," says Florence. "Our family is really close to his family. He's kind of like an uncle to me and my brothers. He's always given me really good tips on life and how to do things."
Florence initially asked Johnson if he could use one of his songs in the film, but Johnson topped the idea: "He was like, 'Love the idea of making one for the movie.' So I was blown away that he really wanted to do it," says Florence. Johnson sent back "Seasick Dream," a ukulele-steeped ode to the surfing lifestyle. "The song plays with a bunch of clips of when I was really young surfing with my brothers, so it worked out insane," says Florence.
"I've known John John since he was a baby," Johnson told Rolling Stone in a statement. "The amount of soul that he is able to put into such high performance surfing is mind blowing ... I'm always trying to give him uncle advice about everything besides surfing but he seems to have it pretty figured out."
As Florence's career explodes, he says he's looking at Johnson as a mentor in how to use his fame for good. "Jack is really big where we live — he has the Kōkua Foundation [which supports environmental education in local schools]," says Florence. "He's really supportive of the whole community — not letting them build big hotels, saving the land. It's pretty cool to see him setting an example — like 'Wow, that's how you do it.'"