Alex, Her Three Sons, and the Sea

Images by Daniel Russo

The amazing story of a single mother who raised three boys who are now all professional surfers.

Alex Florence is a goddess. She is stunning and part-god and maybe immortal. Her voice is soft, between a song and a whisper, and when angels hear her speak, they sigh. She was either born in New York, or in the sea, and then floated heavenward toward the present-day Mount Olympus otherwise known as the North Shore.

She bore three half-god children, like some goddesses do, and then raised them on her own, like some women do. But then she kept her goddess figure after all three, which to this day confounds both gods and mortals alike. She is something special. But she is modest.

“The ocean saved my life,” says Florence. “The beach was like another parent — it raised my boys with me.”

It did. Florence, her three boys and the ocean played many a day together as one big, golden, salty family. She taught each of her boys – 20-year-old John John, 18-year-old Nathan, and 16-year-old Ivan — to surf shortly before they could walk, but slightly after they could swim.

But goddesses on the North Shore are not like the goddesses of old. They are not languid and disinterested and adorned in luxury like they used to be. Some goddesses, in our recession-prone tourist economy, are busy raising three boys and finishing school. Some goddesses must schlep their boys to Savers at 11 p.m. to buy them reasonably priced clothes.

“Being a single mom,” she recalls, “sure, it’s hard. But my boys make me laugh. And we’ve always been together at all times, so we’ve shared it all: the tears, the laughs, the surf, the whole thing.”

Florence did not just teach her sons to surf some sissy, mortal wave, like Freddy Land or Chun’s, though. She taught them, then surfed, and still surfs with them, at the most deadly wave on Earth: Pipe. And she taught them sea-wisdom. She taught them to be bold. “Oh, sometimes they’d get scared,” she says. “Little boys do. But I’d say, ‘Suck it up, it’s not that cold,’ or, ‘it’s not that big.’”

Her three boys are now all professional surfers. The oldest, John John, competes on the World Tour and is revered by the best surfers in the world. He may receive fines in the future for an unfair, performance-enhancing advantage when the Association of Surfing Professional judges discover that he is half-god.

Florence remains modest. “It was survival,” she says with a laugh. “I took them to the beach all day to tire them out. When you’re surfing and swimming and playing in the sand for 10 hours — it’s the best way to get them to go to bed.” The wisdom of a goddess is infinite.

Like some goddesses and most mothers, Florence is omnipotent. No, omnipresent, or one of those two anyway. Even before John John was on tour, once her boys got sponsored, she would travel and surf with them across the globe.

Now, John John’s professional obligations just give her a perfect excuse to tag along. “It’s pretty simple,” she says. “When we surf together, we have fun. It’s incredible to share the sea with them. It’s something we will always have. It’s our bond.”

She continues to surf with her boys, from ‘Ehukai to Rio de Janeiro, she shadows them. She guides them. And she doesn’t stop at the sea. She rides great frozen mountains and glides on four wheels over plywood and concrete with her boys, too (“I got my feeble-grinds down now!”).

She’s even up in Kahuku these days sputtering about, hand on the throttle, engine screaming, spitting red dirt into the clouds. Alex Florence is amazing. She raised three beautiful and fearless half-god boys on her own. She loves them wholeheartedly, made countless sacrifices for their wellbeing, follows them to the ends of this earth. Like a goddess should; like all mortals mothers do.

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