ASP judges are told in no uncertain terms that style cannot count in any objective assessment of surfing. The argument is that style is a subjective concept that cannot be defined numerically. However, if style in surfing can be defined as control, speed, and poise in difficult situations, then Australian Joel “Parko” Parkinson should have been world champ years ago.
Other surfers recognized his controlled approach when he was still a teenager. Parko was the guy whose line across the waves was elongated and smoothly etched, whose stance stayed firm with extra weigh on the tail, and whose approach looked just a little too casual. He made surfing look easy. Logic would follow that if he was in that much control, he must not be ripping too hard, right?
Wrong. Even though Parko’s approach may have cost him precious points from judges who were looking for elaborate spastic gyrations with recovery attempts that left surfers lying on their backs in the white water and thus looking more radical, he never pandered to that perspective. Parko never ended a big turn with a manic spin out or flailing arm flaps to garner a few added tenths. Instead, he drove hard in the pit, stayed centered over his board, and oozed smoothness from take-off to kick out – a surfer’s surfer.
Joel Parkinson was born April 10th, 1981 in Queensland, Australia. He got his first surfboard as a Christmas gift when he was 3 years old. He continued to surf and improve over the next 10 years, but it was a family move to the town of Coolangatta that would push his talent to the next level. Friendly competition would heat up with local kids Dean Morrison and future multiple world champ Mick Fanning, building a worldwide recognition for these “Cooly Kids” as progressive, daring, and exciting.
With Coolangatta’s insane surf and a lineup full of living legends and blazing groms, Parko took a massive leap in performance, winning the World Junior Championship and a World Championship Tour (WCT) event (Billabong/MSF Pro) held at the famous Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa. Still a teenager, Parko proved his potential on world class waves and became the youngest non-seeded surfer to ever win an ASP World Tour event. In the 18-year-old regular foot, the surf world saw shades of Californian icon Tom Curren in the casual yet aggressive approach to the J-Bay. He snaked his 6 foot, 185 pound frame through and around Jeffrey’s winding walls with buckets of spray yet minimal wasted movement. No one could doubt his potential. The next two years, he won the World Junior event a second time and moved up to 21st in the world rankings, qualifying him for the ASP WCT.
By 2002, Parko was in 2nd place and poised to take the top slot with haste, but it wouldn’t be that easy. Injuries and close calls would cost him dearly while his Coolangatta mate Mick Fanning would take two titles right from under him. Parko would finish runner-up again in 2004, 2009, and 2011 (actually finishing in the top five eight times in his career).
It seemed he would be forever the bridesmaid, but career high points could not go by unnoticed. In 2008, he scored two perfect tens in a third round heat of the Pipeline Masters (a feat previously achieved only by Kelly Slater) and soldiered on in the world’s heaviest waves to take the Triple Crown of Surfing in 2008, 2009, and again in 2010 (a prestigious title second only to the world championship).
In the midst of his quest for the title, Parkinson made time for a family. He married his high school sweetheart and had daughters Evie, Macy, and son Mahli. He also gave birth to his first signature surf flick – Free as a Dog – produced by noted Billabong documentarian and maker of classic surf cinema, Jack McCoy.
But as the 2012 season began, it looked to be Groundhog’s Day as Parko kicked it off with a series of great results. Many anticipated the inevitable injury or bad luck that would follow. But fate be damned, he held the first place spot heading into Hawaii. One problem: Kelly Slater was a close second, and no surfer wants that. But at the conclusion of the Pipe Masters, Parko stood tall as both event winner and newly crowned world champion.
The older and wiser Cooly kid never wavered or tried to fit the system while many critics called Parko’s surfing classic and lacking progressive flair in a world of vibrant and unpredictable aerial surfing. They are part right, he surfs classically with deep, powerful, and controlled turns in the pit, but many fail to see the progressive element of his performance. Blow tails, reverses, and massive air are all part of his repertoire, yet they are interwoven seamlessly not pranced around on obvious display.
By 2012, Parko’s enduring style was the toast of the town and he had earned the respect of both fans and peers but had most importantly proven to himself that he could go the distance. Joel Parkinson had proven himself a surfer’s surfer: an athlete, a father, a mate, a Pipe Master, a Triple Crown winner, and now a World Champ. He’s no doubt earned some free beers from his mates back on the Gold Coast.