Joel, lost in a cheery beer haze outside Komune's penthouse, post-Quiksilver Pro, Gold Coast. Photo: Steve Sherman.
The Last Unicorn
Ever since he won J-Bay as a wildcard way back in 1999, Joel Parkinson has always been touted as a future world champion. He's wildly impressive every year on tour. Despite the runner-up cup being so big (they're huge!), it doesn't have the same meaning as the biggest cup. Plus, Joel has four of them already. The first was to Andy Irons in 2002, in Joel's second year on tour. The second time, in 2004, again to Andy. The third was to Mick Fanning in 2009, had no jovial sophomore sprinkling on it, and was much more painful (it was pal's second title and he came from nowhere). The third happened last year, to Kelly Slater, and was a more subtle achievement than the first two. He's consistent and a threat at almost every wave on tour. And, like everyone says, time is running out.
But, here we go again! Joel is rated first in the world! He's racehorse fit! He links turns but can he keep up with the above the lip game! And what about John Florence! Or Kelly shooting for 12 in oh-12! We've heard it all before but Joel is as calm as ever. Will a 50km paddle be the strategy to get him one spot north?
Stab: You've been here before.
Joel Parkinson: It's not the first time I've been in this situation (laughs).
What's going through your head? The same shit that always go through my head. It's no different. I'm not even thinking about it. Someone was congratulating me today and I thought he was congratulating me on coming second (in Brazil), and she said I thought I was second and Mon said, you're at number one, you idiot!
Wait… so, you didn't even know you were number one on the ratings? Yeah. It was too early (in the year) to even bother (looking). I was like, "oh."
What are you going to do differently or the same to previous years? I've just been enjoying my surfing. Just liking it, liking competing, just surfing.
It seems the judges still have a heavy appreciation of combinations and flow. That has resonated well for you so far. Yeah, for sure. I feel like guys do big airs but, I don't know, there hasn't been many good waves on tour for it yet (for real flow).
Do you still love the tour? I do. If I'm gonna do it, I wanna enjoy it. To me, it doesn't matter what happens in the lead-up, you don't win contests in freesurfs. From there on, it's what happens in that 30 minutes and that's it. It doesn't matter what happens at any point in your year, it's what you bring to those 30 minutes.
Have you gotten to a point where you feel you can control the fate of those 30 minutes? Sometimes. There's still so many variables and there's a lot of heats where you think beforehand that you're gonna go out there and get two nines, and you go out there to look for two nines, but it's two fives that win. You learn to pick and choose your battles a little better sometimes. I've learnt a lot of those those lessons over the years. Sometimes you build a house and sometimes you win with simple stuff.
Do you change your strategy depending on your opponent? Sometimes I change it, sometimes I don't. It depends on the conditions, where we are, y'know? Where you think you can use your strengths and are able to get over the top of someone.
If you have a young air guy vs a wily veteran, do you approach it differently? I think it's gut feeling, you just pull up and see how you feel, see what you're feeling on the day. As the day goes along it can change and you just make subtle adjustments to your gut feeling.
Back to the same question: What are you gonna do differently, what are you gonna do the same? Hopefully the ratings are the same now as they are in December and I'll talk to you about it then. Other than that, it's still too far to go.
J-Bay's out which is a cruel blow for you. And, you've gotta win events to win a title. Which events will you win this year? Everywhere! (laughs). Nah, I'm glad I'm doing that Molokai battle race. I'd hate to be number one for two months or something, just sitting there having it tweaking with your head. I've got a little distraction, I'm stoked.
So, you're gonna paddle 50 kays to take your mind off the world title? It's on the 29th of July. I've been training for it. I'm doing it with Wes Berg. My biggest paddle so far is 20km. Molokai is 52km. It's a team though, me and Wes are gonna do 50/50, halfway each.
What will be more nerve-wracking, the 2009 Pipe Masters for the world title (Joel lost the world title to pal Mick Fanning) or the Molokai race? The race for sure! It's scaring the shit outta me, that's what I'm losing sleep over. I'll be paddling into Dukes straight into a Mai Tai, once it's over.
Who's surfing do you most love watching right now? Well, I guess John John. I'm into it. His style and there's something so fresh and different. He's got such a skating style. It's good to watch. Julian's been good, too.
Who'll be in the title race at the end of the year? I think Taj, Kelly and Mick. Maybe John John. I just can't see Gabriel turning it around. He'll definitely win a contest or make a final somewhere. He's had some shockers this year. And then he'll meet a high seed in Fiji and if he comes up against a Hobgood or something out there... far out. Those guys have been there a million times and can pull nines anywhere.
If you're number one seed, you'll get a Fijian wildcard which has a history of being easier than, say, a local in Tahiti? Fiji's a lot better place to have it. But, Kelly will be number one seed. Oh shit, I might have Bruce (Irons - a wildcard because of the event being sponsored by Volcom) in Fiji! How good will that be! – Sam McIntosh