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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.

This is the relentless power and flow that Stab adores. Joel at D-bah? A heavenly match. Photo: Tom Carey

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

  • TIago

    Best style, smart. fun and honest!
    Joel is the champion that we are waiting for in the last 10 years. Hugs from Brazil Joel, you still having the most beautiful style ever!

  • sayyestojoel

    i say yes yes to the unicorn too! number one! nothing out of the ordinary but the purest and simplest of flows! like a slinky! like a toyota! beautiful and reliable! john john a whore!

  • jesse

    stab, your new site design is soo much better than that of old, except you could use threaded comments. ps: parko for the title!

  • Aquaba

    There are no contenders while Kelly is interested. That said, Parko has a great style and is really fit – if he stays that way he could be on tour ’till forty – ala T Knox.
    He forgot to mention that Kelly has spent more time at cloudbreak than anyone on tour – by a fucken mile. Good on Joel – he seems like a nice bloke – but no title for him, he missed his window in ’09.

  • jokerman

    we still talking about this shit?? parko got it all but he’s not going to win this year. let’s end this crappy talk stab. get real please.. that’s never going to happen. C’mon..

  • Sahaco

    Joel is very capable and I love his surfing but everything would have to go his way for a win or even a final in Fiji. Kelly has so much experience there and there are at least half a dozen who are stronger than he is there. He is wise not to bother even looking right now. Probably number one or two who havvn’t cracked a world title. Good luck to him for sure he’s a great sport diplomate……Sahaco

  • Zeb

    Joel as a whisker off getting two tens in Tahiti last year when losing his heat. One of his take offs was similar to the best Kelly can do. Came second at Pipe. Joel has a great back hand and can do very well in Fiji.

  • David

    Nice interview. Really wish you could have asked him about his air game and if he thinks he can improve it. He’s always been really natural in the air and if he was brought up around these kids he’d be one of the best at em. I’ve seen him punt massive in real life. Bicycle eat your heart out.

  • surfcheck

    Joel isn’t going to win. That air in Brasil had an awful landing. The kids are going off, and kelly, taj, maybe even mick are better now. Joel is a great surfer and person, probably the next taylor knox when taylor retires. Like jj will be the next kelly.



  • El Retro Bodhisattva

    I hope Parko smashes 2012.

  • sun of a gun

    who cares!the reailty of it all was deemed in his heat with dane at the quick pro, ,parko wins with the tempo , skinny legs , weak bottom turn ,weaker top turns ,a huge bunny hop that was so far in front of the wave he nearly landed flatley on to little marly rock,please rewind danes 4 waves, progressive surfing in black an white,yes he got third ,but the damage was done ,more to asp than parko

  • Dale

    Why does everyone write off the guys that are not ‘progressive’ with their airs? Tell me, can any of the ‘air guys’ on tour swerve like Parko? Airs are just one part of good surfing, not everything.

  • bob hope

    DALE ABOVE COMMENT,ur a fucking idiot , u have know idea what ur talking about, oh yeah parko said he saw carving on ur progressive stuart surfboard at the spit

  • Bengt

    I think Joel has exhibited the most grace and poise under fire of all of the ASP contenders. He is already a champion in my eyes. Character trumps the immediate always.

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