The Joel Parkinson Interview

The Joel Parkinson Interview

Photo: Corey Wilson/Billabong

In September Joel Parkinson made a 28-hour journey and ended up at Down the Line surf shop, Hayle, for the afternoon. He was the first elite WSL tour surfer to visit the UK for a very long time. A top effort and you know what, he turns out to be a top bloke too. Everyone who met him left with a smile on their face. Steve England caught up with him to have a chat.

Photo:  Joli

So what are you going to do when you retire?
Honestly, I’m going to pretend to be busy, so I can surf as much as I can. (laughs) I’ve got a lot of things happening outside of the WSL. I’m still with Billabong so will continue the ambassador stuff. I do enjoy going out and meeting kids and people and putting smiles on people’s faces. So that and a few surf days, that kind of stuff. I find all that rewarding and enjoyable, so I am going to do a fair bit of that. And I also have a few other little business ventures that I’m involved in. I also do Balter beer.

Is there a beer off with your and Taj at Honest?
No, not really. We all get on well, and we try to be supportive of each other, so it’s pretty good. There is no bad blood in beer! (Laughs) And hopefully, I am invited to the Champions Trophy in the Maldives! That thing looks so good. I’ve asked Taj and Kerrzy to put a word in for me!

Do you think surfers ever really retire?
Not from surfing no. The way I put it is I’m not retiring from surfing I’m just taken the competition vest off. That’s the only way I can put it. You won’t see me in the WSL comps. And I am pleased about that because I’ve had enough of competition, but I nowhere near feel like I’ve had enough of surfing. I don’t think you ever think you have had enough surfing. Even today I’d love to have a surf, I am stinging to get the water (after 26 hours solid travel – Ed) so while I have decided I don’t want to pull a jersey on I still have a desire to be in the ocean as much as possible.

Photo:  Courtesy Billabong

It’s one of those things that never goes away.
No, I don’t think it ever does go away. My uncle is 57. He still surfs before and after work, and he’ll take a day off when the waves are pumping. He still rides my shortboards and even steals my quiver. He surfs more than anybody!

Is it that you’ve lost the competitive drive or is it just the pressures of the tour that made you quit. Are you competitive in life in general?
Not really, no. It’s funny I’m not the most competitive human out there, maybe in certain things. It might come back I guess – the drive for one or two events. I’m excited for the early Burleigh single fin event in January. I want to surf in different and fun events. But the WSL is the beast of competitions. And it takes so much out of you with the consequences of winning and losing being so great. So doing the other speciality events without those consequences will be fun. But that is it for the WSL; I’ll never take a wild card or surf on tour again.

Did you not fancy hanging on until the Olympics?
No.

What do you think of the Olympics?
So it’s hard for me to say too much, but my opinion is that I worry. Maybe if it’s done in the wave pool and that’s just that, it will be ok. But I can see it being held in a one-foot beach break at Chiba and it will be a disaster, because the following week or month we’ll be at 10-foot Chopes, and to be honest that is our Olympics. That’s what I think; if you want the Olympics, you take it to Tahiti. For me, everybody is hanging their hopes of mainstream glory on the Olympics, but I think what the general public like about surfing is everything else. They like going surfing, the lifestyle and watching big waves I don’t think they will get small wave surfing as it stands. I think one older Hawaiian guy said some brilliant things. It seems like every 20 years we have this vicious cycle and it’s coming back. Possibly in the late ’80s and early ’90s, we (not me as I was too young!) made some mistakes, and it seems like we may be doing it again. I was lucky to be surfing in a phase where Rabbit started the dream tour with exotic locations and waiting periods and all the best surfers in the best waves, all that is what is great about competitive surfing. I think you learn a lot of lessons from mistakes and some lessons should have been learnt along the way.

Photo:  Courtesy Billabong

Over your career has there been one moment that you feel everything came together and it was absolute gold?

I had a heat in Tahiti, like pumping Tahiti eight to 10-foot perfect Chopes. Nathan Hedge, Ace Buchan and I were out. It had been pumping all morning, and I think we were going in heat four. Hedgy went on the first wave and went deep, and he made with it with a seven score. And then it just went flat… After it been pumping all morning. We were all sat there like “What the hell’s happening here? This is not right?” Anyway, it went on like that until we get down to the five-minute mark. I think Ace had had like a two and I had had like a 3.5, but after that, there had just been nothing. Then all of a sudden with a minute to go in the heat, this three wave set comes through. Hedgey had priority, so he takes off on an absolute 10 foot perfect Chopes barrel, and stands in this thing. He doesn’t get very deep, but he gets spat out into the channel. Ace is on the next wave. He got one of the best barrels of the event. It should’ve been a 10. He was riding on the foam ball at 10-foot Teahupo’o. The third wave was mine. I took off fell out of the lip, as stood in one of the biggest, most perfect, bluest barrels I can ever remember surfing. I got deep, touched the foam and got blasted out into the channel. So there we were, the three of us sat next to each other in the channel. And we were all so stoked I was like, “That was sick, how was yours?” And they were like “Mine was amazing! How was yours?” We all just shared an amazing moment, and it wasn’t lost on us, we were thinking “How cool was that!” It was the worst heat of the morning, and it turned into a fantastic moment. Three guys getting §absolutely drained one after the other. I went and watched it back on the replay. I thought I had got the better one of the set, but Ace’s wave was incredible. It was one of the best waves of the event.

Obviously lots of funny moments on tour. What were the most amusing moments that stand out? Who is the most hilarious guy on tour?
Probably Bede.

Really?
Yeah. One of the funniest moments happened after the event in Fiji. We had all had a few beers one night, so I tap out and sneak off to go to bed. The next thing I know my doors being kicked in, and Mick comes in trying to get me to go back out. The Bede tries to get in, and he had this huge sea snake! Somehow he’d been walking around outside caught this huge sea snake. Anyway, I fought them off so he couldn’t get it into my room, but he ended up wandering off and stashing it in one of the guys who was leaving in the morning board bags.

The best person to travel with?
I always liked travelling with Mick just because we’re pretty close. We grew up surfing and travelling together. And it’s always good travelling with a mate like that, somebody that knows you. Especially if something was up at home while we were away, and we needed to bounce something off someone. Andy was always hilarious travel with too.

So on that note mental health is now coming to the fore, with the pressure of the tour do you think it’s essential to have someone to talk to about these things?
Yes for sure I have been a little bit worried about things myself. Like leaving the tour. I was chatting with Barton Lynch the other day, and he told me that he was 12 years on tour and when he left it took in three years for him to normalise. He felt like he’d lost his marbles. And he was like “Joel you’ve been on there 18 years…” I hadn’t thought about that too much. But I asked if he was keen to come off tour or had to leave, and he said he was so frustrated by the end of his career, with companies and being surfers rep, he had built up a lot of things. So I had a good chat with him. That was great because it made me realise that I I don’t feel frustrated. I feel like I’m the other way. I’m a bit more appreciative of what I’ve been able to do to get to this position and what I’ve achieved. I don’t feel like there is any stone I have left unturned and I don’t feel any guilt that I’m leaving. I feel like it’s a release. And every time I end up thinking about leaving and what I’m going to do next I get a smile on my face. I’m happy with life and excited to head to the next chapter.

Photo:  WSL/Cestari

Greatest adversarially? 
My best battles were always with Mick. When we first started on tour he would always be on fire, and I get to him in my heat, and he would have a shocker, and I’d have a stormer! We had so many great battles. At the start of my career, Sunny was probably the most intimidating surfer to be drawn against. Every time I drew him suddenly I’d be like “I could be killed before even getting in the water!” (Laughs) But as I got older and got to know him and he knew who I was, it was nice to surf against him. But at the start, he was the scariest human, and if he lost you’d be thinking “Is he coming after the judges or me?” (Laughs) People forgot how intense he was. But look at him today and is an amazing Aloha gentleman.

Most outstanding surf session over your career?
I got to see Code Red in Tahiti and spent all day in the water watching, and then the huge swell that hit Fiji in 2012. Monster huge. I got a couple of waves that afternoon and then watched the two sets come through that no one rode. That was incredible. To watch the ocean do that is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.

Were you scared at any point?
Erm, Code Red for sure. When they shut it in the morning for an hour and a half, I was out just sitting in the channel on a stand-up, and 30-40 foot waves were breaking onto dry reef. It was the evilest ocean you have ever seen. If one of those had caught you or fallen that would have been it, it would have been over.

What about Cloudbreak were you scared out there?
I guess when you are in that position, the big wave guys, you use the adrenaline as a driver for sure. To a point you know, it’s all calculated risk.

And the last question. Complete the following: surfing is…
It’s been my life. I couldn’t imagine my journey without it, and it’s been awesome.