Parko's Portuguese pre-projection stalling technique utilizes both fingers and toes. Pic: ASP Cestari
Joel Parkinson is home on the Gold Coast enjoying a bit of down time by the pool. Sounding relaxed (and surfed out) he speaks openly and honestly. Having just shared a “fun” empty Kirra line up with his young cousin Mitch (Parkinson) he happily settles into a banana chair to answer a few questions. Parko’s runner up finish to 11 times world Champion Kelly Slater comes with as many questions as it does answers. Yes, Joel Parkinson is the best surfer on tour never to have won a world title, but when (and how will his luck change. The baffling statistic that this was in fact his fourth time as brides maid is discussed along with why he thinks Snapper won’t fire for this years Quiksilver Pro, the new ASP drug testing policy, his radical change in equipment and changing his name to Leslie.
Tracksmag.com: It’s only early days into the New Year and already we’ve seen video of you training up a storm?
Parko: I know, I didn’t think that was going to pop up. I’ve just been kinda cruising, I haven’t really been doing much at all – it’s all smoke and mirrors, mate. I haven’t been training that hard at all. It was only because Granger (Larson) was here. And Mitch (Parkinson) and Jack (Freestone), who all have the world juniors coming up and stuff – I jumped in on a few sessions with them and it’s been good that’s all. I just tagged along.
Enjoying a big board cruise out solid Rockpiles, Hawaii, with good mates Occy and Rasta. Pic: Ben Bugden
That almost football team atmosphere must be a nice change from the intense solo training? Especially with the young rippers you’ve mentioned?
For sure! It’s good. All Billabong riders training with Wes Berg, stoked to be having a few sessions where it’s not just me, you know? It’s good to gauge yourself against other guys. We surf a few heats as well and you get that thing where you say to yourself, “I don’t want to lose to a grommet” but Jack’s hard to beat. He’s friggin amazing in good little waves.
What’s it like on the body (like many, I wouldn’t know), physically working out and then actually surfing a heat? Does it loosen you up?
To a point it does, and then it turns shit. The next day we were all pretty sore; I had a surf and felt like crap. You know you feel like shit surfing the day after but when you start to feel good again – you feel really good.
It doesn’t look like your carrying any holiday fat?
Mate, I came home from Hawaii ready to sit on my arse and do nothing but drink beer and have a great time – but as it turned out I surfed! It dead set pumped (here on the Goldie). We had a Christmas swell, we had so many waves, and it kind of… look I wanted it to be one foot nor east and hot beer drinking weather and it was the complete opposite.
Setting off the locals at home at Snapper, Quiksilver Pro 2011. Pic: ASP/Kirstin
And already there’s people talking about the Quiky Pro?
I know! What’s going on there? Have People got nothing better to talk about? Take a break, take a holiday – forget about it for at least two weeks, please, because fuck it’s a long year ahead.
Contest hypothetical’s aside, how about a trade secret; how do you know which wave at Snapper Rocks is going to be a grower and not a dud?
It stares you in the face, I reckon. Pick the one with no wave in front. Or a lot of the time, it will be a wave that comes in with a double up after there being no wave for ages – and then, I mean 80% of the people out there know what a good one out there looks like but you can pick one that you think is good and it still goes flat. There’ll be no Quiky Pro at Snapper this year anyway…
It could be at D-Bah. The D-Bah classic! The sands the worst I’ve seen it for a while.
But wasn’t that the case last year prior to kick off too? They pumped sand and it came good?
Yeah, but now the sand’s just this big wide blob. So if they do pump it will just connect and become a close out. There are better lefts than rights at Snapper at the moment.
Parko's ability to perform full round-house cutbacks in the powerful Bells Bowl is second to none. Pic: ASP/Robertson
2011. Can you tell us what your highlight was?
Definitely Bells, but also I think when I lost out on the title race I just started surfing and really enjoying it. All of a sudden I made a couple of finals in a row. I forgot why I guess. What makes me surf better, and why I surf better. I surf better relaxed with no pressure on me. And sometimes I put that that pressure on myself. If I’m enjoying my surfing then I’m where I need to be. I’m not saying there are days when I don’t enjoy it, but there are times I put to much focus on making sure the boxes are ticked. So, definitely this year I’m out for one reason and one reason only – just surf, enjoy it and win the fucking world title!
For a while there in 2011 your year appeared to go from good to bad. But in the end you finished runner-up! That’s a pretty bloody good year, right?
Yeah, that’s what I thought too. All of a sudden (when I slipped down the ratings) I was like okay “what’s going on?” Then all of sudden, bam! I’m number two again.
It’s a tough stat to bring up, but that was the fourth time you’ve missed the title by one spot? This puts you equal with Cheyne Horan.
I was hoping to not get second for a while there, I was like whatever. What it is is what it is. Better than getting 20 seconds.
Cheyne works on the Gold Coast, have you seen him around?
Nah, I don’t see him.
With the experienced (and cool headed) Luke Egan by his side, Parko is always a formidable tactician. Pic: ASP/Kirstin
Your coach Luke Egan was once touted as the best surfer on tour never to have won a world title. You are without doubt the modern day equivalent... it’s gotta happen for you this year surely?
I hope so… I don’t know? I’ve kinda got to a point where it’s not the be all and end all. I’ve always said that. It’s not going to really change me as a person. I think people put too much emphasis on it, some telling me, “you gotta do this, and you gotta do that” and I’m like “Mate! Are you kidding me? I’m plodding pretty well. Take a look at yourself.”
Two big changes with the ASP, firstly, mid year rotation – gone. Thoughts?
I was never a big fan, although at the start I thought there was a chance it could be really sick, but after seeing it twice I wasn’t into it. Getting on is so hard to do and it’s even harder to get on and make an impression. I mean you’re going to get guys that can do it like Medina. The talented cream of the crop. But I think normally it can take two or three events to get a groove on and if you have a bad start in those three, you only get six and you’re off tour. I think we got to keep it fair for the younger guys, to not only get in there but have a full year and surf from Snapper to Pipe.
Looking at it through your own career, you finished 21st in your rookie year, on last year’s system that’s only a few bad results from being cut. You finished second the following year so the risk of losing a talent too early is evident right there?
Even Mick. If you look at his first year (on tour) out of three or four events he won one heat. Talent wise he was top five in the world, but experience and knowledge of all the different places you’re going… well, you’re a green rookie. So I think it’s good they get a chance to see more. You learn a lot of different tactics on the WT and the quick learners prevail.
Signature shot from Jeffrey's Bay – bright board spray, straight back arm and perfect positioning. Pic: ASP/Cestari
What about the introduction of a WADA styled drug testing at events? Been a lot spoken about it, some say it’s taken too long to be implemented while the ASP highlighted “cost and resources” as the main reason for any delay?
I think everyone is for it. There’s no one I know that has a problem with it. Twenty years ago would have been interesting, now days I think it just makes the sport look that much more professional. I think it’s a good thing as long as they keep it going, keep it rolling and don’t make it a one off thing. I think it’s great – good for the sport. Hopefully it will open the door to bring in other bigger companies to sponsor events and stuff like that. There are still people out there that consider surfers to be dope-smoking bums that hang at the beach, and we can kinda shed ourselves from that stigma. But I also think we’ve gotta keep that history of how it was back then, cause it’s so rich. No other sport has that kind of history – when they first started competitions and the tour and all those cool things.
Here’s an example, Kelly (Slater) shirtless on the web cast (and cable stations) at Pipe?
Exactly. We can’t get to a point like the NBA and all wear bloody suits right before we surf or whatever... I hope we keep that balance.
When Parko wins his first world title fans will heave a collective (and happy) sigh of relief. He's due. Pic: ASP/Cestari
Tell us about the boards you’re riding at the moment?
Under scales, 5’8”s 5’10”s. JS has done all these cool little wave boards… I’ve been riding 5’8”s in solid waves… I’m not saying I’m going down Kelly’s path, but I’ve been experimenting a lot with that kind of stuff and loving it. [Joel rode a 5’8” in Snapper’s Qld Jim Beam Surftag final win, watch clip HERE]. But then again I rode a normal 6’1” at Kirra (yesterday) and I was like, “Mmm, okay. There is something more my normal board can give me in good waves.” Put it this way, I could never imagine myself riding my 5’8” at solid Bells.
Do you ever make the change from say concaves to vee bottoms when surfing small waves in Australia compared with say mainland America?
Funny you should ask I’ve been loving my vee bottoms lately. He (JS) has got a good mix of things going on at the moment with that sort of stuff. But yeah I definitely suss what boards are going to work at what places. It’s just like anything, you get a board that works well at certain places and then sometimes you get magic board that just works everywhere. Then you get a board that works epic on the points, but it won’t go on a beach break. For example I got a 6’1” that I thought was a small wave board and I paddled out and it surfed better in bigger waves. It just depends.
How do you organise them all, as I’ve seen your garage and it’s full of boards?
Yeah, I mark them – a B for Bells, or a C for Chopes, or whatever. Then what fins etc and stuff like that I’ll add too.
Parko's excursion to the Billabong Pro Tahiti in 2011 was not a fruitful one, despite this wave. Pic: ASP/Kirstin
What about your relationship with Billabong, where are you at contract wise?
I’ve got a few more years to run and then I’ll be hoping to sit down and renegotiate and get a deal that will run for a while.
Final question. Andy and Kelly have won 14 world titles between them and both use their middle name as their first. Perhaps we should call you ‘Leslie’ and the titles will flow?
Hey if we can start that it’d be awesome. I’d love that. Leslie is my Dad’s real name, and my grandfather and my great grandfathers. I’d like to shorten it to Les’o!
Note: You heard him folks, let's do this! Les'o for world champion!