What was a Parko doing on the Pacific Highway?
To start with the “Now” part first, I was sitting at the window table of an Indian restaurant in inner Sydney recently, waiting for the editor of Tracks to join me, when I spied across the crowded road the unlikely sight of a man hurrying along the pavement with a phone in his ear and a surfboard tucked under his arm.
Now in Manly or Cronulla maybe it wouldn’t have looked so surprising, but this was Crows Nest! And within a matter of seconds it got even weirder. The editor of Tracks came crashing through the door and proceeded to my table while almost decapitating other diners as he ripped the board bag off to reveal a yellowed beater of a thing from the early ‘70s, to judge from first glance.
I looked closer at the board, and I began to understand why Luke Kennedy was making a gift of it to me. He had just finished reading my memoir, Life of Brine, and been intrigued by my childhood worship of a surfer who has sadly become little more than a footnote in our history.
In the case of me and Kevin Parkinson, it was an unrequited bromance that lasted only for the duration of high school. Bobby Brown was my first surfing idol, but Kevy was a real presence. He was in 3F at Corrimal High when I entered 1A. The F grades were as low as you could go academically before being classed “special needs”, and not surprisingly they were full of really good surfers. Kevy was the best of the best. He wasn’t dumb either, at least as far as I could tell from behind the uncool barrier. He was just mostly absent whenever there was a swell.
Kevy mostly ran with a pack of acolytes – good surfers who were not quite in Kevy’s class – and although we surfed the same breaks all the time, we rarely exchanged words. Our motley crew of groms would sit by the red brick toilet block at Bellambi Reef and watch in awe as Kevy cruised past us, this month’s designer miracle surf craft under his arm, the latest style of boardies around his waist, a cloud of cigarette smoke issuing from his mouth. He would jump off the rocks past the baths wall and knee-paddle into the break, spin and take the set wave, then draw on his smoke as he arched into a bottom turn, and ash on the face as he cut back.
I tried to copy Kevy’s smooth but flamboyant surfing style without much luck, but it was easier to copy the awesome boardies made by his mother. Practically every weekend Kevy would be sporting a cool new pair of high-waisters, or hip-huggers, or contrasting waistbands, or arrows down one leg. I would memorise the look, then draw a sketch of the shorts so that my mum could copy them. The following weekend Kevy wouldn’t give me a second look, seeming not to understand that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Like Kevin “The Head” Brennan and Wayne Lynch on different coasts, Kevin Parkinson was a child prodigy whose ability had put him on a much bigger stage by his early teens than other local heroes. But his rapid progress seemed to stall. He finished third in the Australian juniors at Bells in 1967 behind Wayne Lynch and Butch Cooney, but as a competitor that was about the end of his run. When I left the South Coast at the end of the ‘60s, I seldom surfed with Kevy again, although on the occasions I did I note that he had lost none of his flair.
Later I heard rumours that he had fallen by the wayside with a raging heroin addiction, and then he became yesterday’s hero, until ... until ... There he was on the cover of Tracks, not jamming a cuttie with a ciggie between his fingers but leaning against a tree holding a rakish surfboard of his own creation, with another squatter shape nearby. Encouraged by the guru of South Coast surfboards, John Skipp, Kevy had reinvented himself as a surfer/shaper.
Which brings us back to the editor’s gift. There it was on the floor of the restaurant, in need of some love but a living piece of Kevin Parkinson – a 5 foot 10 wide swallowtail twinnie, pronounced vee through the tail and full rails that the editor referred to as “love handles”. Better versed in this part of history than me, he also told me that the red and green spray and blue and white glassed in fins had borrowed a little from Bertleman’s Pepsi period, which dated it a bit later than the Tracks cover.
The board was a Skipp, but Kevy’s name was written in an arch about five inches up from the tail on the deck. This was not a board I would ride now in my dotage, nor is it what I would normally put on my wall, but I loved it because in writing the memoir, I’d felt so close to the idea of heroes (even ones that became villains) but I had no tangible evidence of Kevy – who he was or what he’d become.
And now I had.
The editor confided that he’d bought it for $50 from a Bondi local called “Whippet” nearly 20 years ago, and that it “went like a rocket”. This was a time before collectors had started to see the value in ‘70s retro boards, and Luke said that Whippet had since regretted making the sale.
Which made me appreciate the gift still more. Kevin Parkinson came and went in shaping bays the length of the Illawarra coast for another decade or so without regaining his former fame, and he died far too young and largely forgotten.
But not by me, nor by the editor.