Interview: Joel Parkinson, The New World Champ
From The Pages of Surfing World
For Surfing World's incredible cover to cover tribute magazine to Joel Parkinson and his World Title, Sean Doherty sat down with the man in question two days after he was handed down the trophy and recorded this candid and compelling interview.
THE JOEL PARKINSON INTERVIEW
Breaking it all Down with the New Champ
by Sean Doherty
SW: Mr World Champion. Day two. How’s it going for you
JP: It’s going good. Today it’s starting to sink in a bit. Yesterday was a bit of a blur. The night before and the emotion of the day made the whole thing a bit cloudy. It was hard to adjust but today I woke up and was like, “Oh My God!” 48 hours later, once the nervous energy stops, reality sets in and it feels amazing.
The moment it became real. Tell us about the 10 minutes leading up to it because you didn’t want to think about it all day. Kelly’s heat had gone flat. You’re pacing the room. Describe the scene from your point of view.
I felt like I’d handled my emotions really well. I just blocked it out, walled it up. I was like, “Nup, there’s no point in getting emotionally wrapped up in this. Just do your job. Surf your heats. Two waves. Keep it simple.” But then with about 11 minutes left in that heat it was all too much. I started doing time checks and I started trying to suck in air because I could barely breathe. It was just the reality of it getting closer and the possibility was growing, it was just ridiculous. I had a tight group in there and it was so hard to breathe. I don’t know how many times I’d asked Wes for a time check (laughs). I’d walk into the bathroom because I didn’t want to watch and then I’d walk out because I wanted to look but then I couldn’t look... The emotional wall just collapsed and I couldn’t control anything.
And the moment itself?
The moment itself... was... it was, maybe relief (laughs). It was like, “It’s over!” I hear people talk about out of body experiences and looking back, that’s what it felt like. Everything had lifted. Standing on the verandah and seeing everybody turn around and look up from the beach, everyone downstairs in the house, it was hard to take in that they were looking at me. It was something I’ll never forget and the more I have time to think about it and digest it then the more I’ll be able to make more sense of it.
Three years ago you shed a tear here for very different reasons. Yesterday you lost a few as well. What broke you?
Hugging my wife. The excitement and the joy of everyone around me, Mon, my family, my friends, they all started crying. It’s such a long road for so many people to get to that point and it happened and it was just overwhelming. When I saw Mon crying and Mahli was there, he didn’t have a clue what was going on but I’m sure he got the vibe. It was surreal. I can hardly describe it 48 hours later but maybe it’s something I’ll describe better in a few years time. Right now it’s still so fresh and raw and it’s a great feeling.
You hear guys say they dream of being World Champion. Is it something you dreamt about as a kid?
I never pictured the exact moment, but it was one of those things, “Imagine being World Champion!” When you’re really young you want to be World Champ and then you start competing in the cadets and juniors and you start to think, “Shit this is really hard, maybe I’d just be happy being a pro surfer.” (laughs) But then you go through your junior career, you make the Tour and you reassess, and your old goal comes back into focus. You realise you’re on the Tour for a reason. And to have been so close before, for me it makes winning that much sweeter. If it came easy I wonder if I’d feel the same? I’m sure it would have felt great but it can’t have felt as sweet as this.
Has this World Title relieved you from a lot of pain?
Yes. Definitely. 2009 when I lost to Mick, that feeling was heart wrenching. And right here at this house, I walked down the side and punched the crap out of the wall and my knuckles were bloodied and swollen. I was trying to deal with that feeling of all the disappointment of getting so close... Halfway through the year I really started thinking, “This is it Joel, it’s gonna happen.” Then I blew my ankle out and it all went away. And Mick was amazing. He surfed an amazing couple of events that year and came back with a vengeance. And now, if you had of told me it was gonna happen in 2012 when I started in 2002, I wouldn’t have believed it. It’s a weird thing. Maybe it takes a lot of time and experience to get it. I could barely backhand tube ride when I got on Tour because I don’t have lefts on the Gold Coast,.”so they’re the sorts of things you just adapt to and get good at. Maybe it just takes 10 years (laughs).
Can you tell us about the candle that Mon lit yesterday morning for Andy.
Monica lit a candle and said a little prayer in the morning for Andy. I was out in the surf. I’d gone out at first light and by the time I came in she was up and had cleaned up everything, our room was this nice little clean space. I saw the candle but I didn’t know she’d said this payer. She didn’t tell me till later in the day. The candle went out with about 10 minutes to go in Kelly’s heat against Josh Kerr and she said that Andy was paying attention, that he was there saying, “This one’s for you boy.”
Having Bruce there for the moment.
Was really special. The contest is in memory of Andy Irons and having brother Bruce there to congratulate me was special. Andy was one of my best friends and it makes me so honoured to surf for that trophy, the Gerry Lopez board with Andy on it. It’s just crazy the way the world works. I would have loved to have Andy here but it’s funny, the fact I’ve won a contest dedicated to him. I’ve spent the week playing with his son... You just never really know what the future holds, do you?
How do you see your life changing now? Has it already started?
It has! And it’s gonna keep changing for the better I hope. One step at a time. I’ll finish off things here in Hawaii in a couple of days and then it’s gonna get hectic when I get home. It’s gonna sink in and become a lot more real. Every time I talk to my Dad he just about sheds a tear so I can’t wait to get home and give my Dad and Mum and two daughters, who are at home, a big hug. That’ll be unreal.
In the lay days during competition, there was almost like this strange magnetic force bringing World Champions into the house. Curren, Occy, Mick... it was like they were willing you into the club. Did you get a sense of that at all?
I guess I did. I definitely noticed that. Curren got his when I was too young, but I’ll talk to the guys who have been in my life since and I’ll ask, “How did you do it? How did you handle those moments? What made you get that?” And you try and pull from those things. But the older guys, it’s a little more difficult because you don’t know their backgrounds, all you really have to go from is what you saw in magazines or surf movies. So I look to Mick a lot. Mick is someone I’ve known my whole life and I learned from the way he applied himself to his Titles, that was a big influence on my own approach.
You mentioned you kept your emotions in check on that final day, probably more so than everyone who was in the house and yard cheering for you.
I suppose. I kept telling myself not to let my emotions get into it. But after it all, I fell apart more than anyone. When that wall came crashing down, it crashed down hard. People were telling me to pick myself up and get it together and I didn’t really regather my composure until I was standing on the shoreline about to paddle out for the final. Wes grabbed my arm and he squeezed it and said, “PIPE MASTERS NOW! PIPE MASTERS NOW!” I looked him in the eye and I took a breath and I said, “Yep, let’s go. Let’s do it.” And that was when I kind of returned to my body. And paddling out I remember thinking, “I can’t win this World Title without a win. I gotta win, I gotta win. I gotta win.”
Was there a moment in that semi-final against Damien Hobgood where you had any doubt?
In the first minute I had the most doubt. I scored a 3.3 or something and I was getting seriously worried. But I just whipped it around as fast as I could. It probably took about four or five minutes but by then I’d just convinced myself I wasn’t losing. And then waves came. And then I started convincing the five judges. That was the way it was gonna be. They’re the dogfights I had to win.
Sounds like an Andy mentality. To never accept losing.
I’d never thought of it like that, but yeah, I guess that’s right. I’ve always said my approach is different to Andy’s, but I guess that was a little bit Andy-ish. Don’t accept it. Just win and that’s it. That’s kinda surprising that one.
You were 11 when Kelly won his first Title. What were your earliest memories of him?
Kelly Slater, Black and White. Amazing. I think he is freakish because of what he’s done. He’s done more for surfing, for the sport, for everyone, than anyone else ever will. Through what he’s done, you can never take anything away from him. All I have is praise. He’s the king of it all. I just had a day I needed to have. With him in a showdown, the whole thing is a dream come true. To come up against him in that circumstance... I mean, you hear people say that to win a Title without Kelly on Tour it’d be a jaded World Title. You can never say that when you’re in a showdown with him. He is so intense. What he did in those first two heats, there was no secret, the Slater factor was here and full of force. 8s, 9s, 10s - he was here for vengeance, and I don’t know why because he’s got 11.
How do you keep your mind off Kelly through the back half of a season, particularly when you can see him closing in?
I just tried to have nothing to do with him. I tried not to watch him, tried to give him a wide berth if we were in the same space. There was a couple of little moments where he’d come in and I’d be out of there. There was one bad moment. I was watching something online of Jamie O’Brien from last year and he said something like, “Kelly has the best record out here, he wins everything. He always makes semis or the final and he has the best stats of anybody in history.” And I happened to hear this and I was like, “Don’t listen Joel, get it out. Worry about your own game.” But coming into Pipe, to know you’re up against 11 World Titles and six Pipe Masters and probably one of the best Pipeline surfers of all time... you knew he had been in this position before and he probably wasn’t feeling any pressure.
Have you guys had a moment?
He came over and congratulated me the other night. There was no bad blood or anything like that. I really respect him and one thing I’ve always learned, especially with the way things panned out with Mick, it’s what happens in the water stays in the water. It’s not like an Andy v Kelly battle. I leave everything in the water.
The best surfer to not win a Title. How good does it feel to flag that sentence?
(Laughs) So good. So, so good. If anybody said that to me ever again I’d punch them. But they can’t now anyway. That would have killed me, to have five runner-ups. Who would have known what would have happened if that was the case?
When you look back on 2012, what will you remember?
It’s funny but the first word that springs to mind is consistency. I think losing Teahupoo was a blessing. I couldn’t believe I’d lost that. I was winning it all the way to the end and one silly mistake, Mick catches the wave behind me and got the score. Then at the end of the year I win the World Title and the Pipe Masters. I’d forego Teahupoo any day of the week for Pipe. But that was the moment when I was thinking, “Stuff this I’m winning one of these events.” I wasn’t thinking Title at that stage I was thinking win a comp. And then Trestles came and I got another second (laughs). It just kept fuelling me for the next event.
You and Mick this year. It was different to 09 but it had that familiar rivalry even though he ended up being a bit of an ally.
Mick knew coming in that he was a real long shot. He had a pretty relaxed attitude because he needed a miracle. Even if Kelly and I had both lost out early, he considered himself as a 100:1 shot. I was cheering for him against Shane Dorian because I liked the chances of him doing some damage against Kelly because they were on the same side of the draw. But he lost out early and as soon as he lost his heat he sent me a really good text saying, “Go hard, I’ll be in your corner, I’ll be waiting on the beach for you.” And it must have been a great feeling for him to repay the favour from 09 and be able to chair me up the beach. I consider him a good mate for life.
How hard was it to chair Mick in 09, fresh from losing your own heat and with it, the World Title to him?
It was hard. It was really hard to get out of the house and walk down there but once I was down there I was stoked because I could see his excitement and he was crying in joy. I knew deep down I had to do it but I was so angry and frustrated at the time, and I just wanted answers, I wanted to know why things had happened the way they did and I didn’t want to leave that thought process to congratulate the guy who’d beaten me. Once I got down there it was all sweet again. I felt good that I’d done it and I was so glad I hadn’t just locked myself in my room.
Will Friday be remembered as one of the great days in the history of pro surfing do you think?
(Laughs) Mate you can’t ask me that! (Laughs) I was in the thick of it. I can say it was for the Kelly Andy showdown, because I got to sit back and surf and watch that unfold with no pressure. I was lucky enough to make the final with them and I just stayed out of their road. I couldn’t say Friday was the best or worst thing in pro surfing but it was definitely the best thing that happened in my career.
What about the volume of support you received from all over the world. Did that surprise you at all?
It was overwhelming. I had people from Florida cheering for me. I’d be mortified if I knew people on the Gold Coast were cheering for Kelly (laughs). There were probably a couple. Actually Luke Munro was probably cheering for Kelly (laughs). But I had so much support, the whole ‘GoParko’ thing, the beach that day, it really felt like everyone was behind me. When I’d come out of a barrel the noise was just phenomenal. And then when the Title came down to that moment. it was unbelievable. The amount of people and friends from all over the world who were there. I’m still too close to it to be able to put it together.
Any standout quotes since you’ve won?
Sunny Garcia was pretty good. He just said, “No matter what, nobody can ever take this away from you.” And there were a few f-bombs in there too somewhere (laughs).
You’re a family man. How have they been?
I can’t imagine what it’s gonna be like when I walk into Coolangatta Airport in a few days and see them all in one place. It’s gonna feel like I’ve just won the Title all over again. It’s gonna feel like a second World Title.
You won a World Title with three kids running around. You’re the only surfer in history to have done so with a family in tow.
Travelling with your family is hard but I was 22 when I had my first and it took a while to adjust for me and for Monica too. You gotta be selfish when you have to be, but she’ll pull me up when it’s not those days. You have to have a good balance. You can’t be selfish with three kids. There’s no point.
Let’s get through 2012 first! I gotta survive Coolangatta first. Let’s hope I still have a town to live in. I don’t know what to expect I’m just excited to get back and get it started.
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