No ASP world champion in history has been vetted like Joel Parkinson. As a result, no surfer is better prepared to take the helm from Kelly Slater. A cursory glance at Parko’s credentials reveal that he’s ridiculously qualified, which is why so many fans were pulling for him this year. Yet it’s the stuff beyond the stats that makes this win feel so right.
Let’s start with the unquantifiable stuff, like style. Fact is, for the better part of ten years Parko’s surfing has been the most aesthetically pleasing on tour. He’s silky smooth to a fault, and it’s been shown to hurt his scores. Yet Parko continues to epitomize the purists’ model of efficiency, which, when executed properly, makes the very difficult look easy. That’s why we admire him.
What’s more, his approach is appealing in any condition, from Brazilian beachbreaks to massive Sunset Beach Bombs to the Banzai Pipeline, and he has the results to prove it.
The first of his 11 world tour victories came in 1999, when he won at J-Bay as a wild card, and was instantly deemed a world title contender. Since then he’s finished with four runner-up finishes to the world championship, the perennial world title contender, relegated to the ultimate bridesmaid.
It certainly wasn’t any easier for him watching two of his best friends reach the top, namely Mick Fanning, who he grew up with on the Gold Coast of Australia, and the late, great Andy Irons, who Parko spent years traveling with.
Parko’s most stinging loss came in 2009, or so he thought, when he surrendered his monumental lead to Mick in the final event of the season after trying to surf the second half of the year injured. But that injury, and that loss paled in comparison to losing his good friend Andy Irons for good in 2010.
That Mick Fanning was the first person to greet Parko on the beach the moment the title became his was a class act of payback, for Parko was there celebrating for Mick in 2009, even as Mick took the title from him. That the Pipe Masters is an event dedicated to the memory of Andy Irons made it feel all the more right…a thought not lost on Parko.
“I think Andy was helping me out there a few times today,” Joel said from the podium, after Andy’s wife, Lindy, wrapped a lei around Joel’s neck and kissed him. Axel Irons, born one month after his father’s death, was also there, and Parko, the tour’s biggest family man, held him close. “To be surrounded by Andy, his legacy, my family and friends just makes this day all the more incredible. This is surreal.”