Parko starts off the year with a win and a ratings lead in front of the home crowd.
Looking at the whole deal, the Quiky Pro held March 5-11 on Australia’s Gold Coast was shaping up to be the greatest opener for a WCT year ever. The majestic point breaks of Snapper through Kirra had been breaking in an unbelievable fashion, while the barrels at Burleigh had been growing wider and wider by the minute. Top rookies like Dean Morrison, Michael “Stretch” Fanning, Kiwi Maz Quinn, and charger-cum-hellman Kieren Perrow were all virgin participants on the ‘CT ratings and were ready to come out and spill their talent over the highly rated 2002 tour. They came to the sunny Gold Coast for the Quiksilver Pro where most of the top 44 specialists fawned over Aussie girls and bet heaps of cash in the casinos and gentlemen’s clubs.
Lines raced through Snapper Rock’s lineup as Joel Parkinson got slotted twice in the barrel on one wave in his first heat of the contest. While he ripped in the water, plenty of Parko supporters cheered over this exciting prospect of the local hero being a world-title contender. After his performance that day, there were whispers about how this kid could lead the world in 2003-Parko was the highlight.
It was also in this round that veterans such as Taylor Knox and Sunny Garcia lost out for early exits from the contest. Shane Dorian scored three nine-point rides to nudge Sunny out of the contest, a display of surfing we can only expect to see from guys on the Dream Tour this year. Fit-looking Taylor was overcome by local surfer and 2002 rookie Dean Morrison-with Dean surfing the place every day it was inevitable that he’d perform at his best. The outcome was happy and sad, happy because the rookie Deano got through, but sad because Taylor is a world title contender and is one of the most underrated surfers of our time.
The next day, in six- to eight-foot surf, Parkinson got the best of an unretired Kelly Slater in the dying minutes of their fourth-round match with one of the longest and most nerve-racking tube rides to grace the point. Slater unwillingly bowed out of his comeback event, although he still seemed calm and content with a ninth-place finish, “I feel fine,” said the humble Slater. “I’m happy to come back, and my surfing is there. Physically and mentally I’m there, it’s just the way it went in the heat. I had the wave to win, and I fell.”
On the final day, an unstoppable Parko came through to take out Danny Wills in the quarters, Shea Lopez in the semis, and Cory Lopez in the final, while Aussie hero and former World Number One Mark Occhilupo would also lose in the semis for third. A seemingly fitting finish for the 2001 ASP World Junior Champ, a week that was surfed at his home break in front of friends and family, a week that earned him 60-grand Australian in coin, and a week where he got to ride on top of the world ratings. “I can’t believe it,” said an exuberant Parko. “To win here on my home turf is unreal, and the money-I’m just so stoked.”
After the final horn rang, Joel’s shaper and ski-driver Darren Handley gave him an honor lap on the back of the ski before depositing him on the winners’ stage in front of a home crowd of close to five-thousand people. That night Parko would whack two-grand on the bar, while an elated champ and new tour leader roamed the room, getting back slaps from strangers and hugs from fellow local surfers-the Quiksilver Pro trophy stays on the Goldy ’til 2003.-Tommy Herschell