Surfline - Joel Parkinson's Key to Pro Surfing Longevity
The key to success in competitive surfing these days is hard to pinpoint. Sometimes if you're too ferocious in a heat, you'll make a mistake. If you're too conservative, you'll never be able to get past the world's best. Joel Parkinson is a veteran World Tour competitor who knows how to win - heats, contests, world titles- Parko's done it all. On the heels of a runner up finish at Lowers, Joel sat down with Surfline to discuss his motivation, career, other business ventures and when he thinks he'll finally hang up the rashy.
Were you surprised with the result at Lowers?
I guess I was a little surprised with the result, but I wasn’t surprised with my surfing. I feel like when I’m really keen and eager to surf, I’m still capable of being one of the best in the world. My enthusiasm to compete has definitely changed over the years. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I really think it came down to that [Round 1] heat with Mick. In the lead-up to the event, I knew I was going to have that heat with Mick. That just fired me up to wanna get out there and get it done.
Did you ever lose the drive to compete? And has it come back?
I wouldn’t say I lost the drive. I never lost it. But there were some days when it got hard. I just didn’t feel enthusiastic enough to do it. Like I lost a couple heats last year and I didn’t really care afterwards. This year, I’ve been more enthusiastic.
What’re your thoughts on retirement?
I might do five years, I might do five months. I really don’t know when I’ll throw it in. Now that I’ve put that in my mind – like, ‘hey I’m just going to go out there and enjoy it’ – just saying that to myself has fired me up. Ever since I made the decision of, ‘I don’t know when the end is,’ it’s been a lot easier to switch on contest-mode and to switch it off. I’ve really enjoyed the last couple events and not being a determined, selfish motherfucker – which is what you have to be to win. I feel like a spectator…but one that’ll kick some guys’ asses along the way.
Is there anything in particular that you want to achieve before you do call it quits?
I’d really love to win another event. That’s my goal before I go. And I want another heat with Mick. I had that three-man heat with him and Jaddy and I got to kick his ass. That was definitely one box ticked, but hopefully I get another box.
How has watching Mick, and seeing him take a sabbatical, impacted your views of post-Tour life?
He has put things into perspective for me. Not that he’s not determined at events, but watching him enjoy his time and not being psychotic about winning has been cool for me to see. As one of my best friends, to see him enjoying himself has really helped me. He has worked so hard at his career, and now he’s enjoying the benefits of it and surfing the waves he wants to surf and doing what he wants to do. He’s not living or dying by a certain path. I look at that and I hope that I’ve dedicated enough to where I can be like him, enjoying the fruits of it all.
What’s it like being a veteran on Tour? Do the younger guys look to you for advice?
Everyone is always saying, ‘here’s the old guy, Joel!’ I’m not even the old guy. There are so many guys that’re older than me on Tour. I’ve been there a long time, but I’m definitely not the oldest by a longshot. Nobody called Taj the old guy, or Kelly, or Otto. They’re older than me and I get tagged as it and I don’t know why. But I have been there a while and I love to give advice. There are a lot of great guys on Tour. I’m happy to tell stories of way back when. Or even help out with really talented guys who might be underachieving.
At Lowers, you said that ‘flow’ is something that you’ve gotten better at over the years – do you feel like you’re surfing, all around, better than you ever have?
Not really. I wouldn’t say that. That’s a hard thing to say. I think that over the years, everyone improves. I wouldn’t say I’m surfing worse, but everyone improves over time. I look back at my second year on Tour when I got runner-up, and I look back at my surfing – you wouldn’t even make the Tour with that today, yet I was #2 in the world. I think that surfing just progresses and everyone progresses with it.
What do you think about the Title race this year? The amount of talent that’s there, you probably can guarantee that it’s going to Pipe now. For me, personally, I think John’s on the right track. But I still think Gabriel is probably the most talented. I’m a huge fan of both, I don’t take sides. I’m just hoping for a great show. A lot can happen in France.
What’s your strategy heading into the European leg? Anything beyond just good surfing?
For me, France is like getting a packet of M&Ms and throwing them in the air and trying to catch as many as you can. You never know what you’re going to get. It’s one of those ones where you can be the best surfer, then the heat starts and the tide comes in, the waves stop, and the other guy gets two 4’s on the inside. The year that I won the Title and Kelly beat me in the semis, I had one heat where I got a 10 and a 9.8, then the next heat I won with a total of 7 points. And Portugal, too – those are two of the trickiest spots. The conditions change, you never sit in the same place, waves never break the same. Two heats before you paddle out, guys are standing in barrels, then yours’ is like shitty shorebreak or something weird.
Balter Brewing, Shade sunscreen, and an airport lounge? Are your extracurricular business ventures just passion projects or your post-Tour retirement plan?
I’d say they’re both. We’re all really excited and passionate about Balter. Post-Tour I’ll be there all the time and helping out as much as I can. And same with Shade sunscreen with Hippo and myself. I guess Hippo doesn’t want to be taking off on 50-footers or pulling into The Right for the rest of his life. Hopefully those little things will pay some bills for us and we get some enjoyment and get to stay in the industry. And yeah, I got a chunk of a little café bar at the Cooly Airport. It’s always busy airport so hopefully it goes well.