Billabong Pipe Masters

Joel Parkinson and the Mastery of Cruise Control

Anna Dimond

Taj has retired. Mick has scaled back. But Joel Parkinson, the Championship Tour veteran and 2012 World Champ who came up with those fellow, hallowed names, is still having fun. So much fun, in fact, that the Aussie legend, who's currently ranked No. 8, confirmed he'll be back to compete on the CT in 2017.

Joel Parkinson during Round 1 of the Rip Curl Pro Portugal. Parkinson is enjoying himself more than ever after in his 16th year on Tour. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

Parkinson's attitude is in stark contrast to some of his contemporaries. Kelly Slater said this week that he wants one more Title and Mick Fanning came this close to winning his fourth World Title last year. Joel is the picture of relaxation: Tan, fit and equipped with an effortless style thanks to years of experience in the ocean. Before he left Portugal for a London jaunt with his family (attending the stage version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was first on the agenda), he took some time to reflect on where he's been, where he's going, and how his outlook compares to those of the CT's other elder statesmen.

Parko on Instagram. Parko opines on John's ascent. - WSL / @joelparko

You had a beautiful Instagram post the day after John won the World Title. What's your take on his ascent?
He and Gabriel are the world's two greatest surfers. It's progressed so far. Kelly used to be leaps and bounds above everyone else. But now what John John and Gabriel are doing, it's so amazing. At the beginning of the year, I was really baffled that with their talent they weren't able to put it together. They should both be taking it. Now that they both have, there's this sense that they belong here…they aren't going to lose. I think that could be the next Andy and Kelly rivalry but they are both such good guys.

Now that [Gabriel and John] have this sense that they belong here, they aren't going to lose. I think that could be the next Andy and Kelly rivalry.

WSL: How are you feeling about where you are at in the rankings, at World No. 8?

Joel Parkinson I missed Fiji because of my knee and I missed Brazil. I got 25th in France. I've had a couple of bad results. If I could've flipped those results, I could've had a chance at the Title. But yeah, I'm excited about Hawaii. I've done well there in the past. If I could be somewhere around the 5th spot, I'll be happy. That's kind of my goal right now.

Parko at Trestles
Despite injuring himself just a few months prior, by the time Trestles rolled around in September, Parko was ready. He ripped the place apart, to finish as runner-up.

How is your knee?
My knee is fine. I just started surfing around the end of the waiting period for Fiji. But I couldn't risk it. It was the day before and I would've had to surf the next day and I just couldn't do it. It was a hard one to watch, being Taj's last event. When I was at home on the couch watching that, it was hard, which is good though. It inspired me. It put me in gear.

Joel Parkinson winning his Round Three heat. A huge part of Parko's happiness these days is finding comfort in every situation. 16-years of globe-trotting perspective helps him fit into every one of the world's corners with ease. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

When you look at the next year, there's been some shifting with Taj retiring and Mick pulling back. Does that affect you at all?
Yeah, definitely. I can honestly say that I won't be on tour five years from now. But I'm committed to next year. I'm not too sure about the following year. I've really enjoyed it. At the start of this year, I would've said that next year is my last year but I've enjoyed this year so much that I'm too scared to give that up.

Joel Parkinson during Round Three. Parkinson finished in ninth place in Tahiti after coming off his knee injury. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

I don't want to say that I'm going to commit to anything because a month from now I could be 5th and loving to surf in heats. I don't want to force myself into a position to retire.

What has made this year so enjoyable?
I don't know. I think I'm at the point in my career where I'm just enjoying it. I'm just surfing the way that I want to surf and taking advantage of the benefits we have while being on tour. There's a lot of stresses and a lot of crap that you can take in when you are really focused on it.

I think I'm at the point in my career where I'm just enjoying it. I'm just surfing the way that I want to surf and taking advantage of the benefits we have while being on tour.

But if you just have the sole purpose of enjoying your last couple years on tour, all those distractions go away. Like getting annoyed with sitting down and going to interviews and stuff. I remember when I was really trying to win, timing and everything was so structured. The routine was full on.

Parko Style
Joel's silky-smooth form will never, ever go out of style.

Now I'm more relaxed. The waves weren't that good this morning so I didn't surf. I've learned to trust my instincts more. The rookies seem to have a very different outlook. I've been there. It's intense. It just feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. You've got to prove yourself and you want to prove yourself.

Now I don't really have anything to prove. I have a great life. It's going to give me a lot more longevity as well. Mick is one of those guys that can't do that.

Now I don't really have anything to prove. I have a great life. It's going to give me a lot more longevity as well. Mick is one of those guys that can't do that. It's all or nothing for him. I wish he could be like, 'Let's just sit back and enjoy it. Surf some heats, have some fun and enjoy it.' You deserve it. We've stuck so hard for so long. I'm not saying he doesn't enjoy it. There's just a different perspective -- all or nothing.

Joel at Snapper Crowds aside, for Parko nothing is sweeter than a good surf at home. - WSL

What do you think has made you different in that way?
I don't know. I had a family when I was pretty young. It really taught me how to switch on and off. I have my family hat and my competitive hat. I guess that's why I've found it a little easier. When I show up to a heat, I'm there to win but 30 minutes later I'm cruising again.

What were some of those conversations like with your family, when it comes to the tour?
When I had my first born -- she kept me more grounded. Surfing can be pretty selfish. When Monica had her we went to Japan and were staying in this house. There were paper walls. There was some foam on the ground and that was our room. We had a six-week-old baby. We didn't know what we were doing. We would take turns walking her through the streets in Chiba. It was so hot, she wouldn't sleep. The food was crap. It was the worst. We didn't know how we would do it. But then it got easier. I was still doing well though, I made it to the Final and CJ [Hobgood] beat me.

Did you and Monica have tough talks about it?
Not really. She just came. We were young. We went to like nine countries before the baby was a year old. She loves it now.

Parko's Pit
Parko shook off his early-round loss in France by turning his attention to the GoPro Challenge, and it paid off

Does your family come with you on every stop?
They came to Africa. They came to Bells. Then all through Europe. They're in school though. They probably miss three or four weeks of school throughout the year, which isn't too bad, considering. My son is going to come with me to Hawaii -- it's a boys' trip.

What do you think you have learned after all this time that you wish you would've known as a rookie?
They are so young. They just need good people traveling with them. Someone who has a bit of tour experience. I think what concerns me, is a lot of these guys have people that work constantly with them. When you compete, you learn a lot about yourself. You have to understand why you won or why you lost and all of that. You're living and dying by your own sword. Sometimes other people get too involved. I think sometimes surfers need to explore it on their own, more so than having someone that is always coaching them.

Someone like Kanoa, he's so young he probably needs someone teaching him about strategy. But three or four years from now he won't. It's good to be able to cultivate your own way of doing things. Make your own decisions.

Watch Parko surf next at the Billabong Pipe Masters, Dec. 8 -20, live daily.

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