Joel Parkinson recently announced his retirement at last week's Corona Open J-Bay - Men's - meaning his Round 4 exit against Conner Coffin and Jordy Smith last Thursday was the last time the Australian would be surfing Supers in a jersey. But his contributions to the South African community go beyond the WSL Championship Tour. At just 18 years old, Parkinson won the J-Bay event as a wildcard, thus sparking his long-lasting relationship with the wave. That same year, he was introduced to Thelma.
Back in 1999, Thelma was a house maid who lived about 10 miles outside of town. "When I first met her she wasn't in a great place," said Parkinson. "We started to help her out by sending money and making sure that she had the medication that she needs. Each year she's been looking better and better. It's good to see a smile on her face."
While Parko's absence from the Tour will be felt by surf fans everywhere, it will also be greatly felt by the residents of the small J-Bay township. "If it weren't for them, I would be dead," said Thelma. "I sleep in a bed, because of the boys. I can watch a TV because of the boys. My car works because of the boys."
Parkinson was introduced to Thelma by WSL cameraman John Gordon. The two have been sponsoring Thelma and her family ever since - sending money and household necessities when needed. Both have made it a habit of visiting her every year when they're in town for the Corona Open J-Bay.
"Thelma has been through some really traumatic events and when we met her she didn't think we would want anything to do with her," said Gordon. "That's when you step up and show true love."