THE SCHOOLING OF JOEL PARKINSON

posted by / Magazine / August 23, 2004

Joel is on his way to prenatal classes. It’s an experience he’ll be sharing with not only his lovely partner Monica and various health care professionals at John Flynn Private Hospital, Tugun, but also fellow pros Kieren Perrow and Troy Brooks.This may well be bad news for American surfing. Red-blooded young Australian pro surfers are breeding earlier than ever before, in the fullness of their wild, surfing powers. What kind of firebrand offspring might they spawn?

“The class had to get in groups, and in our group there was me and Mon, Brooko and Leanne, Kieren Perrow and Danielle. We all had to say what we do. You know, ‘Hi, my name’s Joel. I’m a surfer.’ “Oh hi, my name’s Troy. I’m a surfer.’ ‘My name’s Kieren. I’m a surfer.’”

Joel’s pissing himself. It sounds like an AA meeting.

We’re conversing at the top of D-bah Hill on a crisp autumn morn, a strange mix of obstetrics and ocean conditions. Our morning session has been shifted an hour early, from seven am to six, so he can make the nine o’clock birthing class, on what just happens to be the coldest morning of the year so far. It pays off. There’s only us a couple of bodyboarders on this wedging 3- to 4-foot peak off D-bah wall for almost an hour. Joel’s still deciding whether to go to Tahiti, awaiting the doctor’s latest assessment. “He says it’s touchy. The contest finishes on the 16th, that’s the longest it will last, and he says from the 18th we’re on high alert,” Joel explains.

Kids, a partner, the full domestic scene, might once have been considered a pro surfing career handicap. But after his win at Bells, just the idea of parenthood seems to be working for Joel. “Just got in a nice rhythm. I don’t know, just felt really relaxed down there,” he muses. “Maybe that’s why. Maybe it’s because there’s a bigger picture and it kind of puts things in perspective. There’s a job at hand, no freaking out … There’s so much going on with the baby it’s kind of all out of my hands. I can’t do anything about it, so…”

He holds out his upturned palms, as if handing the matter over to a higher power.

“Sometimes when you’re not focused on something,” he theorizes, “things just seem to fall into place.”

“If that works for you,” I suggest, “you might end up having a big family.”

He laughs. “Need another world title, Mon, we’re going to have to go again.”

Is this the same Parko — you may be wondering by now — this serious, reflective, forward-looking father-to-be? It all seems a million miles from the former party clown who once famously declared, “I just want to be the funnest surfer ever,” whose early wildcard, giant-killing sprees were characterized by a youthful, carefree approach. “I barely used to take life seriously, let alone a surf contest,” he notes.

It’s clear that Joel’s maturity, like his surfing powers, have been through a period of accelerated development. And it’s not just the impending new arrival. Joel made front-page headlines on the Gold Coast last year when he was arrested for drunk driving, after downing five schooners at the Kirra Pub and then chucking half a dozen donuts in the Snapper car park. The resultant blaze of publicity — the news crews and cameras waiting for him outside court, the stern lecture from the judge about being a role model — was a wake-up call. “Court’s heavy; it’s an intimidating thing to go through,” he almost wheezes at the memory. “I know people that were in court that day, a few of the crew from school and a couple of older guys that I’d seen around, and they’re reading out the report: ‘He got in his 1970 {{{Ford}}} Fairmont without a seat belt, backed it out and pulled six or seven donuts,’ and they all went, ‘WOOOOOOO,’ and I went, ‘Oh no, that’s not helping. Keep a straight face.’”

Joel copped a three-month suspension and an ${{{850}}} fine. “I didn’t really care too much actually,” he chuckles, betraying that mischievous edge. “I was down to one point. Got 12 more points now,” he grins . . . Tim Baker

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