SURFING looks into the crystal ball post-Pipeline
The tight title race between Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson is God’s gift to competitive surfing. The story is there for the taking — we could probably milk a whole month out of Rob/Kelly comparisons alone, theorizing about how the year’s final event might unfold. But the real story here is how this race is going to change the course of two stellar surfing careers. What could be the fate of our jersey-clad heroes if the title race doesn’t go their way?
Situation: Fanning wins World Title
The Iron Man comes back. Again. The competitive machine takes out the lovable almost-was. Mick gets chaired up the beach, flexing his massive biceps, and Parko grimly fights back tears as he helps ferry the title-winner up the beach. The title that was supposed to be his. The title that the surf industry had been claiming for him since the first event of 2009, way back on the Gold Coast.
Mick’s win will surely cement a place for the rabid competitor in surfing — the Professional. Mick has already primed the trend towards professionalism, with CHEK programs, personal trainers, and the slow extinction of his alter-ego as the adorably intoxicated professional surfer. His second win will accelerate this trend. Surf P.E. will no longer be a way to skip gym class — it will be a period of wind sprints and sweaty hours in the weight room. Kids will spend more time charting heat strategy on blackboards than they’ll spend in the water. There will be spandex. The next generation of champions will be subject to rounds of drug testing, stringent diets and Cliff Bar sponsorships. Several titles later, Mick will come under scrutiny when it’s suggested by an anonymous source that he won with the assistance of a previously unknown steroid. Nothing will be proven.
And Joel? Joel will descend into madness. How couldn’t he? He’s been so close for so long. He had the title in his hands. The media had all but held an award ceremony for him after J-Bay. Ankle injury or not, the pain of a dream deferred is too much for him. Joel unceremoniously drops off tour. He takes his family to an uncharted island in the South Pacific where they construct their own world a la The Swiss Family Robinson, tree houses and all. A place where they are the only locals, and Daddy Parko wins his own world title every time he surfs. Some number of years in the future, a crew of cinematographers will be dispatched by Billabong to make contact with the former world tour contender. They will come across a tribe of ultra-stylish, regular-footed natives who speak fondly of the day their mousy-haired forefather came forth from the sea and showed them how to do cutbacks.
Situation: Parko Wins
And if Parko wins? It will do little to change the face of professional surfing. Parko deserves the title. Everyone wants him to win. It will be a glorious cherry on top of a legendary competitive career. With a victory, the pressure will be off. He will no longer face the stigma of being an almost-was. He can be referred to in press-releases as “former World Champion Joel Parkinson” rather than the variety of euphemisms the press uses to refer to someone who was good, but not quite good enough. Parko can leave the tour happily, and spend the rest of his days in some Valhalla of the retired professional surfer, unburdened by thoughts of what could have been if it wasn’t for that ill-fated ankle injury in Indonesia.
Mick will see the joy in his friend’s face and feel the sting of glory being stolen away. He’ll pause and think, ”Is this how it feels to lose? Is this what I’ve been doing to people?”
Deflated and disillusioned, Mick will resign from the tour, but not before taking on a My Name is Earl-type quest of apology to every surfer he’s ever beaten — for every dream he’s ever crushed with his sharp 8’s-or-lates approach to competition. He will become a Hare Krishna and other pro surfers will see him passing out spiritual pamphlets at the airport, on their way to Teahupo’o or Bells Beach. They’ll go for a bro-shake, and Mick will go for a hug, and it will be awkward. But they’ll be glad they don’t have to surf against him anymore