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Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Updated: April 8, 4:41 PM ET
Good As Gold

By Christina Scannapiego
ESPN

Parko demonstrates his versatility with some serious above-the-lip hang time.
The glitz, the glamour, the groupies—Gene Simmons may as well have become a pro surfer, considering the fawning fans and celebrity hype that surround the front runners of the ASP Men's World Tour these days.

There's likely not a man (or woman) alive who wouldn't recognize Kelly Slater, but what about Joel Parkinson? You know, the guy who made the quarters or semis at practically every event on tour last year (and the final at Mundaka)? That guy who, on a good day, is easily the best surfer in the world and, on a bad day, still might be the best surfer in the world? The guy who could very well steal Kelly Slater's 10th World Title right from under his nose? What's his superstar M.O.?

According to one of Parko's oldest and best mates—fellow Coolangatta, Australia kid, Mick Fanning, Parko's just a "funny-looking guy that surfs really, really well."

When the two first met, back in the days of cutting class to surf and drink banana smoothies at the local café, "I was a little in awe of him," says Fanning. "But we hit it off instantly. He was just a cool, friendly kid." There aren't too many crazy whistles and bells to Parko's personality—he's just your all-around, super nice family man. He married his high school sweetheart. He has two daughters. This might just be the very reason that no twitches or glitches appear in his astounding, seamless surfing style.

Parko pays lip service to the swimming photogs.
It could be that peace of mind, coupled with abnormal talent, simply allows his body to do what it does. To say that Parko is smooth is an understatement. He makes the most difficult moves look effortless and casual. Linking one mind-blowing turn to the next, he creates more speed than any other competitor. He's comfortable in varied conditions and different wave types: from long, perfect point breaks to challenging, shifty beach breaks.

"He's one of those guys who can perform at every stop on Tour," says Fanning. Calm under pressure? Look no further than his perfect 20 score during round three of this past winter's Pipeline Masters—a first at the 38-year-old competition.

"Every now and then you get one of those random heats where everything goes your way, and that was one of those ones," Parko said at the time, downplaying the feat.

In reality, for Parko—a non-Hawaiian—to win a Triple Crown is huge. To tackle all three Hawaiian events: the rip-able, high performance Haleiwa; the huge, challenging Sunset Beach; and Pipeline—to end up the most consistent surfer at some of the hardest waves in the world? "[Winning the Triple Crown] was a goal I set in August and to achieve it has given me a lot of confidence," he says. He may just be a surf celebrity yet.

"Everyone knows he's one of the best surfers in the world," Mick says. So why hasn't Joel Parkinson won a World Title?

The man on a mission.
On Tour since 2001, Parko's been a champion-in-the-making since he was a teen. He won two Billabong Jr. World Championship titles while still in high school. Fanning paints a portrait of the powerhouse as a young man: "I remember surfing on the other side of the river from Duranbah, and Parko's board hit him where no guy ever wants his board to hit," he recalls. "He could barely walk and he had some pretty full-on bruising. He was freaking that he might never be able to procreate later in life (we now know he's got no problems in that department). Some people say that when he started surfing after the accident, something had changed—that Parko had developed this incredible new style. And he's never lost it."

When he first arrived on the pro Tour, Parko won J-Bay as a wildcard before he even broke into the Top 42. Soon a buzz surrounded his name that would only grow as years passed. He starred in iconic surf movie after iconic surf movie ("Trilogy," "3 Degrees:" about the Coolangatta Trifecta— Mick, Parko and Dingo—and his very own story, "Free as a Dog"). He won more events: Trestles, Bells, France, Snapper and Sunset. He's been close enough to the trophy to actually smell the polish—ending two seasons as runner-up to World Champ, Andy Irons.

"I want to keep ticking off those goals I've been setting," Parko said. He didn't win any events in 2008, but the Quik Pro Gold Coast is about to begin at his home break and if he gets off to a good start, 2009 could be his year. It seems that's how World Titles are won. Future World Champs put on the blinders, get into a flow, aim for the finish line and win.

The family Parko are "the most important people in my world," he says. Can someone so dedicated at home leave leave that life in the backseat to focus on the one major accomplishment that's eluded him? According to Parko, his foundation helps; it doesn't hinder. "I'm lucky to have a great family and supportive group of people around me who keep me grounded," he says.

Even Fanning, who's looking for World Title No. 2, will tell you: "He's just gotta make sure he's at his best for the final day of competition and he'll be seriously dangerous."

May the best man win.

Looking so relaxed, Parko might as well be at home on the couch watching himself in the tube on the tube.