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Tuesday, December 18, 2012
One-on-one with Parko

By Jon Coen

Joel Parkinson just won the ASP World Title. Of course he did. The question is: how has he not won it sooner?

Back in 1999, the smooth regular foot from the Gold Coast won the ASP Junior World Championships. That year, he was given a wildcard into the Billabong Pro South Africa at Jeffrey's Bay -- and stole it. By 2002, he was second in the world to Andy Irons. He was certainly as dominant in his day as past Aussie world champs Barton Lynch and Damien Hardman had been in theirs.

Parkinson became one of the best frontside tube riders of all time. He busted bigger and higher as airs became an integral part of the game. He tangled with Slater and Fanning for World Titles. He went on to win a couple Tour events in his hometown and the world's most iconic venues: Trestles, Sunset, Bells, Hossegor and J-Bay again. He amassed a very impressive trio of Vans Triple Crowns.

But if you look at Parko's stats, the most glaring is the four times he was second best; runner up for the world title in 2002, 2004, 2009, and 2011. Parkinson became entrapped in the barnyard of his own head, the ASP World Title a greased pig continually slipping through his fingers.

Even this year, where he was more consistent than a Rolex with a 15.15 heat average, he lost three times in the final and three times in the semifinal. The man just couldn't close the deal.

But the prize that has eluded this man for so long is now his. And will Kelly Slater having put in a 100% committed season and Parkinson winning the Billabong Pipe Masters In Memory of Andy Irons to put that W on the bottom of his 2012 score card, no on can take anything away from this monumental achievement.

Right after collecting the top honors in professional surfing, ESPN sat down with Parkinson in the soft grass behind the Billabong house overlooking Backdoor to see if number one felt all it was cracked up to be. We get the impression you're a guy who really wanted this and really worked at it. Does winning the title feel as good as you thought it would?
Parkinson: It's a little early to say, but it does feel pretty good. The satisfaction feels amazing. I think it will get real when I get back home with my whole family and friends.

Joel Parkinson celebrates with young Axel Irons, son of the late Andy Irons, with coach Wes Berg and friend Mick Fanning in the background.

What's the word from Australia? Surfing is a bit more mainstream sport there. Have any officials called to congratulate you?
(Laughs) Not yet. I've heard that the Gold Coast City is putting on a pretty big thing. I think it's for the 19th of January. But there have definitely been a lot of "functions" happening already.

After getting so many second and fifth places all year, how does winning Pipe and getting that one World Tour victory validate the world championship?
I was really devastated when I lost Teahupoo. Losing to Mick (Fanning) ... I mean, I was really devastated about that. The first thing I thought of on Friday, was that I lost that event, and it made me so hungry to go and get a win. And I would forgo that to win a Pipe Masters and a world title on the last day of the season. I would have liked to have won at Teahupoo, but the Pipe Masters is just as special, if not more.

Think about the last couple years when you felt so close or when you were injured. Were there any really dark points when you really felt desperate?
I think losing in 2009 was really hard. It was hard because I was so close and it all went away. In 2010, I was so psyched. I was having a good year, got a couple of good results. Then after June, mid season, just before it got serious, I cut my heal off. I didn't walk for three months, and I was just thinking "Is this worth it? Is this how hard it's meant to be?" I got a few texts from friends recently that were just like "How sweet was that?" That it didn't come easy, that it came so hard. It's so true. It does feel that much better.

So when you tell your kids the story of winning the World Title on that infamous day at Pipe, 20 years from now. What kind of lessons will come out of that story?
You tell your kids that no matter what, you set your goals and you go for them. Whatever it is you achieve, never give up. You want your kids to have that good attitude, the confidence and the will power to believe in themselves.

"You tell your kids that no matter what, you set your goals and you go for them. Whatever it is you achieve, never give up. You want your kids to have that good attitude, the confidence and will power to believe in themselves," says Parkinson.

You definitely won in a good season. In 2011, the headlines were all about no-shows, controversial tour stops, and webcast outbursts. But this year, it was all about barrels.
This was a pretty good year. Lowers pumped. France was insane. We had a lot of good waves. Even Brazil was amazing. I guess you're only as good as the waves.

After the title was won, Kelly Slater talked about you being good friends with Shane Dorian, as he is. When you throw Mick Fanning into the mix, there's another layer. And of course, everything comes back to Andy Irons. Talk about that brotherhood.
Shane-o is one of my team members on Billabong and we're very close for years, traveling and hanging out. Kelly and Shane-o have been best friends since they were really young. It's the way surfing is -- you grow up surfing together and then you're thrown into a heat at Pipe or a world title bout against one another. Look at that 2009 season. This year, it was so good having Mick here in my yard. He kept wishing me luck before every heat. He was there, pulled me out of the water when I won and cheered me up. You know, I did that for him in '09 when he won. It was awesome to sit on his shoulders and I'm sure it was just as exhilarating for him to turn the favor. I was so honored by that. And with Andy, it's so cool to win the event that is in memory of a good friend of mine. I'm so proud to have that Gerry Lopez board with the A.I. artwork on it. That's so special.

So, it doesn't seem that there are too many changes to the tour next year. But when we come back in 2014, things could be very different, with new parties having control over the ASP. You're in a position of influence now. Do you see any pitfalls in that?
I see a lot of positives. I'm sure there are some negatives. I'm sure some people may lose their jobs. But we're for natural progression. I think it has to happen. It's a positive. I think we want to make the sport bigger and better and leave a good legacy for the next generation that comes through. From when I first went on tour to now, it's even better. How's it going to be when John John (Florence) is Kelly's age? I think it's got to happen.