Pic: Billabong

” I just want to surf for the complete and utter enjoyment of it.”

Why Joel Parkinson is walking away from the World Tour.

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The Joel Parkinson Special Edition of SW is now available. Grab your copy right here, before they are all snapped up. This interview is an excerpt from the full version, available in the magazine.

SW: How’s The Festival of Joel going?
JP: [Sighs] Hectic. Mate, it’s hard work, retiring. I’m nervous about Hawaii. Apparently, the party goes for four days. There’s a huge family and friends gathering, a luau with the Hawaiians, and a bunch of other things I have to do. It’s freaking me out.

Is it getting awkward having everyone talking about you?
I hate compliments. I fucking hate being complimented. It’s been something I’ve struggled with in a silly way. I love complimenting other people, but I find it gives me a weird feeling when people compliment me or my surfing. I don’t know.

What about the style thing? Surely you’ve got to get off on people saying they like your surfing style?
I don’t mind that one. I guess in surfing it’s good to know some part of my surfing will be missed. I’ve had people say your style is going to be missed on tour and that’s nice to hear. Style I guess was such a bigger thing when we were younger, and even before my time it was even bigger again. In the ‘70s it was all about your style and no one wanted to look like anyone else. Everyone was really individual in the way they looked and surfed the wave and the lines they drew.

Does style still live with anyone on tour? Who’s carrying the flame?
Connor Coffin. I think Ace Buchan has a great style. Out of the Brazilians I think Yago Dora has a great style. But it’s one of those things. Style officially doesn’t count on tour. You can’t quantify it, so it doesn’t get a look in.

Going back to the start of the season and we talked a few days out from the Snapper contest, and you were freaking out about it. You just didn’t want to surf. Was it really that bad?
It’s just a bummer Mick had already announced his retirement as I might have retired right then on the spot. I was close, but I did want to see the full year out. I really was trying to get to that 20-year mark, but fuck, I don’t think I’d have my marbles if I got there. But once I announced it, it felt amazing. The finish line is right there.

At what point did you start turning up to contests and think, what the hell am I doing here?
The last 18 months, two years, I had a few contests where I was thinking, you know, this is hard. Where’s the emotion? Where’s the nervous energy? Where’s all that? Last year in France I made the quarters but I was forcing myself to care. I wasn’t faking it, I still wanted to win and go out and surf well, but it was the way I felt before my heats. Usually your blood pressure and heart rate is up with nervous energy and it just wasn’t happening.

You told me that during the 2011 season you were contemplating walking away from the tour.
I just lost the fire. I wasn’t walking away for good, but I needed a break from competing. I went through Europe and had the same emotion of wanting to give up. I was just fried. Losing Andy had something to do with it, but it also could have been that a I put a fair bit into those Triple Crowns as well, which meant that at the back end of the year you’re basically away for six months. I didn’t do the Triple Crown that year and did a month at home and it put it into perspective. I had a young family and I needed to feed them. I was being paid to go surfing. It wasn’t that bad.

Then you mentioned you went to Hawaii and surfed Sunset on an old Alan Byrne channel bottom and you saw things differently.
Yeah, that changed it for me. When I first started going to Hawaii my ritual was to surf that AB board at Sunset without a leggie, catch some waves, do some swimming. That was how I connected with Hawaii, so I got to Hawaii and dug out the AB and suddenly life was good again. I’m going to do it again this year, actually. I’ve got that board still there at Uncle Bryan’s house. I’m gonna go and grab my AB and surf Sunset with no leggie. One for old times’ sake.

Looking back, you’d be pretty glad you didn’t retire in 2011 seeing you won the world title the following year.
In hindsight that would have been a pretty fucking dumb decision, so I’m glad I went on. I remember Kelly’s movie Letting Go, and it was very clichéd like that but that’s how it was for me too. I let everything go, and then suddenly I had a drive to win but not a care to lose. It was a weird position to be in mentally as a competitor, as generally you take your losses so bad, but I didn’t care for them. I got to Pipe for the title and I kept telling myself nothing would change if I didn’t win that day… although I’m sure there’d have been some regret down the track if I hadn’t won and was the most losing world title surfer on the planet.

What about challenges for your surfing [in this next phase]?
I’m drawing up the bucket list of waves as we speak. Skeleton Bay, I’m definitely going. I love going left, you know. I don’t enjoy going right that much unless it’s Kirra or somewhere really barrelling. I’d rather a left every day of the week. And I want to start getting back to Cloudbreak. It’s a $350 ticket and it’s three hours from home. Surf contests get in the way of so many things. Challenges? I mean, there’s no way I’m connecting the dots on a regular shortboard again, but I really want to get into the twinnies.

Do you feel you could have done that 10 years ago, to explore your surfing a little more on different boards and break it out of a contest paradigm?
Yeah, but 10 years ago I still had that drive to surf contests, and that took over everything. I know it’s probably bad to say this, but I don’t care for improving my surfing right now. I want to get as tubed as I can, but I’ve tried to improve my surfing for 20 years and it’s hard work. I just want to enjoy it now. I don’t give a shit for a big air, I just want to surf for the complete and utter enjoyment of it. I want to surf to put a smile on my face. I have no interest in being better; I want to feel better. I like surfing, it makes me feel good, and the reason I surf is to feel good.

Sean Doherty