Joel Parkinson's sweet redemption
OAHU, HAWAII -- Pack them away. The asterisks, the analogies, the cute synonyms for the perennial runner-up: Send them all out to sea. Joel Parkinson is no longer a bridesmaid, an underdog or the turtle chugging along in pursuit of the hare.
As of Friday, he is the ASP world surfing champion.
"This is where I wanted to stand at the end of the year," Parkinson said after securing his first world title with a semifinal win over Damien Hobgood and a semifinal loss by 11-time world champ Kelly Slater. "I've had a bunch of runner-ups and a lot of ups and downs. I've been to hell and back, and this makes it all worth it."
In 12 years on the professional surfing tour, Parko, 31, had tallied just about every title available. He won the prestigious Triple Crown three times -- in 2008, 2009 and 2010 -- and he won nine World Tour stops, including three in 2009. Four times, he finished second in the world title race -- in 2002, 2004, 2009 and 2011 -- and he landed in the top-five six times. But until Friday, two gaping holes remained on his résumé: a win at Pipeline and an ASP world title. Before the final heat was even surfed, he cemented one of those holes.
"For so long, Parko's been the runner-up and this was the moment to really prove himself. And he did it against one hell of a freak," said five-time women's world champion Stephanie Gilmore. "For a lot of surfers, determining the worth of your world title is based on whether Kelly Slater is still on tour. So to have the greatest surfer so close in the race, in a year when his whole heart was in it, and to come out on top, that's a dream."
But it wasn't the entire dream. Although Parko was one of the most consistent surfers on tour, he secured the world title before winning a single contest this season. Pipeline was his final chance to erase the didn't-win-a-contest asterisk many folks were waiting to affix to his title.
Somehow, in the midst of all the excitement and chaos, he maintained his pre-world-title focus for one more heat and won Pipeline Masters for the first time in his career.
"Today was a big day for Parko. It was a really big ask for Joel to come out today and win this contest, and the world title," said 1983 and 1984 ASP world champion Tom Carroll. "Today was a life changer. It will allow him to relax deeply knowing the work has all been worth it."
Three years ago, Parkinson experienced a similar scenario, only in 2009, he was battling fellow Aussie Mick Fanning for the world title. Much like this year, the race was close and it came down to the final contest at Pipeline. But unlike this year, Parko didn't make it out of his third-round heat. He lost to Kauai's Gavin Gillette, and in doing so lost the world title to his good friend Fanning. It was as close as he'd come to winning a title, and the loss hurt more than any in the past. Still, he followed Fanning out of the water, hoisted him onto his shoulders and carried him onto the beach. Friday, hobbling with a bandaged left foot full of stitches, Fanning was able to repay the moment.
"He was going through a lot of pain that year, and he picked me up and carried me up the beach," Fanning said of Parkinson. "That's what you do for your friends. Friendships are bigger than anything, and he's been there for me in times of tragedy and in good times. It doesn't matter if I had a broken leg, I would have been there to carry him up the beach as the new world champion."
That's one title Parkinson doesn't mind being synonymous with his name.