But while its Joel’s sublime surfing talent that has taken him around the globe chasing perfect waves, it’s his laidback groove that has seen him build a small army of friends and fans along the way. Always the lovable larrikin, Joel is simply a fun guy to hang around. After marrying his high school sweetheart, Monica, they were soon joined by two daughters, Evie and Macy, and their young bloke, Mahli, and the Parkinsons today travel the world together as a family as Dad chases the dream.
Parko’s story is a sporting classic.
It’s July 1999, and an 18-year-old kid from the Gold Coast is about to re-write surfing history on the hallowed walls of Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa. After scoring a wildcard start in the Billabong Pro, teenager from Coolangatta paddles out against the world’s best surfers and proceeds to systematically dismantle them. He doesn’t even really seem to be trying that hard, he’s just doing what he does. The accidental prodigy wins the contest in a canter and a disbelieving surfing world has just been introduced to a kid known as “Parko”.
Today, Parko remains for many the most naturally gifted surfer on the planet. The Gold Coaster possesses a smooth, hypnotic style that almost disguises just how seismic his surfing really is. His act is the product of some good surfing DNA, and a childhood spent surfing some of the finest pointbreaks on the planet. But in recent years however Joel has also become one of professional surfing’s fittest, most dedicated athletes.
In surfing he’s done the lot. He’s won 12 world tour events at iconic waves like Pipeline, Sunset Beach, Jeffreys Bay, Bells Beach and California, in Bali and at his home break of Snapper Rocks. He’s surfed perfect heats at Pipeline and J-Bay and Keramas. He’s made the ASP/WSL Top 5 on nine occasions. He’s won the Hawaiian Triple Crown three times in a row, featured in dozens of surf movies, had surf mag covers coming out the wazoo and had a million words written about him, almost every one of them glowing.
In a career where he’d pretty much done everything else, there was only one mountain left to climb – the world title.
Joel had finished runner-up for the ASP World Title an astonishing four times, the most heartbreaking of those in 2009 when he led the ratings all year only to blow out an ankle and lose the world title to best mate Mick Fanning in the final event of the year at Pipeline. Having lost the title only minutes before and broken down in tears, he dusted himself off, pulled himself together, and walked down to chair Mick up the beach.
In 2012 he went into the last event of the season – the Billabong Pipeline Masters – leading the ratings by a whisker, this time from 11-time world champ Kelly Slater. In one of the most drama-packed days in pro surfing history, Joel and Kelly traded the lead in the world title race four times, but when Kelly eventually fell short in his semi-final it was Parko who was finally crowned World Champ. “And to have been so close before, for me it makes winning that much sweeter,” Joel said afterward. “If it came easy I wonder if I’d feel the same? I’m sure it would have felt great but it can’t have felt as sweet as this.”