Tim Baker |
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Nearly 10 years ago,  at a time when a Parko world title seemed an inevitability, the young Snapper hottrat had joked, ‘I’d love to do it, just to see how mad all my mates would go.’

In the decade since, having finished second an agonizing four times, Joel must have sometimes wondered if he’d ever get the chance to witness the mayhem his greatest surfing achievement would inspire.

Finally, on a wet and stormy Summer evening at the Rainbow Bay surf club, Joel Parkinson finally got to see just how mad his mates would go. The answer – very mad indeed.

At its heart, Coolangatta is still a close-knit surf town bound together by an array of cross-generational surfing families, who scramble into the sea as kids with the instinct of baby sea turtles. The town has had plenty to celebrate in surfing over the years since the original Cooly Kids  – Peter Townend, Michael Peterson and Rabbit Bartholomew – surfed to glory in the ‘70s. There’ve been world junior champs Deano and Parko, world masters champ Rabbit, world airshow champ Josh Kerr, world junior champ Jack Freestone, world tour champs Mick Fanning, Steph Gilmore and Occy.

But a Parko world title, anticipated keenly since he won J-Bay as an 18-year-old wildcard 13 years ago, was the most long-awaited prize of all.

As good mate Ado Wiseman pointed out, ‘He’s probably the only world champ with three kids there’ll ever be.’ The magnitude of that achievement, as anyone with kids will know, deserves serious contemplation.

‘I want to thank every other world champion in the room or from this town,’ Joel began fittingly.

He thanked family and friends, shaper JS, media manager Sean Doherty, trainer Wes Berg and then got down to the most heartfelt thank you of the night to his wife Monica. ‘We were really young when we had kids and we’ve grown old, well, not old but we’ve grown up together,’ he said. ‘She understands me, and it’s a great formula and I love her to death. She’s the most special person in the world.’

He then thanked the entire surfing community for the groundswell of support he’d received, ‘All the support here I should have had way more world titles than just one. That was a day I’ll never forget. I woke up that morning and I didn’t give a shit, I wasn’t losing. I needed this.’  The crowd roared like it was a footy grand final.

Then dreadlocked blues and roots man Ash Grunwald got up and played a tight, growling, fuzz rock set, before a hip DJ dude got on the decks and kept the crowd jumping well into the night.

In a sense, this was a celebration of an entire surfing community – of mates and coaches and shapers and support crews who make a surfing dream like Joel’s possible. There was Paul Hallass, whose Hot Stuff label produced the first board Joel ever owned, Rod Dahlberg who shaped Joel’s boards from the pivotal ages of 18 to 20, including the winning J-Bay board. There was Joel’s beaming father Brian who couldn’t wipe the smile off his face all night, who’d supported his family by the sweat of his brow as a builder and dreamed of a better life for his son. And Joel’s uncle Darryl, a freakishly talented surfer who was the subject of just as many gushing testimonies to his potential as a junior before taking a trade as a tiler.

There was an emotional Rabbit Bartholomew, dispensing passionate headlocks and extolling the virtues of this surf-mad town with feverish pride. ‘People write the place off, say it’s this and that. What about a nursery for world surfing champions?’ He had a point. Surely Coolangatta must have the highest incidence of surfing champions per capita in the world.

Things were always going to get messy and I slipped away quietly before they did, leaving Joel in a scrum of his mates at the bar, or shuffling unsteadily to the tunes with his wife. It’s been said before but never ceases to amaze – how men capable of the most unearthly grace on a surfboard can be so uncomfortable on a dance floor.

 Outside the rain fell and an early Summer swell was already rolling down the point at Snapper, ready to launch the surfing dreams of another generation about to enjoy the great school holiday surf binge, in a place that is still a  grommet paradise.

Say what you will about Cooly and the wider GC – its unchecked development, its ludicrous mayor, its shameless shiesters, its bogan influx on a Saturday night. The nursery of surfing champions isn’t about to stop producing graduates any time soon.




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