Parko Parked at the Peak
Two events down, and the hype machine has been in full effect. Chopes is underway, and Joel Parkinson is the name that's grabbing all the attention these days. Parko won back to back events on the 2009 ASP World Tour, decisively taking down the best of the best. (And while I'm still not counting our golden boy Kelly Slater out just yet, his twin 17ths to wild cards at the first two events have taken a lot of wind out of his sails.)
Parko's rise to the top has hardly been meteoric. Aside from his middle-of-the-pack finish during his 2001 freshman year (cut short due to the Sept. 11 attacks), Joel has been a tour front-runner since 2002, where he finished runner-up to his pal Andy Irons. But he's never been able to seal the deal. Of course, that doesn't mean he hasn't got fans in high places. Andy Irons recently told me he's Joel Parkinson's biggest fan, and King Slater has said that "Parko is always on and is phenomenal. Every day is a good day for Joel." Fellow pro surfers and fans have all known for a long time that Joel belongs at the front of the pack, and even on top. The only one who took a bit longer to realize his place in history is Joel Parkinson himself.
Now in the catbird seat, ahead of the pack by some 800 points, Parko will have to deal with the pros and cons of being the clear front-runner.
First, the good: With his wins at the Gold Coast and at Bells Beach come self-confidence. Parko has always been a ratings powerhouse, but pro surfing world champions have that certain je ne sais quoi. Joel Parkinson now has that "take no prisoners" approach indicative of a champion. The buzz surrounding his back-to-back wins also does a head job on his opponents, reminding them who is No. 1 and officially putting them on notice.
Now, for the bad: Parko's now the clear target the guy everyone wants to take down in Round 2. As much as everyone on tour admires his talent and his style, make no mistake: While all the surfers on the tour are stoked for him, deep down, they'd love to stop him in his tracks. Furthermore, Parko is expected to win. (Sound familiar?) Fans and fellow World Tour surfers alike have hopped aboard the Parko bandwagon, and he now has to try to live up to that expectation. It will mean a lot of pressure heading into the Tahiti event.
Considering that the last three times anyone won the first two events of the year, he went on to win the title (Kelly Slater in 2006 and 2009, and Sunny Garcia in 2000), Joel's title odds are looking good. During his career, he's also won World Tour events at J Bay, Trestles, France and Hawaii (Sunset, but not Pipe), proving he's got the chops to win these events once again and finish on top at year's end. Stay tuned as the Parko show moves to Tahiti next week for the Billabong Pro Teahupoo. He made the semis the past two years. Can he continue his winning roll?
ASP Addict is a staff writer for Dailystoke.com