Even the clichés have taken a break.
Gauging how absorbed a pro surfer is in The Game can usually be measured by talk of sprints and marathons. Talk of one heat at a time. Talk of the opposition knowing every grain of sand out there. Truth guarded and refreshing honesty hidden behind game-faces. But for all involved, right now the tour and its attendant hyperbole is a million miles away.
“Sweet f*ck all,” states Joel Parkinson of what’s been up to lately at home in Coolangatta. It’s the longest unbroken stretch of home-time Joel has had in a decade. There’s no talk of training. No talk of boards. No talk of the next contest. Instead there is talk of children’s parties, football games, and his long-held goal of one day dropping daughter Evie at school by paddling her across the river on his paddleboard.
The pro tour has gone into hibernation. The Tahiti event moving from its traditional window in early May to the end of August in search of better swell has created a 10-week black hole. A mid-season break longer than the entire off-season. The tour bus that had been travelling at a hundred clicks an hour has suddenly ground to a halt, and surfers have had to formulate strategic plans around doing nothing. The more cynical amongst you who consider the life of a pro surfer tantamount to a holiday at the best of times aren’t going to like what comes next.
“I’ve had two weeks of, hang on… [yawning at 3pm]… not much I suppose. I’ve been surfing on little fishes, hanging at the beach and the surf club. Just cruising. Haven’t been training, haven’t been surfing my contest boards. It’s been awesome not doing any of that. Just be a family man, be a dad, do the school runs every day. I’m picking Macy up from kindy right now.” The weather and waves have fallen into place; the kinetic summer long gone, replaced by lazy lines, balmy days, empty car parks. The only 12-hour days going down around here are all in the water.
After dropping the kids off at school, Joel’s daily ritual has only really extended to driving down to check Snapper. “It’s been so fun every day. It’s a phenomenal bank. At two foot it’s the best I’ve ever seen it, the best two-foot pointbreak in the world. The other day it was waist-high and too small to get barrelled, so I grabbed a boogieboard and got an eight-second tube out there. No shit. It’s been so much fun. The kids have been all over it. Jagger Bartholomew, Sunny Cohen, and Luka Stevenson, all these kids are on fire. It’s like what surfing Snapper in 2020 is going to be like.”
The break has also allowed normal transmission to resume with Mick Fanning, who’s also been at home for the best part of a month. After spending the back end of last year trying to avoid each other while duking out the world title, the two have been living in each other’s back pockets lately. “He faded me,” barks Joel of the wave he and Mick split at Snapper last week. “Don’t believe him if he tells you otherwise. I was riding his board, trying to fit into the same small barrel. It was such a fun little surf.”
The pair has even been daytripping down the coast together, invoking teenage days when Joel’s Commodore Vacationer with the leopard skin seat covers would be piled full of boards and blackguards and pointed south. “Yeah, it was kind of like the old days; me, Mick and Shags in the car going down the coast. We used to do a lot of trips down the coast in the old days, but in the past few years we’ve been so busy that we never have time to go down there,” recalls Joel. “It’s such a full day, you leave at 4am and get home at six that night. But we had a ball down there, got some really fun waves, got bogged. It seems like when we get together like that something hilarious happens.” The fact this time it was only Joel’s car bogged in the sand and not Mick’s ski being washed onto the rocks, as has happened during previous incursions, saw them drive home laughing instead of trying to get their stories straight for the insurance assessor. They even ran into Big Artie Beetson while getting a feed on the way home, the chance meeting with the walking headland of a man proving a good omen for Joel’s Queenslanders, who would go on to win the first State of Origin game two days later.
But while the surfers have had a break from clichés, rust never sleeps for surf writers. This 10-week spell is a false dawn, the calm before the storm if you like. The back end of the season is going to be frenetic; five events back-to-back between Tahiti and Puerto Rico where the world title will be won and lost. “It’s a hard year to prepare for,” says Joel. “It’s been so stop/start. If this was last year, my roll would have stopped after three events because the events stopped. This year no one will have any momentum coming into J-Bay. It’ll be like the first event of the season all over again. So I figure it’s the time to recharge the batteries now. With a break like this you’ve got to take it slow. You can’t rush into it and surf yourself stupid. You’ve got to have a program for your holiday. J-Bay’s not so far away I guess, eh?” I tell him it’s in six weeks. “I’m back training soon, doing a lot of paddling, back on my normal shortboards. I’m surfing my normal 6’1” this arvo. Then I’m off to Bali next week and I’ll be starting to fine tune. Come J-Bay you want to still be eager to surf and in good form. You don’t want to have surfed yourself into the ground in the break.”
Although Mick and Joel are currently holding down fourth and eighth places respectively on the ratings, neither seem too perturbed. As both found out last year, it’s momentum at the right time that wins world titles. “I think I’m in a pretty good spot,” says Joel. “I’ve had two decent results, and it’s the guys who get on a roll at the back end of the year who will fight it out. It’s all a matter of timing.”
“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” says Joel.
Clock punched. Job on.
[For video from the boys trip down the coast click here, and for more photos from Joel and Mick's trip down the coast check out next month's issue of Tracks]