Back To School For Parko

Thursday, 02 May 2013

Words: Nick Carroll
Photos: SurfAid

It’s a familiar story for a lot of champion surfers.

Joel Parkinson was in Year 4 at high school when he was told by a teacher that surfing wouldn’t take him anywhere.

Today Parko, 32 years of age, wealthy, successful and a married parent of three kids, fronted an assembly at Barrenjoey High School as Surf Aid’s newly christened ambassador for its schools program.

You’ll all have heard of Surf Aid. If you haven’t, you should. The organisation was kick started in 2000 by Dr David Jenkins after the good doctor went on a Mentawais surf trip and saw the need for medical care among the chain’s villages.

Parko joins in during a class at Barren Joey High.

Joel Parkinson joins in on some geography work at Barrenjoey High School as Surf Aid's ambassador.

In 2004 Surf Aid’s rapid response to the Boxing Day tsunami super-disaster put it on the international radar. It fired up Barrenjoey High teacher and longtime surfer Milton Brown, who has since made Surf Aid a post-career mission. In 2007 Milt and fellow Barrenjoey teacher Kerry McEwan wrote a draft of what would become SA’s schools education program, which connects schoolkids here and around the world with what’s happening in the islands off West Sumatra.

Billabong’s been a big supporter of the program, so maybe it was a fait accompli that Joel get involved. But he’s clearly got his own mind on the subject. He told the assembly he’d been tweaked by the tsunami and its aftermath: “That’s when the world saw what Surf Aid was doing... I went up there (to the Ments) for the first time when I was 18 and we went all the way up the chain so I knew how important it was. It was a huge honour to be asked (to be ambassador), it was easy for me to jump on board.”

The kids looked like Barrenjoey kids have forever: a lot of scraggly blond hair, a few Rebels, and a lot of very serious grown-up-looking girls.

They were in awe of Parko, this big strong dark-haired world champ surf star, but the awe swiftly wore off as Joel took questions from the floor. The first one was classic: “What colour wax do ya use??”

“You could tell what he was thinking,” Joel confided off stage. “He wasn’t thinking of anything! Except going surfing this arvo.”

When he told ‘em that Little Avalon was the spot he most wanted to surf, he had ‘em.

More than 2,000 teachers in Australia, California, New Zealand and the UK have signed on to the Surf Aid schools program, backed by resources, pics, videos and info supplied by the organisation and covering subjects from geography, local music, social issues and (obviously) health.

It’s clearly good stuff, but tell you what, if they could get Parko to go to all those 2,000 schools, Surf Aid would be off the hook.

The teacher back in Year 4, by the way, ended up a friend. Recently he bought one of Parko’s old rashies at a charity auction for $400. “He doesn’t discourage people from surfing any more,” Joel told the kids.

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