The 2009 ASP World Tour was a tale of two seasons. The first saw Joel Parkinson jump out to what at the time was considered an insurmountable lead in the standings. Parkinson started the season with wins at the Quiksilver Pro and Rip Curl Pro, then racked up a third contest victory at the season’s fifth event, the Billabong Pro at Jeffreys Bay. Parkinson was leading CJ Hobgood, who was his closest competitor at the time, by more than the ratings-equivalent of a contest victory. Mick Fanning, the eventual 2009 ASP World Champion, was in seventh place at the midway point of the season.
Then August 11th happened, and thus began the second season of 2009.
On August 11th, Joel Parkinson was in Bali for a freesurf session. Parkinson was practicing air reverses (and landing them with ease) when he awkwardly landed on the flat part of a wave, causing a freak ankle injury. Parkinson tried to downplay the injury, saying it was nothing serious and that he would be back in the water very shortly.
A month later, Parkinson was eliminated in the third round of the Hurley Pro by Rob Machado. Suspicion about Parkinson’s ankle injury aroused. Parkinson was surfing very conservatively, looking stiff on his board and not carving the hard turns expected from the World Title contender. Parkinson struggled for the remainder of the year, allowing Mick Fanning to pull off one of the greatest comebacks in surfing history to win the 2009 ASP World Title.
Until Stab Magazine discovered and revealed this video, very few people knew the extent of Parkinson’s injury. “When I first did it and it felt the pain I thought it was a compound fracture. I thought for sure the bone had broken the skin. I wasn’t trying to make the air,” Parkinson told Stab Magazine. “I knew I was hurt but I couldn’t get off. I was stuck on there, left standing there on my bad ankle. Then I rolled off my board and then I don’t remember much. It made a horrible noise, a really horrible noise. When it first happened and I couldn’t isolate the pain, it felt like it ripped right through me. It was like my throat even. It wasn’t a flesh or a bone sound so much but it was like tearing tarps. Like, shkeeeessh, skeeeooouush. Steds (Luke Stedman) happened to be there. He was the first one to pick me up.
Parkinson ended up tearing ligaments in the ankle, an injury that would affect his surfing skills for the rest of the year. “I don’t regret not trying to take time out of the water. What was I gonna do? Sit back and watch? I was never gonna do that. F**k that! I could surf. I could ride waves. It wasn’t pretty or it wasn’t good but I could ride waves. I just had to get a result. I needed a ninth. And you know what? Both times, I got beaten right on the buzzer. I nearly did it,” said Parkinson. “What-ifs don’t matter. If there had’ve been good waves, I woulda been sweet at Trestles. Same as Europe. I could go in a line, I just couldn’t go up and down as good. I could still carve on an open wall. F**k. It wasn’t to be the case.”
It was perhaps Parkinson’s last comment on the issue that truly explained just how painful the experience was for the three-time runner-up to the World Title. “I’ve had a lump in my throat since the day I lost and I can’t get it out.”