JEFFREYS BAY, South Africa (Wednesday, July 20, 2011) – The ASP World Tour offers surfers the chance to impact people’s lives in far-flung locations around the world. From the aesthetics of their surfing styles to a casual autograph for a star-struck grom, surfing’s elite can and do touch the lives of the people they come into contact with around the globe.
Current ASP World No. 2 and former two-times winner of the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay, Joel Parkinson (AUS), 30, is one such surfer who has made an enormous impact here in Jeffreys Bay.
While the absence of the defending champ’s sweeping turns and broad charismatic smile at the 2010 event was felt by surfing fans the world over, the impact was that much greater for members of 39 Mandela Street, Oceanview informal settlement, ironically nowhere near the famed Supertubes break.
In a modest home 10km outside of Jeffreys Bay, a beautiful Xhosa lady Thelma, whose family Joel has supported financially for the past several years, wept. She was devastated Parko or ‘Parker’ as she calls him, had been injured and would not be competing at the 2010 Billabong Pro.
The two met in 1999, Joel as an 18-year-old wildcard on the brink surfing super stardom and Thelma as a domestic worker employed to clean the house in which Joel was staying.
Unaccustomed to having a domestic worker clean up after them, the Australian crew told her they did not need a cleaner and she need not come back she until the last day when they promised to pay her as if she’d worked the full ten days.
Despite their insistence, Thelma, whose infectious laugh and toothy grin made her a joy to be around, arrived for work on time each morning, cleaning and washing up after the boys and taking care of them as if they were her own.
Every year that they returned, Thelma would be waiting to welcome them at ‘home’ and soon she was as much a part of Jeffreys Bay as the aloes and the waves themselves.
But when the boys returned in 2003, that familiar smile and shiny African glow had vanished. Thelma had been badly assaulted and had fallen terminally ill. Fearing she would no longer be able to work and support her family, she confided in cameraman John Gordon ‘Gordo’.
When Gordo alerted the crew to Thelma’s plight, Parkinson along with Dean Morrison ‘Dingo’ and Billabong’s Derek Hynd, were quick to step up and offer their financial support.
Parkinson continues to support the family financially to this day, indirectly putting food on the table, providing medicine and all the necessities the household needs which might otherwise have been impossible to afford.
“She went through hell and it was the least I could do for someone,” Parkinson says. “I have so many friends that I help out but you don’t get a thank you or a big smile or a hug or a kiss from them. With her, you feel like you give her a little bit and its like she’s been given the world! Her face lights up more than anything you could ever imagine and it makes it all worthwhile.”
On a sunny Saturday afternoon during a lay day at the Billabong Pro, Parkinson along with his two daughters Evie and Macy travel the ten km out of town to Oceanview, their shiny Audi rental a stark contrast to the tiny square houses, stray dogs and quirky spaza (informal) shops that make up a typical South African township.
It’s not long before a beautiful African lady in a bright red cape comes trotting down the road, waving and laughing in excitement as she lays eyes on Parkinson and the children for the first time in two years.
They embrace in true African style, sharing a large bucket of KFC on the lawn outside No. 39 where they are joined by neighbors, kids and relatives, the pair chatting and laughing like long lost friends.
Retiring inside, Thelma shows off her new TV and couch compliments of the Parkinson family and soon Joel and his kids are kicking back, feet up as Thelma revels at having the World No. 2 in her home.
“It was good to see,” Parkinson said. “You throw money into a bank account, and you hope it’s going to the right place but you definitely have that trust for her that she always would do the right thing with it. Just to sit on her couch that we bought and watch her TV and see how honored she was to have those belongings was great. I think she was so stoked to see the kids put their feet up on it and pretend it was theirs.”
Leaving with two wide-eyed kids and a promise from Thelma that she’d had a dream Joel would win this year’s contest, the Parkinson family settle back into their double-storey home overlooking The Point back in Jeffreys Bay, with a newfound appreciation for all that is theirs.
“I was stoked to take my kids there because we came home and one of them tried to misbehave and I just said look at how lucky you are, look at what those kids had there today,” Parkinson said. “I think she stopped and thought about it and went ‘well I understand how lucky I am and what a life we have.’ She gets to travel the world , is served a beautiful meal every night and has everything at her disposal, so it definitely opened up my kids world.”
Watch Joel and the rest of the ASP Top 34 do battle LIVE at the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay
For more on JOEL PARKINSON, check out his ASP WORLD TOUR PROFILE