Inspirations: Mark Occhilupo
If there is one phrase that sums up Mark Occhilupo’s career its “strength under pressure” – a trait which he has both in the surf and his whole life.
Born in the south Sydney suburb of Kurnell, Mark “Occy” Occhilupo began surfing at the age of nine and soon began exploring neighbouring beaches in Cronulla, North Cronulla, Wanda and Elouera.
Four years later, at the age of 13, Occy won his first amateur Schoolboys contest, which was quickly followed by two Cadet State Titles. By the time he was in Grade 10, surfing was his main focus and he left home an ASP trialist, making it to the top 16 and finally getting the attention he deserved.
The next year Occy shot to the top of the ASP ratings. While described as “a cocky 17-year-old”, his confidence was earned as he set performance standards over the next few years. Some twenty years on, surfers are still trying to match the standards Occy set, with his power and aggression (particularly at Jeffreys Bay) showing how backhand surfing could become an advantage. He shone under the pressure of the waves and the competition.
Between 1984 and 1988, Occy went from strength to strength before crashing and burning while on tour. His struggle with depression was compounded by partying, drug use and poor results in competition and eventually, burned out by the tour, he ditched a quarterfinal heat at the Op Pro and went home.
“Five years on tour or six years on tour and I abandoned it,” he says in an interview for ABC’s Talking Heads.
“In those times where I put on a fair bit of weight and I was like a few board short sizes bigger than I am and I was too afraid to go to Billabong and ask for new board shorts cos I was size 40 and I’m usually 34.”
Over the years that followed, Occy made a couple of half-hearted attempts to get back onto the scene, but his personal challenges continued and he began to focus more on the healing process. In 1993, after moving to Kirra on the Gold Coast, he met Beatrice Ballardie and married her, which set the wheels in motion for his eventual comeback.
Determined to be the best surfer he could be, Occy began an intensive training program with McCoy in West Australia, shedding 34 kilograms to regain his peak form.
He showed the world he was back at the 1995 Billabong Challenge, which he won, and followed up with several other major wins over the next four years before taking out the world champion title in 1999. At age 33, he was the oldest world champion on record at the time.
Since then, Occy has written a book and starred in a film about his experiences, talked on shows and at public events and seems to have found a great balance between his family life and surfing.
“I wake up on a regular day, at about four o’clock. And a little bit of stretching and I’m the first one out there,” he says in his Talking Heads interview.
“Just to watch that sun come up, catch the first wave and come in and take the kids to school. It makes me so happy.”