This image, I believe, is the best portrait ever taken of a professional surfer at his peak. The light, the body, the spartan room. It was shot by the American journalist Matt George in 1984 at Occ's Cronulla apartment. | Photo: Matt George

Crossdressing: “I liked it!” says Occ.

Who doesn't?

The old adage, they don’t make ’em like they used to, can be best applied to the former world champion Mark Occhilupo.

The story hardly needs to be retold, but let’s recap in one sentence: Eighties surf prodigy explodes onto tour, finds drugs, gets fat and goes, briefly, mad, resurrects, wins a title, and becomes surfing’s most beloved icon. A walking paradox of naiveté and complexity.

Occ’s surfing at Bells in 1997 has yet to be bettered.

A few years ago, Mick Fanning told Coastalwatch:  “To this day I’ve never seen someone dominate an event like Occy did the Skins. He didn’t have one dud heat. His surfing was so much faster and bigger than anyone else out there and all the top pros were in it, including Kelly. I definitely haven’t seen a backhand as strong at Bells since. Occ’s waves in the Skins would still be getting near-perfect scores in World Tour heats today and it was 17 years ago.”

Want more? Ask Matt Warshaw.

And when Occ, who is now fifty one years old, married thrice and father to three sons and stepfather to, I think, seven kids, is on he takes the interview to beautiful heights.

In this piece with reporter Hamish McLachlan from Melbourne’s Herald Sun, mostly to push the wave pool company he’s ambassador for, Occ covers his childhood, the fat and crazy phase, how his sisters used to dress him like a doll (“I liked it”), the marriages, the kids, getting into the USA without a passport and a few other fine stories.

Excerpts:

You’re the youngest of four, and the only boy. Were you used as a mannequin by your sisters?

MO: Yes. They used to dress me up, put make up on me, put dresses on me, the whole lot. It wasn’t very fair. At the same time though, I kind of liked it. When I was four or five they got me a kilt, so I used to wear that around. I’ve grown out of it now.

HM: You’re not doing any cross-dressing now?

MO: No, no. I’m all good now.

What did the tour look like year by year, month by month as a young single teenager?

MO: Wowee, it was pretty intense back then! It was fun, but it was a grind at the same time. I didn’t realise that at the start because it just looked so good. Back then, it was just going from the hotel room, to the beach, and back again. It wasn’t that safe back then either. While I was over there, I realised that it wasn’t even that organised. I’d be going to California and there’d be raging parties around. Then off to Japan, then Europe, to Brazil, because back then we had twenty odd events in a single year. I was actually in the top 3 in the world for the first few years. I never really dropped out of the top ten, but I was homesick, and I just wanted to go home.

Did you think you would surf professionally again?

MO: I didn’t really think about the future, to be honest. I was way too young to retire, only in my early 20s. I just didn’t think about the long term, and thought at the time that I was homesick. I missed my friends, I missed my mum and dad, my sisters, and I just wanted to be back home, so that’s what I did, and I didn’t really tell anyone. I had to make a phone call when I got home and tell the founder and owner of Billabong, Gordon Merchant. That was a scary phone call! He understood though. He was fantastic. He still paid me the same wage, and a very good one at that.

Another child at 50 is one of the great performances of all time. Forget the World Championship in ‘99!

MO:(laughs) Thank you. It was just so cool. This is my girls sixth child, and my third boy. We’ve got one big happy family. All the kids surf, and it’s really funny because our new child has brought everyone closer. Our youngest are both 10, and they’re in the same class. They’re best mates, and my fourteen-year-old used to go out with her thirteen-year-old. They don’t anymore, but they did before we first met. They’re all in the same school, and they all surf. The funniest thing is that my two boys are dark, because my ex-wife Mae’s parents were Filipino. She’s dark, and my kids are dark. They’ve got her coloured skin. My fiancé’s ex was Tongan, so all her kids are dark as well. We get some funny looks when we’re all in a mall, cruising around with seven dark kids all around us. Now we’ve got little Jasper, and he’s going to feel a bit strange when he grows up because he’s going to go, what happened here? How come I’m light, and everyone else is dark?

Read the entire interview here.

 


A screen grab from Stab's Pop Rocks. The high water mark of surf journalism.

Time: “A merciless mauling awaits!”

A forgotten issue of Time magazine from 1963 challenges perceptions!

And I have written it more than once, here, that we are in a golden era of surf journalism. Don’t you agree? Warshaw’s historical surf empire has wings, Doherty and Longtom are trading gorgeous swipes. Finnegan won a Pulitzer for the tales of his surfing life, Carroll’s work in both longer form and shorter comment section blurbs is near art, etc. etc.

I am happy to be alive to witness this epoch, this gorgeous epoch, but just moments ago I saw a Time magazine feature from 1963 on surfing in Hawaii. Should we read together?

The men who ride the big ones in Hawaii actually ski down the shoulder of a wave away from the curl… They call the first breathtaking schuss ‘taking the drop.’ Their boards accelerate up to 35 mph so rapidly that they kick up waves like speedboats. And a merciless mauling awaits the unfortunate who doesn’t complete his ride. He is driven downward by the appalling maelstrom, tossed around, sucked back down and frequently, after fighting up for a desperate gulp of air, hammered down again by the next wave.

The pictures that accompanied (here) were fabulous but that writing. It sings and is maybe better than anything I have ever written in my whole life. Maybe better than anything that has been written in the last ten years.

And all of a sudden I felt sad.

Is this not the golden era of surf journalism? Did I miss the high water mark and am I merely splashing in dirty puddles with other grown men who only write in surf because we are entirely unemployable elsewhere?

So sad.

But then I re-read Stab magazine’s Pop Rocks from 14 months ago…

Malia Ward and her Moms Jacqueline Miller lead a truly fabulous existence. After parting ways with San Clemente surf royalty baby-daddy Chris Ward, Jacqueline entered a relationship that saw her and Malia living in a five storey house with a private beach in Corona Del Mar, California. Malia and Moms are bff’s and spend their time travelling in style (private jets, limos, for real!) to the Pro Junior contests at which Malia’s continuing the Ward surfing legacy. We thought it’d be totally cute to shoot a girls day at home, and pay tribute to the neon-saturated nineties when Jacqueline was Malia’s age (18!) To capture the ‘pop’ of this cheeky duo there was only one man. The CobraSnake. The Cobra likes it straight up. No airbrush, no photoshop. Raw. Come and sniff the sweet smell of perfume, the other half sure knows how to live!

I re-read it and knew for a fact, for an indisputable fact, that we are in a golden era of surf journalism.

Suck a fat one 1963.


No matter what! | Photo: WSL

It’s International Surfing Day!

Bah Humbug! I am the Ebenezer Scrooge of surf!

It is either a very good or very bad thing when you wake to an email from the WSL. Messages involving #ItsOn or Paul Speaker has resigned are met with a smile, while Outerknown Fiji Pro Day Eleven Replay – It’s ON makes me want to stab Dave Prodan with a dull pencil.

Who the fuck watches full-day replays? Anyways.

Today’s message was a somewhat welcome surprise. I’ll soon explain but first just look!

And did you have any idea? I didn’t. For some reason I thought that ISD fell on a hard date, like June 20th, but it turns out I was very wrong. A Wikipedia search set the record straight:

International Surfing Day, held annually on the third Saturday of June is an unofficial, environmentally conscious sports-centered holiday that celebrates the sport of surfing and the surfing lifestyle, and the sustainability of ocean resources.

I continued reading and came across another fun fact.

International Surfing Day was established in 2004 by Surfing Magazine and The Surfrider Foundation.

The things you learn! I genuinely had no idea that ISD was a product of Surfing Magazine. The legacy thrives etc.

Anyways, the WSL’s announcement hit me in the gut. Due to certain familial obligations, I’ll be unable to surf today. Which is really a shame, because as I drive toward LA on I-5 North, a blaring sun illuminates the right side of my face. This is rare for mornings in SoCal, especially in a month whose name is haphazardly rhymed with gloom.

The light not only makes it difficult to see but also creates a longing for the beach. For the sea. For a neoprene-free wiggle on my 5’6 single fin. The waves may be gutless but the warmth of sun and sand compel me to shred.

Sadly, I will not.

BeachGrit readers, I implore you to get out there today. If not for an obscure sense of obligation to the greater surfing community, then out of respect for those of us who can’t. It’s a beautiful thing we do, and today is the day to celebrate!

Also keep in mind that proof of surf (neck tan, pterygium, wax stuck to car seats etc.) gets you a military discount at most retailers today. We are big time!

And to hell with Chas! (see below)


Subliminal: Kelly Slater stressed out?

Is the world's greatest surfing feeling the pressures?

As Kelly Slater has chosen to fade away, instead of burn out, veteran Slater watchers are having a golden era. What is going on in the mind of the world’s greatest surfer? What thoughts are bubbling in his magnificent head? Is he satisfied with one of the most impressive athletic runs in history? Is he left wanting more? How is he feeling?

Maybe stressed out!

The World Surf League released a video for today World Go Surf Day or whatever it is called and subliminally flashed the words “stressed out?” before a picture of Kelly Slater standing in Fiji with a look of sheer consternation on his face?

Let’s watch!

And now let’s discuss! Do you recall when the World Surf League fat shamed Jordy just two months ago, calling him “194 pounds of boom” in a video montaj? Well didn’t Jordy show up in Fiji looking almost svelte? He sure did! The shaming worked!

But what is the League prodding the King toward? Do the powers want to see a more relaxed Kelly Slater jokin and a laughin? Goofin around? A sort of Charles Barkley character? Shaqtin a Fool?

Veteran Slater watchers? Help!

Also, World Go Surf Day is the worst idea ever. At BeachGrit we celebrate World Don’t Go Surf Day (then sneak out when no one is looking).

#dontgosurf

#valleygohome

#offmywave

#etc


Michael Phelps (foreground) plays "shark" with pal.

Michael Phelps: “The shark is my bitch!”

The world's fastest swimmer set to take on the world's meanest swimmer!

The world’s most decorated and maybe fastest swimmer has stepped into the ring for surfers everywhere in order to challenge the supremacy of the Great White Shark.

That’s right!

When the World Surf League heads to J-Bay, site of Mick Fanning’s love tap from the ocean’s most feared predator, Michael Phelps will be heading to… somewhere to swim against a great white. The press release tells us:

They are one of the fastest and most efficient predators on the planet: Sharks. He is our greatest champion to ever get in the water: Michael Phelps. 39 world records. 23 Olympic golds. But he has one competition left to win. An event so monumental no one has ever attempted it before. The world’s most decorated athlete takes on the ocean’s most efficient predator: Phelps V Shark – the race is on!

I have no idea how this will work. Will Michael Phelps and Great White Shark be in a swimming pool together? Maybe the salt water pool in Bondi? Will Michael Phelps swim in a cage? Should we watch a monotone news thing?

Etc.

Who is your money on? Mick Fanning or Connor Leary? I mean Evel Knievel or the Grand Canyon. I mean Floyd Mayweather or Connor O’Leary. I mean…. sorry. I’m drunk.