- 03 July 2009 | Surfing
The rivalry between Australian wunderkind Mark Occhilupo and California soul champion Tom Curren produced the most exciting competitive clashes in the history of surfing. For the first decade of surfing’s ASP pro circuit Occy and Tommy dominated the world stage with their dueling performances.
In a major coup for surf fans world wide, this year at the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay spectators can watch a LIVE webcast of these two superstars as they re-ignite their intense rivalry in the world’s best right hand point wave, going head to head for the first time in over two decades.
Each has won eight of their 16 previous encounters and the Clash of the Icons will provide yet another chapter in their 26 year rivalry.
During the 1980’s no rivalry was more heralded than the Tom Curren/Mark Occhilupo challenge. Whenever the two surfers came up against each other in heats, sparks flew, temperatures rose and onlookers gathered to witness unmatched and historic wave-riding duels.
“I saw Occy before he became a household name, when he was first breaking out, it was at Jeffreys,” said Curren. “He had so much energy, just pushing every turn with so much speed and power.”
“I watched his footage over and over and seeing him for the first time I remember thinking his anticipation going into every turn was something great; something amazing.”
Occy - amped, animated, and outspoken - was a young Aussie mischief-maker and a powerhouse hell-competitor beloved by everyone. Curren - enigmatic, humble, and deceptively understated - was a precise but devastatingly savage contest opponent idolized globally.
“I first saw Tom surf when I was really young in Cronulla, it was at Wanda Beach,” said Occhilupo. “He was staying at Jim Banks’ house, I walked over the hill to the beach after school and it was like solid 6-8ft and he was the only one out.”
“I think he won the Beaurepaires that year and the first time I saw him he was at his peak, he was just ruling.”
No matter where the event was held or who else was in it – there were always two camps, the Occy troop and the Curren crew. It was goofy vs. natural, radical power gouges vs. the sublime style-master, Australia vs. America.
“Tom was already schooling guys when I came on tour and he was in some serious form, no one could touch him,” said Occhilupo. “I couldn’t get close to Tom, I had to scratch and work to get to that level.”
Their most memorable clashes were the Rip Curl Bells Pro semi that clinched Tommy’s first World Title in 1985 and the two Op Pro Finals in front of 100,000 people at Huntington Beach won by Occy later that year.
“I beat him at the OP Pro in Huntington twice in a row and the rivalry probably started there and then went to Bells and various heats around the world tour,” said Occhilupo. “There were literally thousands of people on the pier and they were all shouting for Tom, I had to come out and upset the motion.”
“I only remember being in the zone,” said Curren. “Occy was pulling out every trick, he had that little extra.”
“Both of us were pushing as hard as we could, but he won that one with a wave at the end, I just remember it was very tense and very tiring as well.”
Curren went on to win 353 heats, 33 events and three World Titles while Occy won 380 heats, 12 events and one World Title. Both featured in spectacular comebacks – Tom returning from a two year hiatus to clinch his third crown from the trials in 1990 while Occy’s well documented rise to the 1999 crown after a decade in the wilderness is one of the greatest feats in sporting history.
Both have been singled out for their amazing wave riding at J-Bay – Occy winning the inaugural version of the event in 1984 with a performance that redefined backhand surfing and going on to become one of the South African surfing Mecca’s favourite sons. Curren’s Rincon inspired lines provide a unique insight on how to ride the legendary walls of Supertubes.
The pair have never met in a heat together at the fabled point. The 2009 Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay provides the opportunity for their most exciting match-up ever - a visual feast of Occy’s massive backhand blasts and Curren’s inventive flawlessness which earned them their reputations at J-Bay.
“All bets are off in J-Bay,” said Occhilupo. “I don’t know what he has been up to, Tom has always been the mysto man, but I’m pretty anxious and I am really anticipating the showdown quite a lot. I have been training with Parko and training a lot on my own, so I’m going to be prepared for this.”
“If I am going to go toe to toe with Occy then it has to be a really big heat for me, for Occy, for both of us,” said Curren. “When it comes down to it you just have to dig a little deeper….and hope that you have something there.”
“Anywhere Occy paddles out he has a good chance of winning – against anybody, so for me…it’s about training, I think if I train hard I can beat him in this event.”
Stay tuned to billabongpro.com from July 9-19 to witness one of surfing’s most historic duels ever at the planet’s premier high performance point break.
Mark Occhilupo vs. Tom Curren
Total of 16 heats
Mark Occhilupo – 8 wins
1983, Semis, Marui World Surfing Pro, Herbara Beach, Japan
1983, Round 1, Beaurepaires Open, Cronulla, AUS
1984, Round 3, OP America Series, Jensen Bch, Florida
1984, Round 2, Gunston 500, Durban South Africa
1984, Round 2, Tutti Frutti Lacanau Pro, Lacanau, France
1985, Final, Op Pro HB, California, USA
1986, Semis, Op Pro HB, California, USA
1986, Final, BHP Steel International, Newcastle, AUS
Tom Curren – 8 wins
1984, Semis, Stubbies Surf Classic, Burleigh Heads, AUS
1985, Semis, BHP Steel International, Newcastle, AUS
1985, Semis, Billabong Pro, Sunset/Waimea, HAW
1985, Semis, Stubbies Surf Classic, Burleigh Heads, AUS
1985, Semis, Rip Curl Subaru Easter Classic, Bells, AUS
1986, Semis, Marui Japan Open, Habushi-Ura, Niijima, Japan
1987, Final, Stubbies US Pro, Oceanside, USA
1988, Semis, Marui Japan Open, Habushi-Ura, Niijima, Japan
Mark Occhilupo – June 16, 1966
Total of 685 heats, 380 wins, 55% winning
22 finals, 12 wins, 55% winning
Tom Curren – July 3, 1964
Total of 506 heats, 353 wins, 70% winning
45 finals, 33 wins, 73% winning
SOURCE: Surfing South Africa