Tom Curren celebrated the 25th anniversary of his first world title yesterday by beating Mark Occhilupo — the same guy he beat at Bells back in 1986 during a semifinal showdown that earned him his championship.
On Saturday, Curren, 44, looked as spry as he did a quarter century ago. Occy had his moments too, but struggled a little more in the mushy conditions. Their match was the second round of their Clash of the Icons series. Occy took the first one last July in Jeffreys Bay.
The heat at Bells was a nice flashback moment for hardcore surfing fans. Curren’s first ASP world championship was a watershed moment for pro surfing. After more than a decade of Australian dominance, his victory ushered in an era of American resurgence and, ultimately, dominance.
At the time, Mark Occhilupo was rapidly becoming his biggest nemesis. He was Australia’s best answer to the freak-ish American. Occy boldly proclaimed in the press that he would do anything to “stop these American wankers.” He was the perfect yin to Curren’s yang: Australian vs. American; goofy vs. regular; brash vs. reserved, and it didn’t hurt that they were the two most exciting surfers on tour. Crowds flocked to see them.
Their semifinal clash at Bells in 1986 escalated a Cold War between Australia and America that helped propel the fledgling pro surfing circuit to a new level, which set fire to today’s multi-billion dollar global surf industry.
Seven months earlier Curren won his world title at Bells Occy handed Curren a stunning loss at the Op Pro in Huntington Beach in the final. Suddenly, pro surfing had its hero and villain. But who played what role depended entirely on your taste. Naturally, they traded white hats in their respective countries.
Pro surfing has had its share of great rivalries: M.R vs. Cheyne Horan, Kelly vs. Andy even Parko vs. Mick — but none impacted the larger surfing world like the Curren vs. Occy one. These guys changed surfing forever. And now — more than ever — it’s a good thing we’re celebrating that chapter in our history.
Here’s hoping they get some good waves for the rubber match.
Photos of Curren and Occy by ASP/Kirstin