April 4, 1997
Bells Beach, Australia>
“Occ was on the severest roll I’ve ever seen anyone get on, and what a contest to be on a roll in. It was just like cha-ching!”—two-time World Champion Tom Carroll on Mark Occhilupo’s performance at the 1997 Rip Curl Super Skins event at Bells Beach
Five-grand a win—that was the crux of the Rip Curl Super Skins. A made-for-TV special in which every heat was a final and every victor was rewarded with the filthiest of lucre. There was $115,000 up for grabs as well as the most extravagant surf trophy ever—a 4WD Jeep Wrangler valued at $30,000. Twenty-three of the world’s best paddled into the famed Bells Beach lineup with dreams of surfing’s biggest potential individual payoff, but only one would make it a reality. His name: Mark Occhilupo.
“That day was one of the best, really,” recalls Occ fondly, a giant grin splitting his face. “For me, it was almost unbelievable. The waves, the board, it was one of those times where everything came together. I’m still amazed.”
In flawless six- to eight-foot offshore swells, Occhilupo hammered out eleven consecutive heat wins, redefined the physics of backside surfing, defeated Kelly Slater for the first time in his career, and scored a record breaking $55,000 and the Jeep for his efforts. “That was the first time I’d ever beaten Kelly, too,” Occy recalls, “and I remember laying on the beach on my back and laughing, thinking, ‘Yes, I’ve finally got past … ‘ Well, whatever you call it.”
The format went something like this: Three guys to a 25-minute heat. Ride as many waves as you like, but the only wave scored is the one you nominate by raising both arms in the air, which may explain the above photo. But if you think Occ is merely sticking to the criteria and racking up another five Gs you’d find yourself slightly off the mark.
“This is towards the end of my run. In this photo I’m not claiming the wave or how much money I think I’ve made, I’m claiming the board—the 6’5″ channel-bottom Rod Dahlberg shaped. I’m just acknowledging how good the board was going, even when I was getting tired. I mean, it was so cold at the end of the day, my legs were giving out, and they were pouring hot water over my legs in between heats just to keep me going. I thought I could have gone further actually,” laughs Occy, “but I ran out of puff.”—Vaughn Blakey