THE RAGING BULL ON A SURFBOARD
He was the original surfing wild-child. A prodigious wave-riding talent weighed down by his demons out of the water. He’s battled depression and weight issues and even quit the world tour, only to return and claim that elusive world title, 14 years after it all began. Still the face of surfing down under, the Mark Occhilupo story is a remarkable tale.
Mark, surfing is in your blood isn’t it? And you’ve stuck with it.
Yeah, it’s really in my blood you know. It’s deep in my blood. I started when I was about 5 or 6 years old and I crave for surf. I wake up early every single morning and I just want to surf. It’s a great way to start the day. I mean I just love being on the beach.
How does it feel when they say “Mark Occhilupo – world champion”?
Oh it’s great. You know I got to Brazil and when I won it in Brazil it just made all the difference you know. It’s such a good tag to have. It’s been a while now you know. It’s been a good 10 years now but I still remember it like it was just yesterday.
It is a tag that never leaves you either is it?
No it never leaves you its great. It just made my whole career-choice worthy.
I remember those pictures of you getting carried up the beach after you realised you’d won it. You were out of control weren’t you?
I was yeah. It was mad. I had a coconut in one hand and yeah. It still makes me speechless. It was amazing.
And now you’ve continued your association with surfing. Tell me a bit about that.
Well, social media. It’s taken over the world. I know everyone loves doing Instagram but I’ve created my own fan-based group and it’s called the “Fan Engine” and it’s an app that you could get on your phone. You can also do it on the computer it’s a website it’s called teamoccy.com and you can look it up and you can interact with me and I put a few photos up a day on what I’m doing and where I am in the world and how I am feeling. And yeah it’s gonna be new and hopefully I can get a really good following. You know, the more posts I do the more the following will grow I guess. But it’s gonna be interesting to see how it goes.
Social media is out of control. It is the future and who would have thought it could penetrate the world of surfing.
It is the future. It really has. And not just that. I mean, now you can watch surfing live on Fuel TV and now they are watching it live in America. On the mainland and in Hawaii. It’s made our sport massive. You’ve just got to look at the crowds gravitating towards surfing. We’ve athletes wanting to surf. Movie stars wanting to surf and it’s just the thing to do.
Think back to who you were when you became the 1999 world champion. Did you ever think that 14 years on you would be coming up with some sort of social media app?
Oh no chance. When the iPhone first came out I didn’t even know what they were. I just finally learned how to use it and I’m not that good. Haha. My girlfriend is way better and my son too is way better. But I love those iPhones now! You know what would you do without them, it’s incredible.
Before you reach that world title you really hit rock bottom for a while there didn’t you?
Yeah I did. I put on a lot of weight and I was pretty depressed. You know I didn’t think I was at the time but looking back, I was kind of happy just not answering the door or the telephone and just watching TV all day. But that’s not the way to live, obviously. I turned it around and start losing the weight and came back to win a world title. Life’s got a lot of ups and downs and I’ve been through them and you just got to roll with the punches really.
Um, you know it kind of happened twice. You kind of wake up and you just wanna do it. But mainly it was my sponsor that wanted me to start using advertisements again. So it was mainly Billabong really. The founder Gordon Merchant had a really good talk to me. He is my mentor and he didn’t stress on me that you got to do it right now but it’s just a slow process. But I had done it once before. I woke up out of a dream and I went and lost weight for like three months. But it was too quick. This one almost took me about a year and I’ve done it nice and slowly but it’s been good you know. It’s a battle every day. Especially now that I am 46 and trying to keep my weight down.
What would you say to kids and particularly young surfers who have fallen into bad times like you did?
It’s depression and it’s a bugger. You just got to think, don’t beat yourself up over being too lazy and wake up one day going “oh I’m fat. I’m depressed.” Every day is a new day in our life and you do get through it. But you just can’t dwell on the past thinking “oh I’ve blown it. I’ve ruined my life” or something like that because there’s still life to be had and enjoyed. There’s nothing you can’t do so just look forward.
I guess this new business venture you’ve entered into keeps you focused too?
Yeah, that’s for sure. Fuel TV has been great and Billabong too right through my career so it’s good you know. I’m happy.
Kelly Slater fired up a little bit recently when it was suggested that because he is so good still at the age of 41 his name will be linked with performance-enhancing substances. How do you feel about that?
Yeah I don’t know. That’s tough. That does’t sound very fair.
I mean in that instance he’s being compared to Lance Armstrong. I can see the point they were trying to make but it also seems unfair to be labelled just because he’s been so good for so long and defied Father Time.
For sure. I think that sucks. I mean definitely know Kelly does not do that. He lives so clean and lives such a healthy life style and that’s the last thing he would do. I don’t really think that sort of stuff is in surfing. Surfing is such a pure sport that you can’t take steroids it just doesn’t mix, you know what I mean. It just wouldn’t work. You’ve got to be in real harmony with the ocean and you’ve got to be really mellow for the surf. But you know, with Lance, that’s the weirdest thing ever. I mean, the way I see it I don’t know how he kept it for quite that long, It’s a bummer but I guess it’s happened.
Recreational drugs exist in surfing though don’t they?
Oh yeah. They do. But they’re everywhere.
On a more positive note, Australian surfing just continues to churn out really high quality surfers. An Aussie always seems to be in contention for that world title and obviously that happened again last year with Joel Parkinson which I know was a result you were very happy with?
Yeah Joel is all-time. It was a little bit like what I went through too. The first stage of my career I never quite got it but Joel has been doing it a long time it’s been really good to see him get it.
So why do you think there are so many great Australian surfers? Is it just a matter of the conditions?
Yeah, it’s just we’ve got the depth you know. A lot of depth and everyone lives in the ocean pretty much. And I think we will dominate for a long time.