J-Bay Lay-Day Flashback

In '84 the Tour sucked but Occy flared

The much-discussed but little-seen 1984 Country Feeling Surf Classic was an oasis in the longest, weirdest, most grueling World Tour season on record. Twenty-four events over 11 months. A small-wave beachbreak opener in Japan, then, I kid you not, four straight comps in Florida, then up to Ocean City, Maryland, then off to Cape Town. Seven beachbreak contests in a row. $94,000 in prize money. For all seven contests combined. Then Jeffreys—which never should have happened at all, given that every self-respecting sporting organization in the world apart from surfing was giving South Africa a wide miss due to the country’s grotesque apartheid polices. And then, and then, another 10 straight beachbreak wag-offs before Hawaii. Think about that for a moment. Now bow your head and kiss the ring of the WSL.

But back to J-Bay! Double-overhead and pumping for the early rounds, small and clean for the finals, and here comes World Tour man-child Mark Occhilupo on his battered little 6’0″ Rusty tri-fin, thighs bursting the seams of his tight Peak short-arm fullsuit, that big hairless chin jutting prow-like as he rode out a high-performance fever dream. This was, as Sean Doherty wrote in his recent SURFER profile, Occy’s “perfect point in time.” The waves, the board, mind, body and spirit—everything in the finest possible synch. Tom Carroll and Shaun Tomson were able challengers at Jeffreys, sort of, maybe, but they dropped off along the way; Hans Hedemann was hardly playing the same game, and Occ dusted him in the final without so much as a backward glance. First-ever World Tour wins have rarely, possibly never, been so convincing. Three weeks later, in France, Occhilupo beat Curren in the semis and Carroll in the final to win the Lacanau Pro—and just like that he was No. 1 in the world. Seventeen years old. Voice higher than a choirboy’s. So young and raw and clueless, as one caretaker recalled, “that I had to remind him to brush his teeth.”