It was Round of 16 at the Nike Lowers Pro when a 45-year-old man took the water against a Trestles specialist in his prime. Mark Occhilupo could conceivably be Pat Gudauskas' father, and their approaches spoke volumes to the generation gap. Occy linked brawny backside hacks with fluid efficiency, blowing the top off of each right without a single unnecessary turn. Pat took the road less polished, but more technical. Occy lost the heat, but it was due to tactical error. Had he not caught his last wave and held onto priority, he would have made it into the quarterfinals of a Prime event for the second time this year. Regardless of the loss, his Lowers result put him in an interesting position—32nd in the world, to be exact. It also left him with an interesting question: Can a middle-aged power surfer make it back on Tour among the most progressive field in history?
"I went to Margaret's primarily to commentate, but I didn't do too much commentary," says Occy of his breakaway performance at Margaret River that ended in the semis. "Now that I'm in this position, I'm like, 'Wow, what am I doing?' I'm looking to do other events this year, like Africa. I'll go to J-Bay of course, and hopefully I'll do the 6-Star Prime before it. This morning I was talking to 'Bottle' Thompson, and thinking, 'Where else can I go?' I've told everyone that the main reason is to just try and get back in the Triple Crown, but it's starting to go a little further than that. I just keep pinching myself, thinking, 'Is this really happening?"
With teenage prodigies like John John Florence and Gabriel Medina making a case against the old guard with each event, it seems ridiculous that a surfer who got on Tour nearly a decade before they were born would stand a chance. Multiple airs on a wave, inverted grabs, and full rotations are quickly becoming the way to win heats. Quite frankly, Occy can't do any of those things. What Occy can do, however, is destroy a meaty face on his backside more efficiently than anyone else in the world. This was true 10 years ago, and its still true today. "I mean it might be due to the equipment, which has gotten a lot better—thinner, faster, better boards. But, I probably am surfing the best I ever have," says Occy. "It's hard to tell but it kind of feels like it. I would probably have to look at footage, but it feels like it. Especially at Margaret's and at home on the Gold Coast when it's early in the morning and nobody's watching. But who's going to believe it because nobody's watching!"
People started watching after his first heat at Margaret River, and will likely stay engaged until Occy's campaign comes to an end, win or lose. We've already seen massive Twitter hash-tag support (#PutOccyInBells2012), and he's a fan favorite in most heats. If Occy is able to round out his year with a few more good results (J-Bay, Haleiwa, and Sunset should help his cause), then it's not inconceivable that we'll see a 45-year-old mixing it up with the new kids on the World Tour in 2013. Stranger things have happened, like the time Occy fell off the Tour and into drug addiction in the early '90s, only to come back and win a World Title in 1999. "It's probably about the same amount of time that I took off last time," says Occy. "But last time, I put on a lot of weight and got depressed. This time I've just been cruising and having kids and I've still been surfing. I trained really hard last year and got really fit. I'd have to probably train a lot more and I'm thinking about that. But I mean, I'm not really putting any pressure on myself. Now, I don't know. I've got two results though. I seriously don't know what I'm doing, but it's good."