The Champs Interview: Mark Occhilupo

Occy is a fascinating person; perhaps the most individual and most talented of the world champs, he thinks laterally about almost everything, including his career, which continues into early middle age, in defiance of practically everything anyone's ever thought about surfing. At the age of 39 he still attracts a fan base second only to Kelly in its loyalty and instinctive affection for their humorous, big-jawed hero.

NC: Occ, please tell me all you can about your family.

MO: Umm I haven't got that much information from my father's side. He came over to Australia from Italy about 50 years ago, and I've never gone back to trace them. But it was about 50 years ago, longer now, just after the Second World War. He came here and met my Mom in New Zealand, then they met up again in Australia, and they lived in Kurnell. My Mom's from New Zealand and my Mom's sister's there too. Yep. that's as much as I know.

Did your Dad tell you much about how it was in Italy?

Not really you know. He wouldn't talk much about it, no. I'd really like to go back though. I went to Italy and went to Rome and hung out there for a while, and we were going to go to (his home town) but something came up and we never did, and I'd like to go back and do that.
With my Mom, I haven't gone that far back on the family tree. I can ask her though. Her maiden name was Graydon. I can ask her though. You can look all that stuff up on the computer, can't you? I can ask her for you, I speak to her every day. I'd like to know too, because I've never asked Mom anything about that.

Maybe you can explain your first six months or year of surfing.

I can remember it was in Kurnell in Botany Bay. The swell must have been big in Cronulla for there to be waves in Botany Bay, it was about two foot in there, which is pretty rare. It happens a few times every year. We lived pretty close to the beach and we could see it from our house across the park. That day, my sister's boyfriend came over for a surf. I would have been about seven years old, something around there. I just cruised down with 'em, and they lay down and sunbaked on the beach. The board was an old Woodstock, I forget how big it was. Then I picked it up and my sister Alex came down with me and she pushed me into a wave, and I stood up. It was only about a foot and I made it to the beach. I was stoked after that. I used to surf small Kurnell and the Point and it took me probably six months to get over to Cronulla. I used to walk over the sand dunes to get to Green Hills with the Marshes, Richard and Jason Marsh, they lived just up the street from me and they used to take me surfing a lot because they saw I was into it. They'd walk over the sandhills. It felt like they were a mile high, it was like walking through a desert. I used to lose my clothes, I'd leave them there and people would pick 'em up and keep 'em, cause I couldn't be bothered walking back in the heat with them. It was either a wetsuit or the clothes.

Were you a {{{100}}}-waves-a-surf grommet?

Ummm, I was probably like that I think. Not quite as bad as Greeny (Gary Green). I remember my mates used to tell me I had a real weird style though. When I first started. They told me my arms were kind of weird. Not like throwing them everywhere, but they were more tucked in, the shoulder and arm rotation wasn't right, that's what they used to say. It was just funny.

Were you conscious of it?

I used to really not work my turns together all that well, until partway through my career. I started doing these cut-offs into the air. Then I got with Billabong and Gordon (Merchant) suggested I could be better at linking my turns together. He got me to go and stay on the Gold Coast for a while, I would have been about 15 or 16 then, and I probably did have it worked out by then, but it was more of a fine tuning thing.