Up with tribalism, down with nuance. It’s one or the other time sunshine, you’ll get a sore bum sitting on that fence all day – it’s time to pick a f-ing side already. The first in a series of culture wars pits Mr. Tom Curren versus Mr. Mark Occhilupo.
Who are they, then?
Oh nobody, really, just two of the absolute all time lords of grand lords…
Thomas Roland Curren was born in California in 1964 to famous surfing father Pat Curren, and honed his surfing at Santa Barbara’s right points. His tour career saw him win 3 ASP World Titles and 33 event victories, all achieved with universally lauded style and technique, and in spite of a palpable dislike for the limelight. He quit the tour in his late 20’s to go on The Search, as well as usher in the mid-90’s fish renaissance, which is still going today.
Marco Jay Luciano Occhilupo was born in 1966 in Sydney suburb of Kernel near Cronulla. An aggressive, powerful, low centre of gravity based attack earned him the nickname of the Raging Bull, although that overlooks his considerable, non-quadricep dependant finesse. After instant success in the highly competitive 80’s Aussie animal era, he dropped off tour, struggled with substances and got fat, before mounting a Rocky-style comeback culminating in winning the 1999 World Title – and the hearts and minds of every surf fan on the planet.
The pair’s 80’s rivalries played out most famously at clashes at the OP Pro in Huntington, and at Bells.
“Now I want to get real and stop these American wankers” – Occy, 1984
Style-wise, they couldn’t be more different. Regularfoot Curren surfs with a sleek economy of body motion and a textbook line that results in arguably the most perfect surfing style of all time, particularly in right points.
Goofyfoot Occy’s tree trunk legs and thick torso help deliver brutal forehand and particularly backhand incisions that flow together on impossibly steep arcs. Both had a read and touch on the water put them streets ahead of their peers.
On land, Occ’s underbite, squeaky voice and duck walk lend a slightly comedic vibe, while Curren – shy and socially awkward – came over more prophet than jester.
Iconoclasm Corner: What about weaknesses?
Curren is less symmetrical by comparison, never really revered for his backhand. While neither are famed for XXL work, Occ jumping off in the pit at the ’88 Pipemasters raised questions over his big reef chops compared to power surfing peers of the day like Tom Carroll.
Who’s in their crew?
Curren was always more lone than wolf, and it’s hard to really think of anyone he showed any genuine affinity, much less affection for, in pro surfing at least.
Occy was much more of a people’s champ among his peers, widely loved by all. Whether travelling with Bong teammates on filming trips, or hanging with Hawaiians like Bruce & Andy, those around him tend to laugh a lot.
What’s France got to do with all this, exactly?
Quite a bit, really. Curren moved to his then-wife’s native France in the late 80’s, part of a crew of ex-pats that would include Dora, Hakman, Elkerton, Potter and Page that added OG status to a relative surfing backwater. In 1994 he unleashed a battered twin fin in a Rip Curl Pro Hossegor heat against Matt Hoy, helping spark the fish/alternative craft revival.
Occy’s main French exploits are less celebrated (see Controversies, below)
Just a bit. Curren’s Channel Islands helped make that label one of the most sought after in the world, notably with a 80’s vee board nicknamed the Black Beauty. Later, Maurice Cole’s famous reverse vee quiver, shaped in Hossegor, gave the world that Backdoor turn. Since kicking off the fish 90’s revival singlehanded, Curren has dedicated himself to committing all manner of mutilations, sawn off tails, skimboards with insulation foam sprayed on the deck, etc, with the overall result often being people wishing ‘he was on a regular board’.
Occy has been much more meat and potatoes when it comes to boards – and probably meals, too. He’s stuck to his staples, iconic quivers from the likes of Rusty, Maurice, Dahlberg, and now JS; thick, flat-ish squash/round tails with the same Bong wave logo up the beak since the late 80’s are the result. Everyone loves a one club man.
Curren’s first ever J-Bay wave (having boycotted SA events due to apartheid), on a Mark Rabbidge quad generally results in breathless swearing by the viewer. That ride, plus the Backdoor carve captured by Tom Servais, the logo-less win at big Haleiwa from the season, and riding 10ft Bawa in Indo on a 5’4” Tommy Peterson Fireball Fish board puts the Curren cannon in very rare company indeed.
Occy’s freakish backside displays at J-Bay and particularly Bells culminated in April 97 Skins event at Bells that cemented his comeback. With the appeal of Jack McCoy’s Billabong movies largely hinging on iconic Occy sections, highlights include the St Leu section in Pump, the Occy’s Left (aka Nihiwatu) sequence in Green Iguana, keeping up with the New Schoolers in NW WA’s Desert Challenge, and assorted Rocky lefts iconography.
A mental breakdown in France in 92 saw Occy going after Slater with a pool cue (“karate stick”) outside Rock Food, burying his entire quiver of Maurices in the sand to get crushed by the beach tractor, and trying to swim home to Australia. Early in his career, he was quoted in Surfer as saying, “Now I want to get real and stop these American wankers” which, is pretty fucking cool, especially if he meant Curren, which he definitely did.
Curren has been much more private about his vices, which have never really spilled out into a public tailspin. Aside from being infamous for being a tightwad, perhaps the closest he really came to sullying his great name was in Mormaii wetsuits ads, dressed up as a mad professor.
Even adjusting for any goofy/regular fan bias (there are more regulars in the world than goofies) Curren’s probably winning the popular vote. In terms of titles, Curren’s three were all won while the best surfer in the world (him) was on tour, whereas Occ’s came in a Slater hiatus asterisk year. Although who really cares about World Titles, anyway? When it comes to legacy, it’s hard to look past the fact that simply by paddling out on different surfboard designs, Curren still shapes what the world surfs today.