The performance that made the mark... Occhilupo. (Joli)

Power hounds! Occy’s 1997 Skins Victory Through The Eyes Of Mick Fanning


I was 15 years old and on my first surf trip with my then sponsor Quiksilver. The late, great Andrew Murphy took me down to watch The Rip Curl Pro at Bells. A few days after watching Matt Hoy’s epic win at the Pro the Skins event kicked off and we hung around to watch it.

Occy was ripping in the Pro and made the quarters but he went to a whole different place in firing waves in the Skins. To this day I’ve never seen someone dominate an event like Occy did the Skins. He didn’t have one dud heat. His surfing was so much faster and bigger than anyone else out there and all the top pros were in it, including Kelly. I definitely haven’t seen a backhand as strong at Bells since. Occ’s waves in the Skins would still be getting near-perfect scores in World Tour heats today and it was 17 years ago.

I think the thing that stood out to me was the transformation I’d seen in Occ. He had moved to the Gold Coast so as a grom I’d watched him go from his lowest point where he was massively overweight and rarely surfed to an ultra psyched ball of muscle, pumped to win events again. I knew he was good but I had no idea what he was really capable of until I saw him in that comp. It was incredible.

The Skins itself was a unique event where you only counted one wave in each round and that was all Occy ever needed. He got nines all day and ended up winning $55,000 and a new car.

One wave that stood out to me had this wild foam-climb transition. Occ had this magic 6’5” channel-bottom Dahlberg that seemed to do anything he wanted. He was caught deep on this one wave and probably could have bottom turned around this big section but he just redirected, went vertical and projected a ridiculous distance to make it in front of the wave. He got that board to do some messed up things that day, he also used it the following year to win the Rip Curl Pro at Bells.

I think after that performance in the Skins and the win in 98 Occy really became synonymous with Bells, especially The Bowl. Like Kelly at Cloudbreak or Gerry at Pipe, you couldn’t think about Bells without thinking about Occ.

When he was on Tour if The Bowl was six-foot plus and you drew Occy you knew you were ruined. Even when Andy, who was regarded as one of the best at Bells, came up against Occy in a quarter-final back in 2006…

In beautiful waves on The Bowl Occy totally destroyed him.

It’s a big question to be asked: What’s the best surfing you’ve ever seen? I knew my answer almost instantly. I’ve seen plenty of mind-blowing surfing in competition and outside of it. But watching Occy win the Skins from the cliff top on that clear, crisp, offshore day will always be one of the highlights of my life as a surfer.

(Andrew Kidman)

Andrew Kidman recalls that day and his classic image.

Blakey called and asked for a shot I’d taken of Occy during the Skins event. He said Mick Fanning was writing a story about the best surfing he’d ever seen and that that was it. I found the timing pretty weird because I was saying the exact same thing to Ellis Ericson only a few days earlier – that’s the best surfing I’ve ever seen in my life too. It’s weird because as I said it, I was thinking, “Geez, there must have been a million other sessions, Kelly…blah, blah, blah…” but it really was mindblowing. It was so powerful and raw. Occy on the Dahlberg six channel with volume. Thruster.

This picture was taken from up on the headland at Bells. I walked up there and snuck into the bushes and sat there by myself for five hours tripping out on the surfing, taking photos with a bunch of Kodachrome and VS 100. Hoyo was ripping that day as well, but Occ took him out. I think Occ surfed for like three hours just taking down everyone in perfect Bells, no-one out, 10 grand a heat… How come that concept never took off? It’s such a great idea.

Bells headland is a no-go zone these days, all fenced off to protect it… which is good. It’s a crazy angle from up there, feels like you’re surfing. I reckon this photo proves that channels work incredible in chop and the rest of it. Look at the ridges up the face of that wave and Occ just carved through them. Alan Byrne told me it was such a bunch of bullshit that channels didn’t work in choppy conditions and I totally agreed with him. I reckon they sort all the water out. There was one point Occy went straight up over the whitewater of a 6 foot closeout and ended up coming down on the green face, the channels totally sorting through all that chaos.

Mick Fanning