End of an era - Occy bows out

FORMER world champion Mark Occhilupo was chaired up the beach and honoured by his fans following his final surf as a professional on the world championship tour. Occhilupo, 41, bowed out in the third round of the Pipeline Masters at the weekend, edged out by fellow Australian Troy Brooks in the final seconds of their third round heat in Hawaii. "It was emotional," the Coolangatta-based Occhilupo said. "I was just feeling so good in my heat not thinking I was going to have to make this speech right now, but that's just how my year has been going so I shouldn't have been thinking like that. "Troy got a great wave at the end so I had to kind of ace up and get ready for the time that I've been kind of regretting." Occhilupo is the oldest full-time competitor on tour. He stormed onto the world stage as a 17-year-old in 1983 and finished the year ranked 16th in the world. The following year, he was rated No.3 and the year after he would win at Pipeline. However, Occhilupo went off the rails and dropped off the tour in 1987. A decade of failed attempts to regain his winning form went by before a rejuvenated and focused Occhilupo retook the world tour by storm in 1997 and finished runner-up to American Kelly Slater. In 1999, Occhilupo won three of his 12 world tour victories to post one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history, winning the world title at 33. "I really love competing and I'll definitely miss that as much as my friends I've made on tour," Occhilupo said. "It's just been such a good ride. It has been about 15 years on and off, but the time I took off and then came back and won my world title, that was probably the best. "No regrets, it's been sensational and just to have all my friends on the beach today, I know they probably had to get up early to make it down here this morning, but they're all there so that's something that I'll treasure and remember forever." The Pipeline Masters was on hold yesterday with small waves forcing officials to call a lay day in the last event of the 2007 men's world surfing championship. Five days remain in the waiting period and another call will be made this morning whether to start round four.



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