Local surfing great Mark Occhilupo.
Local surfing great Mark Occhilupo.

Curren and Occy set to duel at J-Bay

ONE of surfing's great rivalries is between California's Tom Curren and Australia's Mark Occhilupo.

They faced off many times in their illustrious pro careers and each won some thrilling encounters.

That enduring rivalry will now be rekindled at the fabled J-Bay in South Africa for the Billabong Pro, starting from July 9.

Despite their many meet-ups, enigmatic Curren and Raging Bull Occy have never faced each other at Jeffreys, which adds more intrigue to this upcoming bout between the 1980s superstars.

Their rivalry is matched by only a few in surfing - maybe Midget Farrelly and Nat Young, and Andy Irons and Kelly Slater.

The J-Bay match up is a stroke of marketing genius for Billabong, with the two former world champs coming out of retirement for a super heat.

Occy is considered one of the best backhand surfers ever at J-Bay.

He won the first event there in 1984 with his powerful style and even named his first son Jay after the location.

“I hear Tom is already in South Africa training and I'm really excited to be facing off against him again,” said Occy at D'bah during his latest Occy Grom event.

“I've been training with Parko and a lot on my own, so I'm going to be prepared for this!”

Occy hasn't surfed against his old adversary for almost 20 years, since 1988 in Japan when Curren took the honours.

Curren won 33 WCT events compared to Occy's 12 and is taking this challenge seriously.

“Anywhere Occy paddles out, he has a good chance of winning against anybody, so for me, it's all about training,” Curren said.

I've been fortunate to watch both these guys go hammer and tongs against each other.

Their first epic duel was a famous semi-final at Bells in '85 - still one of the most talked-about heats in world pro surfing - two totally different styles: Curren's down the line speed and grace on the forehand and Occy's full tilt backhand power.

Just when Occy looked to have it won, Curren took off on a slightly better wave and went that little extra to win a mammoth encounter.

The following year, Occy took down Curren in a demolition job at Newcastle in the BHP Steel City Classic.

Occy got wind of a southerly buster ripping up the coast and burst into a quick flurry of left-handers, with three 8s in a row before the onshore hit.

Curren was still waiting for his opening ride. To his credit, the cool and calculating Californian, son of legendary big gun shaper Pat Curren, almost clawed his way back, but not quite.

The Novacastrians couldn't contain themselves over that win, let alone yours truly, who was commentating at the time.

Unfortunately, I had to sit next to the sombre Currens on a flight back to the Gold Coast, and if looks could kill . . .

THE fifth event, and the halfway mark, of this year's ASP World Tour, the Billabong Pro at J-Bay, will indeed be the curtain raiser for the 2009 world title - now that the King has woken from his slumber.

Yes folks, nine times world champion Kelly Slater is back to his best after an emphatic win in Brazil.

He has arrested a poor form slump which had him rated 25th prior to his 41st victory.

Almost ditching Brazil and J-Bay due to competitive burnout, a phone call from the ASP's Renato Hickel persuaded Slater to show for his many Brazilian fans.

Hickel made a similar winning call last year to talk the King into coming to Bells.

Slater reluctantly packed all his boards for Brazil. They went missing in Sao Paulo and he was forced to borrow boards for round one, resulting in a round two sudden death heat which he won easily against a Brazilian wildcard, on an asymmetrical quad fin!

Then Kelly almost got beaten by Taj Burrow in the quarter finals, riding an epoxy board, before jumping back on his standard bread and butter model to post his highest score of the event and the year against Brazil's best, Adriano De Souza.

“I called my girlfriend before the final and said every time I show up at an event after trying to pull out, I win!” Slater said.

Throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of this year's world title challengers, the King said: “I feel like I have all those guys right where I want them.

“I don't feel I have any pressure on me and that's when I do my best surfing.

“J-Bay is probably my best event.” He's won it four times.

Coolangatta's Joel Parkinson continues to lead the world title race.

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