The Inertia Senior Contributor
Mark Occhilupo playing Bocce Ball Bells Beach

The question, here, is a simple one: Should Mark Occhilupo be slotted into the roster for Bells based on the fact that he is a much-loved surfing institution and a few surf technologists know how to use hash tags? I’m leaning towards “no.” Photo: ASP

The Inertia

When painted with the right brush, Mark Occhilupo’s story is inspiring. A hardscrabble kid surfs his way to the top, is derailed by drugs and issues with manic depression, and then overcomes his demons with the help of people who both care for him and depend on his image to turn a profit.  They keep the drama out of the media spotlight until years later when a few oblique references are made in a book published during his triumphant return to form.  Everyone wins – on both a personal and corporate level.

In a better world, it might have been how the life of Andy Irons panned out, as well. In this instance, Irons is not the issue, but rather, Irons is always the underlying issue in these strange days of market-driven surf culture. The pertinent question here is one motivated by a Twitter campaign imploring the authorities to #putoccyinbells2012.  The question, here, is a simple one:  Should Mark Occhilupo be slotted into the roster for Bells based on the fact that he is a much-loved surfing institution and a few surf technologists know how to use hash tags?  I’m leaning towards “no.”

You might remember that Billabong employed this same rationale in their tow-in expression session for Bruce Irons at last year’s Billabong Pro Teahupoo.  Like the “campaign” to #putbruceinchopes, the “campaign” to  #putoccyinbells2012 is a web-based initiative, and like most web-based initiatives, it will probably quickly devolve into Instagram tweets about our pets’ quirks. (OMG!, Sparky never eats lettuce! #crazydogs)  However, if the right people start talking about it in the surf world (@kellyslater), it could gain some traction.

The surf world has historically operated via a hoary system of quasi-familial ties that essentially protects and serves those in its higher echelons.  A made man like Occy has more than once benefited from the system, albeit in ways that I think most would agree, are positive.  Whether surfing was once more of a family than a famiglia, I can’t say, but every time there is a call to put someone into a contest for sentimental reasons, I shudder a bit: your sentiment funds their surf trips.

I respect, and to some degree, share the desires of those who want to see Occhilupo in a jersey again; he is still a fantastic surfer, and I’m a sucker for nostalgia like the next guy.  But granting a man a wildcard simply because he is beloved is a sham.  Worse, it feels like a marketing ploy for companies who are dying to reconnect with apathetic consumers.  Mark Occhilupo is a man of flesh and bone, but Occy is a brand, a subsidiary of Billabong. They sell you Occy and his compelling story, then they sell you the book, then they sell you the t-shirt.  If he dies suddenly, God forbid, then it’s easy to change his brand name a bit and keep selling it until the actual man and anything he might have stood for dissolve into the golden tinge of an aggressive PR campaign. This is cultural capitalism 101, and I ain’t got the money nor the time.

Another question is the perennial legitimacy crisis of the ASP.  Tossing a surfer into the draw because it would be “cool” undermines any sense of real professionalism that the Tour has worked to cultivate.   Trying to sex up a comp with a Twitter wildcard ultimately misses the point.  Competition surfing is, by definition, a limited forum made to showcase the struggle of two or three dedicated surfers who want to pit their skills against one another in a structured format. If that isn’t your cup of tea, or you are somehow opposed to it, the best criticism you can structure is to simply not pay attention; there is a healthy free surfing market to follow through its online, magazine, and video presence.  If you enjoy competition surfing, which I do some days, then you have to respect the rules of the game – even if it means excluding your favorite. Put simply, sentimentality and competition don’t mix; the sooner we accept that fact, the sooner pro surfing becomes just that: professional.

Kelly Slater Bio




Counterpoint: Put Occy In

Sunday, April 1, 2012
Mark Occhilupo Margaret River Bells

Who wouldn't like to see John John or Medina vs. Occy next week at 8-foot Bells? Photo: ASP

(The following is a response by Kelly Slater to an article published last week entitled #PutOccyInBells2012: #WTF? By Tetsuhiko Endo)

Did you really use #WTF for the idea of putting Occy in Bells? And do you actually think the idea of putting Occy in Bells is “based on the fact that….a few surf technologists know how to use hash tags?”

If so, that’s a complete denial of the facts. He’s probably the best ever goofy at Bells; just a few years ago he beat AI in 8-foot surf there when people thought he couldn’t; he just came off a 3rd place finish at Margaret’s when people thought he couldn’t; the forecast is calling for big surf and offshore winds (his bread and butter), and on top of that, yes, nostalgia is a good thing when placed correctly.

Should he be in the event strictly because of the power of Social Media power and the institution and branding of a company? Absolutely not. Should he be in based on his abilities and the fact that he’s a more interesting draw all-around for the event? Absolutely. Who wouldn’t like to see a John John or Medina vs. Occy heat next week at 8-foot Bells? Who thinks Occy doesn’t have a chance to win that or that he’s not the likely favorite in those heats (with the right conditions)?

The potential of Twitter and the like is that anyone has a voice. #PutOccyInBells2012 or any other hash tag can be a good way for everyone to be involved. I have no idea where it came from but I thought it was a good one so I went with it. That’s part of the fun with these things. Some just take hold and become real.

Tetsuhiko, if you have a problem with the power of Social Media and corporate institutions, fair enough. Everyone should be concerned. But to use Occy as your scapegoat in this article to make an unrelated point is off the mark.

  • Tim Hamby

    I definitely agree with you Ted! I love Occ and enjoyed seeing him perform well at Margaret River, even to my detriment in fantasysurfer. I’d love to see him at Bells, but believe for the sake of ASP credibility (some will call that an oxymoron- hoping I’m beating them to the punchline), I don’t think they should go there. I think (2) Wildcards should continue to be at the sole discretion of the Title Sponsor per event (always love the intrigue), along with the two from the ASP that can acquire points season long (Kai, Yadin currently I believe?), then alternates as slotted. It is a nice PR try move Billabong. Unfortunately, it is Rip Curl’s event.

    • Tim Hamby

      Excuse me, Snapper’s what got me off to the crappy fantasysurfer start this year! Margaret River was the 6-star. Again, great to see Mark perform so well in that one- a great bit of nostalgia! 

  • Great piece. Loved “Worse, it feels like a marketing ploy for companies who are dying to reconnect with apathetic consumers. Mark Occhilupo is a man of flesh and bone, but Occy is a brand, a subsidiary of Billabong. They sell you Occy and his compelling story, then they sell you the book, then they sell you the t-shirt. ”

    Thanks for writing.

  • Horrace

    Concise, well put, strong thesis with supporting paragraphs. Hat’s off, this was a nice read. 

  • Hendo

    Did you not see him surf Margret River, oh you were writing a web initiative were you, shame.

  •  “The surf world has historically operated via a hoary system of
    quasi-familial ties that essentially protects and serves those in its
    higher echelons.” Whose surf world? Not mine and not anyone that I know. I’m sure it started way before the Bronzed Aussies showed up, but damn them all for selling out the soul of surfing. The good news is that the ocean doesn’t give a crap about them so maybe I shouldn’t, either.

  • goofy73

    Rip Curl is entitled to use their wildcards as they wish, but a business argument can be made for. Occy. As an, online viewer, I would be more inclined to watch  Occy at Bells than pretty much any of Rip Curl’s non CT roster, save Curren. More viewership, more return on marketing dollars. Hey wait, #PutCurrenOnATomoInBells2012? How many characters is that? 

  • Wildrnes

    Do put Occy in Bells 2012! Why not? What do the ASP contestants, audience, and sponsors have to lose? Absolutley nothing.

    What do they have to gain? I will tell ya’.
           1) Nostalgia- We all love to see Occy ride. No one surfs like Occy does on his backhand. Pure     power, especially with those dam pier piling legs. Can you keep a secret? Occy was part of the Australian government’s top secret experiment to create super surfer. Long arms for paddling, short neck to lessen weight and stream line, and freakin’ huge legs for deadly cutbacks.

           2) Back to the basics, what is really missing and underscored in competitive surfing…the bottom turn and backside hack. I listened to Shmoo and Pottz commentate the Telstra Pro 2012 and they analyzed Florence’s attack. Again and again they mentioned how he gets his drive from his bottom turn. They mentioned how the bottom turn was one of the most critical and underrated moves. Well, if we get to Occy surf Bells, everybody from the www viewers to jersey wearers will have to bust out a pen and paper to takes notes on how Professor Occy, PhD. executes solid bottom turns.

           3) He will bring in more viewers. Let’s face it, the ASP is a business. Every sports franchise is a business. Occy will help bring in viewership, make sales, and earn more respect for the WCT. Right now with the global recession, the ASP WCT needs financial help more than ever. If, for example, Kelly were to leave the tour, the ASP would lose a large chunk of change from declining viewership. Every nonsurfer knows Kelly and the same goes for Occy. Now that Dane has left the tour, the ASP needs more rock’n’roll than ever.  
                In addition, the surfer(s) who is slotted with Occy in a heat is going to stoked from the afterglow. Imagine having a heat with the one and only Occy!

           4) Occy deserves it. Dane got a wildcard into Snappers and he has never ever won a world title let alone a competition. In fact, Dane bailed out on contests the following year yet he still managed to get a spot in a contest this year.
               Occy is part of the elite. He still slays giants. He still has the fire. Why let his talent go to waste in the garage. Let him lose and clean up the damage later. You don’t put a good book down. You want to read the next chapter!

           5) Tired of the same old shit. I am sorry, but I can not get excited when Medina or Andino are in heats. They are flashy. They do some acrobatic and extrememly difficult stunts but they are so young and agile. Kind of like 14 year-old Russian gymnists in the Olympics. What is to be expected? Each new generation brings in flash and glamour, but then it fades out into the horizon. They start losing heats. Judges are on to them. Fans are bored. “Hey, he did that same air on the last 3 waves” or “He is turning into a robot”.
                If Occy is in Bells, then we will be in for something new, especially to younger fewers who were not around during Occy’s peaks and meltdowns. There is something beautiful about watching the semi-old school power surfers ride waves. They are so committed in their moves. They are craftsmen, um women, who have a well-developed, mature style. No flash, hype, or glam.

    I would love to hear more reasons WHY OCCY SHOULD BE AT BELLS. Come on people! 

    • Dave Mailman

       That is what “legends” heats are for.  If you want to see him surf against the Top 34, wait for a Billabong contest to #PutOccyInTheComp. That’s what sponsors wildcards are for…

      • Wildrnes

        True, that is what legends and masters heats are for. On the other hand, surfing contest vary greatly from other sports. Professional surfers get better as they grow. Case and point, Kelly Slater and Taylor Knox. They just seem to progress every year. We are blessed as surfers to only get better as we get older. I surfed at a right point in Santa Barbara with Shaun T. a few years back. I was paddling up the face of wave as I watched him come around the corner, bash the lip on the overhead wave, get hung-up then proceed to make a clean reentry. Only getting better Shaun!

        So, with all this said, I do not think that Occy should be led out to the pasture or have to wait until a wild card slot opens up in his sponsor’s contents. Let the bull loose at Bells.

        I think that a masters or legends heat is a downgrade. It works in tennis and golf but not in surfing. We are a sport of rebellious counter culturists. It is rough around the edges and isn’t presented in a clean package. Why do you think folks resonate with Dane?

        If Occy and other pro vets have the goods then let them play! I’d like to see Egan, Machado, Curren back. By the way, Curren smoked Dane at the Rincon classic. How is that for a “legend”?

    • moko the dolphin

      6) i think including him will give the younger guys a better understanding of the legitimacy of pure, powerful bottom to top surfing. 
      may i elaborate…..

      ssssssssfffft  … BANG!   …. again
      sssssssft….       BANG!

      all the way to the beach 

      • Wildrnes

        yes! I am watching the webcast as I wrote this. bummer to not see OCCY there. he deserves to be there especially to school the new skinny-legged new school.

  • Bert

    The wild card system, as far as I’m concerned, is not fair nor “professionnal”…
    Guys are travelling around the globe to get points, not money, except if you reach the semis in a 6 stars.  A sponsor giving a wildcard to a local or known surfer is giving him a huge advantage (1750 pts if you pass one round, JJF had just 2000 pts for winning at Pipe in a 5 stars event).  WCT events should be for those who qualified, enabling organizers to wrap up the comp in two days and a half (a good passing swell) and only giving points to those skilled enough to have qualified the previous year.

    I don’t need a proof that Occhiluppo is able to beat Medina in 8 ft Bell’s, that’s not the point of the WCT. Tom Curren could beat most of the CT in 8 ft french beach break also, but we all knew this already. If a lot of people are willing to watch Occhiluppo surfing, ask his sponsor to do a video!

  • ScottTX

     Not necessarily in disagreement with you.  However, Joe Montana would be disintegrated in the NFL today, given his age, even though he is a tough SOB.  I think a more appropriate example would be Terrell Owens.

    Occhilupo could still enter and likely win heats today, despite his age.  Just a nuance.

    That said, he shouldn’t be granted a wild card – the most salient reason being that he could disrupt point collection for a serious contender.

  • ScottTX

     I suppose by “serious contender” I mean a surfer (wild card or not) who has reasonable chances of a top-5 finish this year.  I need more coffee.

  • Dandaman

     Love this Adz. Good vibrations.

    • Adz_Aloha

       Many mahalo’s Dandaman…!!!

  • Wildrnes

    Maybe Ozzy Osborne will step in to replace Occy as the commentator. Second up would be Keith Richards. Good times A-Gas!

  • Binnsie

    Oh dear, you’re really over thinking things here fellas. There’s no marketing spin at work, Occy was ripping at Margarets, his heats were on a par with Kelly and John John’s for interest (and yep, they were more exciting than Taj/Kerrzy/Kolohe/Joel etc) and with the man himself saying he felt like he was surfing better than he has in a long time, a few people thought it’d be cool to roll out the hashtags as they want to see their favourite surfer keep the ball rolling.

    Nostalgia aside, Occ is currently 30th on the World Ratings, thinking of doing J-Bay now it’s a six-star, and Randy Rarrick has said if he’s in the top 100 come the end of year he’ll slot him into a the Triple Crown, so why aren’t we allowed to fantasise about the best backhand surfer ever, in a rare vein of form, having a crack at Kelly at Round One at Bells?

    • Wildrnes


  • Hendo

    So glad Mr Slater wrote that, simply because beating Occ in the Bowl is what’s this is all about and that’s no mean feat.

  • Phil

    I’m with Tet on this one.  Competitive surfing at its highest level shouldn’t be based on a twitter campaign,nostalgia trip, or twitter campaign.  Although, I obviously defer to Kelly on the workings of competitive surfing.  

  • Phil

    I’m with Tet on this one.  Competitive surfing at its highest level shouldn’t be based on a twitter campaign,nostalgia trip, or twitter campaign.  Although, I obviously defer to Kelly on the workings of competitive surfing.  

  • Al Baydough


     Then you’ll have to put Carroll in Pipe, Kong in Sunset, Rabbit in Snapper, and Slater in everything after he retires (?).

     I love watching Occy surf and his Margaret’s performance was insane; I was really hoping to see him take on JJF. But this is silly. When J-Bay is a CT event again Billy can give him a wildcard.

    • Tim Hamby


      • Al Baydough

        Killing me.

  • Bert

    “Who wouldn’t like to see John John or Medina vs. Occy next week at 8-foot Bells?”

    I also would like to see Julian Wilson vs Tom Curren, Sunny Garcia vs Jeremy Flores, Tom Carroll vs Heitor Alves, Damien Hardmann vs Matt Wilkinson…You name it…And not only at Bells, but on every goos spot on the planet! And of course, it’s also possible that a Medina vs Occhiluppo heat in 8 ft Bells would be as interesting as a Medina vs Taylor Knox heat in 3 ft shitty Hossegor, for instance…
    As I said, it’s more than probable that most of the guys in the top 34 aren’t immune against a loss in front of a lot of other guys, not necessarly professionnal, depending where they surf, and how are the waves.  If you want the best to win in each comp, you’ll have a “round of 1250″…
    What’s the point, in terms of competition? I thought the ASP WT was about world championship and competitive surfing, with a set of rules for qualifying.
    If a twitter campaign is able to change this after each comp, I guess it’s gonna be difficult to know who’s gonna be at the next comp, and how to name a world champ at the end of the year.

  • DappaDan

    Occy should have been at Bells for 1 simple reason:

    He can still contend with the best in the world as seen at Margaret River and as he actually has a real chance of winning he should be invited.

    Not for the nostalgia, not for the Occy logo, and not for some ‘Kony2012-esque’ web hype.

    For his ability.


  • Firsttime_Poster

    haha, Slater lost and he’s dumb to boot.

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