I first saw him surfing at Burleigh, up on the Gold Coast. That was before he went on Tour in ’83. He was riding a Jim Banks surfboard—really gunny with hard, sharp rails. He had a semi-wide stance, the waves were really fast, and he had an aggressive style. Then I saw him at a contest at Ocean Beach in San Diego in ’84. He was really interesting to watch, because he had a lot of quickness and power.
I did well my first year on tour in ’82-’83—I started halfway through the year, and I finished in 16th place. The next year was his first on tour. Because I’d done well my first year, I started to come up against him in the early rounds of contests a lot, and he beat me on a number of occasions that first season. It was really frustrating.
I started to feel a real rivalry with him. I had a game plan: to make the World Tour, then to make the Top 10, and then to go for the title—and he really upset my three-year plan. He went from nowhere to No. 2 in the world his first year on tour, and he was consistently beating me. Because of him, I had to go to the gym and the pool, I had to get my boards more dialed in, I had to improve my surfing and keep progressing, I had injuries to rehab, and not only did I have to physically work hard but mentally, too. When someone is surfing as good as he was, there’s a lot of work to do to not get psyched out and stick to your plan.
In clean, shoulder-high lefts, like in France, he was so strong. Even though I tried my best to beat him, there was something he was doing that was hard to define. He surfs instinctively, and it has to do with how he drives his board. He has the power to just destroy the lip all the time—the strong body and big feet—but he’s also got an innate sense of timing, which is something you usually associate with “stylish” surfers. He was drawing different lines and surfing so spontaneously. Anytime we had a heat in those conditions, it was particularly to my disadvantage.
A lot of guys were challenging to surf against during that time on tour—Gary Elkerton, Tom Carroll, Derek Ho, Barton Lynch, Damian Hardman, and others—but Occy, in particular, was an obstacle for me. He had such good style and power, and his boards were really working for him. When he was on his game, he was better than everybody else. —Tom Curren