If you're looking for a classic surf origin story, here's one:
"The first time I saw Tom [Curren] I was at Cronulla Hill. I knew Tommy was in town and I walked over the hill. It was like six to eight-foot plus and nobody was really out except Tommy, and I got to watch him surf. It was amazing."
So says Mark Occhilupo about his first recollection of seeing Tom Curren surf in person, nearly 40 years ago. Thus began the fabled rivalry between Occy and Curren. From Huntington Beach, to J-Bay, to Bells, the two appeared cosmically intertwined. One, a goofy-footer, affectionately known as the Raging Bull, with a brash and powerful approach. The other an introvert, a regular-foot stylist, infamous for forgetting his event prize checks in the backseat of his rental car.
For as much as Bells has been a prominent feature in the Curren/Occy legacy, historically speaking, Curren is winning, bagging two Bells Victories to Occy's one.
Curren's first win at Bells came in 1985. Then in 1986, the two met in the Semifinals in one of the most memorable clashes in pro surfing history. Curren took the heat win but lost to Tom Carroll in the Final. It's also where the legend of Curren's Channel Islands "Black Beauty" board was born.
A little surf history side note, Black Beauty was actually a mistake. According to surf sage Sam George, Curren's Black Beauty was born as a result of a screwed up pin line. As the glasser kept trying to amend his mistake, the pin line got wider and wider, until eventually it turned into the iconic paint job that came to be known as Black Beauty. It was another misunderstood moment that helped build the mystique of Curren.
Curren landed another Bells win in 1990 when he came back from obscurity to show the world that he hadn't succumbed to jazz riffs in the jungle. That same year he'd ride a wave in a heat at Margaret River all the way from the take-off zone to the rivermouth -- estimated to be a ride of over 1,200-feet that may not have been replicated since -- and then go on to win his third World Title.
Occy's first and only Bells win didn't come until he began to stage his comeback in 1998. It would be a victory that helped build momentum for his World Title charge in 1999.
Now Occy and Curren are back at Bells for the 2019 Heritage Heat. Occy's been surfing better than ever. He's fit, he's fired up and he's got some great boards by JS under his feet. Give the man a solid wave on the Bells Bowl and he's a threat to anyone.
Meanwhile with Curren ... who knows what he'll show up on. He's been lurking around Torquay lately, helping celebrate Rip Curl's 50th anniversary, and rumor is there's a few fresh Black Beauty's on the rack. But shaper Maurice Cole is also in the zone and their collaboration on the reverse vee design would be fun to see. But considering lately that Curren's been more infatuated with a skimboard he was gifted from Brad Domke , it's anybody's guess what he paddles out on. That's part of the legend that is Curren.
It's been 33 years since that epic Semifinal clash back in '86. Both Curren and Occy's surfing continues to inspire and impress. With a solid swell forecast for later this week, the opportunity to see them duke it out on the Bowl when it's firing can't be missed.