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Surfing’s oldest pro hangs up wetsuit after 25 years

After 25 years of professional surfing, Mark Occhilupo has retired at the age of 41.

Occhilupo first burst onto the pro surfing scene back in 1983 at the young age of 17. Brash and cocky but with the surfing ability to back it up, Occhilupo was a media sensation. Being one of Australia’s best surfers, Occhilupo not only influenced the surfing world but also represented the nation he proudly came from.

Before his retirement he was the oldest surfer still competing. “Occy’s” surfing career lasted 25 years, making his surfing career professional surfing’s longest. Occhilupo came into professional surfing a champion and exits a champion.

Any long and successful career is going to have its share of good times, bad times, victories and defeats, Occhilupo’s included. Occy did not win every surfing contest he ever entered, but he did win the prestigious Pipeline masters in 1985 during some of the highest surf in contest history. Fueled by the win, Occy’s momentum picked up, and by 1986 he was rated No. 2 in the world for professional surfing. Though it appeared Occy was riding the wave of his life from the outside, from the inside Occy was headed for a major wipeout.

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Somehow in-between all the fame and glory Occy the ever-stoked surfer began to lose his enthusiasm for contests, surfing and life. As his ratings began to go down his weight began to go up. He spent the next decade trying to recapture the magic only to see it elude him time after time. By then Occy was becoming an out-of-shape couch potato, depressed and embarrassed to even leave the house for fear young kids who used to idolize him would see his condition. Few people believed the once prodigal surfer would ever make it back, including Occy.

But somewhere deep in Occy’s head a voice kept telling him “Don’t give up, get going” - and going he did. Occy began a vigorous exercise and training program to get back into shape. It wasn’t easy, but he worked hard, stuck to it and began to see results. He put more hours into his surfing, working on technique and maneuvers. Day by day Occy was improving in every way. Soon Occy was ready to compete again, but first he would have to surf qualifying rounds to prove himself, which he did. The final result was that in 1999 Mark Occhilupo became professional surfing’s world champion. Many believe this to be the greatest comeback in professional surfing history.

Though he never won the world title of professional surfing again, Occy remained at the top until his retirement at this year’s Pipeline Masters in Hawaii. His is a story of inspiration, hard work and commitment.

Imagine being young and at the top of your game and then suffering from early burnout only to make it to the top years later through use of natural given talent, hard work and persistence. Even if Occy had never made it back he would have gone out a surfing champion. But he did make it back, which made him even more of a surfing champion both figuratively and literally.

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Success in life does not always come easy. World professional surfing championships don’t come easy. Occy may have been the most talented surfer in the world, but he still had to work for it. Sitting around feeling depressed didn’t help him win in ’99, getting off his rear and working hard did.

For the most part success doesn’t just come by itself; it comes to people who go after it. Those who do not try to succeed have no chance to be successful. Regardless of one’s chosen goal, everyone who tries to be successful has a chance to succeed. The more one works toward being successful the more chances one has of succeeding.

Mark Occhilupo’s surfing career is an organon we can all benefit from whether we are trying to make a comeback for the hundredth time or make it for the first time. Those who aspire to succeed must work to succeed. Those who are successful must keep working to keep being successful. To stage a comeback, one must work to come back.

For those who are successful, you know the work it took to get there. Keep doing it. For those who wish to become successful, ask yourself three questions: What is success for me?; What work do I have to do to attain that success?; and will success be worth the work it takes to attain it? Remember this, worthwhile success is always worth working for. Congratulations Mark Occhilupo. We wish you continued success in your future, your inspiration and the lessons learned along the way will carry on.