Employee of the Month: Mark Occhilupo of Surf Lakes

Mark Occhilupo, aka “Occy” makes a living at surfing. Which is good because it’s really hard imagining him doing anything else. You could envisage fellow Aussie Parko maybe doing marketing for a surf brand or Mick Fanning doing WSL play-by-play. But Occy coaching CT talent or delivering the post? No.

He’s one of the few surfers who can be called iconic. And it’s this surfing mojo that landed him a cameo in “The North Shore,” put him on stage for Dancing With the Stars, and opened up many doors (including podcaster) along the hallway of his pro surf career. One of the things we love about Mark is that he operates without a filter. What you see is what you get. Which, in a world full of million-dollar surf-star packaging, is refreshing.

The following interview was conducted on-site at Surf Lakes with a stoked and fatigued Occy after he had spent a full day surfing and being a gracious ambassador, and the transcription is left verbatim.

No one surfs Occy’s Peak more than, uh, Occy. Photo by Andrew Shields

What Is your job here?

Yeah. So my job, I mean, it has a few roles. I’m the ambassador for Surf Lakes, so I’ve been with the company pretty much since it started. You know, there’s a wave named after me called Occy’s Peak, which is the best wave in the lake. You know, so I’m kind of ambassador. I show everyone around and how to surf the waves here or what else to see here, you know.

What are your job duties specifically?

I am, pretty much, you know, just… That’s a good question. You know, I sit there and… I don’t know what I’m saying now. Could you ask me another question?

How long have you been with Surf Lakes?

You know, I can tell you the story, it was with Aaron (Trevis). Well, you know, they approached me, it was about six years ago, and I saw the wave on his computer and I was a bit skeptical. I didn’t know what I was looking at. But I decided to hop on a plane and went to Melbourne and there was a model version of this one-fifth of the size and they made little, like, tiny little waves. But as soon as I saw it, I was like, ‘can you make this, you know, in full scale?’ He’s like, “I think I can.” And I said, “I’m in.” So I know that’s not the question you asked. But you know since then, it’s just been a great ride. You know, I, I put the shovel in the ground here and that’s what I want to do, that’s what they want me to do around the world. Hopefully when these things open up, I’m going to travel around, cut the red tape and just kind of show them how to surf it, where to lineup at and what different lines you can draw on the waves.

Surf Lakes ambassadors Occy and Ben Player. Photo Andrew Shield

It’s a bit intimidating, the machine when you sit next to it. It rears up and I remember when I first surfed it, for me it was kind of scary. I’ll never forget that time when I caught my first wave here. I split the peak with my son Jay. And it was a highlight. You know, it was funny because last time Chris Hemsworth was here and I split the peak with Chris Hemsworth, and I was just joking around going, I don’t know what the better highlight was – surfing with Chris or my son. But, yeah it was definitely with my son. And I told him that and we laughed. So I can I can sit with people and show them when and where to paddle because it’s intimidating. You’ve got to sit close to the machine and it’s not dangerous by any means, but it’s just a bit intimidating. So I just help make guests comfortable. I show them where to sit and show them how to ride the barrel here because it’s a great barrel. And a lot of people have never really had a proper barrel. And they get that here for the first time.

The tube looks perfect, but it is tricky. We had some trouble lining up and timing it.

So it’s just it’s a real tight takeoff area, but it’s very incremental. You know just a couple of inches where you sit and where you paddle into the waves makes a difference. So it’s important to teach people how to surf the wave.

So what’s the best part of the job here?

I mean, surfing has been my job for a long time and it’s still my job here. And you know I just feel blessed, like, I’m really lucky that Surf Lakes picked me because it’s the only one of its type. And for me to be the ambassador and the figurehead for it is just incredible. I feel so lucky that I can still surf all the time, you know, I’m in my mid-fifties. And outside of the pool, I’m still in the ocean all day. I’m still taking people surfing. I do the experiences for Airbnb when someone books a hotel on the Gold Coast, if they book with me I take them surfing.

It is a job though, so does it feel like work?

Yeah, it feels like work. I mean, the best part of it is I haven’t gotten bored. You know, to sit out there and I’ve been here something like over 30 times at least. And I have not gotten bored yet. Just to see the look on people’s faces when they catch their first waves here is priceless. So the openness and the different breaks, you know, I’m more concentrated on speed but when it’s working, I can move over and surf the slab. (Editor’s note: The slab known as The Island was out of operation.) The slab wave is really challenging, you know, even for me, even for any pro surfer, because you don’t make every wave. It’s a real critical drop. You know, it’s work. But I love it.

Occy, fatigued and stoked after a full day of surfing and showing guests a good time.

What’s the best thing about wave pools?

I think the best thing about wave pools is they are pure stoke. You know, there’s no aggression in the water. Because where I live at Snapper it’s crowded. And I surf a lot around the world and whether it’s at Pipeline or something, obviously there’s a pecking order and there’s aggression. You know, everyone wants the best wave and they have to fight for it. But in the pools you’ve got your number. You’ve got your wave or you got your session picked out and there is no hassling. So everyone is super stoked on surfing. The vibe is good all day. There’s no blow ups. There’s no fights. And at the end of the day, everyone has got the hugest smile on their face. That’s the best thing and what I love about them, you know? And I think they’re the future. Because the ocean is crowded and everyone, you know, like when I’m in the water, like pretty much 99% of people ask me, when can we come and surf at Surf Lakes? And they all say they’ve been to Urbnsurf they want to try this one. So I think there’s many different types of wave pools and they’re all good. And yeah, the best thing is it’s just pure stoke.