Surfing legend Mark Occhilupo became the oldest person at 33 to win the world title in 1999 and he reckons he can still hold his own against the best.
The 46-year-old returned to Surfers Point yesterday to compete in the Margaret River Pro, which he won in 1985 when it was held for the first time.
"Occy" finished 16th on the world tour as a 17-year-old in 1983 and yesterday recalled how he shot up the rankings before quitting the tour at age 22.
"I maybe started the tour too early and burnt out and when I went home I did put on a bit of weight," he said.
He struggled to get motivated but peeled himself off the couch for a remarkable comeback in 1996.
"I didn't think I would be able to come back," he said, adding that an old friend, Billabong founder Gordon Merchant, told him it was time to return.
"So I came over to WA and trained and ate really healthily and went to the east coast and started to compete again," Occhilupo said.
Poor conditions meant Occhilupo did not compete yesterday but he will be ready to go today.
Occhilupo was reunited with four-times world champion Mark Richards, whom he beat at that life-changing 1985 final.
"I had a shocker in the final when my leg-rope kept breaking . . . I spent most of it swimming," said Richards, who was recently voted Australia's most influential surfer of the past 50 years.
Richards, 56, said he had watched the talent pool of professional surfers get stronger every year.
"The guys and the girls are doing manoeuvres that were unheard of in the 1970s and 80s," he said.
"The boards are better, the performances are better and there are more male and female surfers who want to have a career in surfing."
He advised young surfers to compete in as many local events as possible but warned them not to neglect their education.Occhilupo's feat has since been bettered by Kelly Slater, who was world champ in 2011 aged 39.
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