23 April 2024

Watch Aussie sporting history on the big screen at Wollongong's Gala Cinema in May

| Zoe Cartwright
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Jack McCoy captures a shot of Occy performing one of his iconic turns.

Jack McCoy captures a shot of Occy performing one of his iconic turns. Photo: Jack McCoy.

Before R U OK Day was even an idea, before sports psychologists were a ubiquitous part of elite performance, one of Australia’s greatest athletes lost his mind – and was honest about it.

Surf filmmaker Jack McCoy was part of the story of Marco Jay Luciano Occhilupo – or Occy – and chronicled the legend’s rise and fall and rise again in Occy the Occumentary, released in 1998.

For the 25th anniversary of Occy’s hard-won world title win in 1999 Jack has reformatted the film to fit modern screens, improved the sound and taken it on tour to theatres around the country, including the Gala Cinema in Wollongong.

Jack said it was not just a film about surfing – although there was plenty of that in there. It was a film about mental health, resilience, and honesty.

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The young surf prodigy from Cronulla was launched onto the world tour at 15 years of age and affectionately nicknamed the Raging Bull for his driven, hacking style.

He held his own against iconic names in surfing – like Tom Curren and Kelly Slater – and looked to have a glittering future ahead of him.

But at 22 he began to exhibit bizarre behaviour, lashing out, damaging boards, not turning up for heats and, at one point, attempting to swim home to Australia.

He left the tour and spent three years more dedicated to drinking, eating junk and sitting on the couch than surfing.

“Billabong paid him for those three years,” Jack said.

“It was like he had an overdose of the tour and never had a childhood; he’d lost his father; the boss thought it was the right thing to do.

“Then he came to stay with me and my family in WA to see if the ability and the desire was there to make a comeback.”

To the surprise of the surfing world, it was. With Jack’s help Occy shed about 30 kg and was surfing at a level that was up there with the very best.

Jack said when Billabong announced Occy would return to the tour there were no questions about how they would frame it.

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“It’s like if you’re an alcoholic; you have to publicly acknowledge it,” he said.

“So we had a press conference and said Occy’s back, he’s had a mental breakdown but he’s back.

“He was a leader in publicly sharing what he’d been through and God bless him for the part he’s played in helping to get that focus on mental health in sport in Australia.

“Not only that, it’s still known as Australia’s greatest-ever sporting comeback.”

Indeed – his first year back on tour Occy took second place to Kelly Slater, before he won the title the following year.

He continued to compete until the end of the 2005 season. At just shy of 40, he was both the oldest surfer on tour and had the longest professional surfing career in history at the time.

The Occumentary doesn’t just document Occy’s journey. It’s a piece of Australian sporting and cultural history, with beautiful surf scenes interspersed with creative recreations (Occy’s birth, a doll attached to the womb by a legrope, springs to mind) and candid moments.

The showing at the Gala Cinema in Wollongong includes an introduction by local surf great, Terry Richardson, and a Q&A session at the end with Jack and Occy.

“It looks and sounds amazing, and this is a one-off, one-time only opportunity to see this film in the theatre and that’s why I’m so passionate about it,” Jack said.

“The film is a little over an hour; if you want a great story and you want to connect with the ocean this is a great night.

“To sit there and share the stoke with people – this could be Jack McCoy’s last hurrah. Surfing has been good to me, and I’m trying to give back.”

Occy the Occumentary will show at the Gala Cinema in Wollongong on Thursday 9 May. For tickets, head to Jack McCoy.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact:
Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support line – 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800 or kidshelpline.com.au
MensLine Australia – 1300 789 978.

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