Mark Occhilupo's birth story

Mark Occhilupo first learned to surf at Kurnell in Sydney’s south when he was only six or seven years old, on an old surf board that had been left out for council clean up. By the age of 13 the goofy-footer had surfboard and wetsuit sponsors and by 14 had reached the finals in the Pro-Am competition. By 17, Mark had dropped out of school and passed selection for the professional surf tour on his very first attempt. For the next five years, he remained in the top ten with only two other professional surfers at the time beating his winning percentages. He travelled the world on the Pro Tour, going back to Hawaii each winter to surf at Pipe so that he could come back to Australia super-fit and ready to compete on his home turf. In 1988, things took a dive and Occy suddenly quit the professional surfing circuit, disillusioned with the Pro Tour, never having won the world champion title that many thought he deserved. He spent the next decade fighting obesity, depression and a total lack of motivation, a time that he refers to as his ‘Elvis years’. In 1997 at the ripe old age of 30, when most professional surfers have already surfed their better years, Occy requalified for the World Championship Tour, finishing second in the world during his first year back on tour. Then, in 1999 at the age of 33, with most of the competitors about half his age, Occy stunned the world by winning the world champion title. For the next eight years, he remained in the world’s top 20, eventually retiring in 2007 at the age of 41. Occy is a fascinating character, a man everyone seems to have a soft spot for and whose kids think he’s the best dad who ever lived.

I met my wife Mae not long after my first marriage ended. I’d had some wild single days for a while there but when I got together with Mae, she brought all that to an end. 

 

Mae is a beautiful woman. She has a Filipino background with a large, extended family and we talked about having kids when we first got together. I hadn’t been able to have kids with my first wife. I had been told that I had a low sperm count, but with Mae we didn’t seem to have any problems and she fell pregnant like magic. I think it was because we were so in love. I was so happy – even happier than when I won the world title!

 

On the day our son was born, we still had about a month to go before the baby was due. It was a full moon and we were at home one evening with me watching the news and having a beer. Mae said she thought she was in labour and that we had better go to the hospital to have it checked out. We went into the hospital and they sent us home again, but we were back there again the same evening and Mae laboured through the night. She’s not a big girl but she was so strong in there. The labour was about seven hours long and it was full on.

 

I did as much as I could to help Mae but I was nervous. She was strong though, so she made me feel strong. I can only imagine going through the process of childbirth.

 

Mae was kind of angry with me at one point because between contractions she saw me having a go on the happy gas, just to calm my nerves. She wasn’t too happy with that. I haven’t been on that stuff since I was at the dentist when I was a kid! But overall, Mae thinks I was pretty good helping her out through the labour. Let’s just say that!

 

When it was time to push the baby out, I stayed up there with Mae to give her as much support as I could, holding her hand and cheering her on. She was using my fingers for grip and she squeezed them so tight that it was really painful. 

 

Our baby boy came out and I cut the cord. When I first saw Jay and his little eyes opened, it was such a special moment. He gave me a worried little look as if to say, ‘Will you be able to take care of me?’ It was just so magic. I will never forget that first look between father and son, it was so vivid.

We named him Jay for two reasons. Firstly because it’s my middle name and also because we’re pretty sure he was conceived at Jeffreys Bay or J-Bay as we call it. That’s a spot in South Africa that has the best waves.

 

Having a newborn at home was epic. Mae had set up the baby’s room beautifully. Jay was such a bundle of joy and having him at home was so much fun but it was tiring. It was what I would call, ALL TIME. 

 

After a few years, we decided that we wanted another baby and conceiving Jonah was also like magic, no problems at all. 

 

He came a few weeks early too, but his labour was much faster – only about three and a half hours. I was very useful during labour the second time as well! The midwives were great – we knew them all from our first baby’s birth. 

 

Both babies had some jaundice just after they were born. It was scary seeing my baby in the incubator – that freaked me out. The midwives said it was all pretty normal. They told me to sit with him in the sun to let him get some natural light to help treat the jaundice. I would unwrap the baby and hold him in my arms.

 

Mae is such a good mum. I travel a lot and so Mae does an awful lot of the parenting by herself. When I’m home, it’s my turn. It’s quite a workload with two kids.

 

We’ve worked out a good routine that works really well for us. I like to wake up really early in the morning and go for an early surf, then I come back home and help get the kids ready for school so that Mae can have a little sleep-in. I’m the Mum-Dad in the playground. Then I like to have an early night so I can be up in the surf again in the morning.

 

I took Jay out for his first surf at Sunset Beach in Hawaii, on a day when the waves were nice and small, which doesn’t happen there often. I took him out on a long board and paddled him out, a pretty special moment for a father and his son. We caught a wave and lay down together the whole way in. The look on his face was magic!

 

He’s a pretty good little surfer and is in the under-sevens at Snapper Board Rider’s Club. He’s a good little skateboarder and snowboarder too. He’s definitely got some talent. 

 

Jonah’s a great little kid. He comes along to Jay’s rugby league matches and has his own little outfit on and thinks he’s playing on the team. Jonah’s just learning to swim so he’s not surfing out the back yet. He surfs on his mini board in the lounge room at home, surfing down a mattress he has set up and when we go to the beach he stays in his wetsuit all day.

 

Mae and I took our little guys on the Pro Surfing Tour through Europe and South Africa. Jay was only about four and Jonah was one and those were the hardest trips I’ve ever done. The poor babies just wanted to get off the plane, but after one 12-hour flight we’d have another 12-hour flight to follow. It was full on.

I love being a dad.

Copyright Lucy Bloom. This story first appeared in Cheers to Childbirth, the first edition. Pure Publishing 2010.

Love a good birth story from the dad’s perspective?  Read the second edition of Cheers to Childbirth, published April 2020. Bigger, better and fully updated with 15 brand new, breathtaking birth stories from some of Australia’s favourite dads (and one same-sex couple mum). This much-loved how-to guide for dads and other support people shows you how to support your partner for a faster, easier labour. Recommended by obstetricians and midwives all over Australia. Click here for more info.