Taking On The World
After winning two U.S. junior national championships, one world junior championship, and one amateur world championship, Curren was ready to try his luck on the professional tour. The Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) world tour was only in its seventh season when Curren joined in 1982, but the Australian and to a lesser extent South African surfers had already established their dominance. As a teenaged American, Curren might not have merited much respect from the other surfers, except for one thing: he won events, three in his first season alone. The next season, Curren became the first American to complete the four-event Australian Grand Slam, a feat which he repeated in 1985. Curren was handicapped in his quest to win a world title because he boycotted the competitions which were held in South Africa to protest that country's apartheid system. Despite this, he captured the ASP championship in 1985 and in 1986.
Curren's most memorable single event from these years may have been the 1986 Op Pro. The Op Pro, which is held at Huntington Beach, California, has always been a good event for Curren: it provided him with his first professional victory in 1982, and he won the event again in 1985. In 1986, Curren was undefeated going into the event. He faced perennial rival Mark Occhilupo in a preliminary round. Curren took the lead early, but Occhilupo caught two great waves to catch up in the second half of their thirty-minute heat. With only minutes left to go in the heat, the two had a paddling race to the priority buoy, which would determine which of them would get first choice of waves. Occhilupo won by mere inches, forcing Curren to move closer to the shore and take a less desirable wave. This gave Occhilupo the victory in that heat, and he went on to win the entire event. The American crowd, looking forward to watching Curren win, was furious with this outcome, and some of the 50,000 spectators began to riot, even overturning and burning a police car.