Mark Healey at Pipeline. 11-7-08
Mark, you are internationally known as one of the hardest chargers in the planet, at what age did you take a liking to the bigger stuff?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always liked to scare myself. Whether it was double overhead waves when when I was 10 or sixty foot waves nowadays. I just like to push my personal limits. When I hear the phrase “Big waves”, 18ft+ hawaiian is what comes to mind, so in that case I started at about the age of 15.
Can you remember those early sessions where (at what spots) you started pushing yourself, was it gradual or did you throw yourself into 20ft surf one day?
The first times I ever got to experience giant surf was at Waimea. I had been surfing spots like Sunset, as big as it could hold, and the next step up was obviously The Bay. When the day arrived Jamie Sterling and I were on it. I think I was 15 and he was 16. I was completely blown away by how different these huge waves moved. I remember looking down the face of these waves and thinking that they weren’t ridable, but other guys were dropping in, so I thought ” If they are doing it there’s no reason I can’t”. I ended up catching some really fun waves on the 8’2″ Noah Johnson hand me down before I got caught inside by a 20ft set. I had been trying to catch an 18 footer, and was paddling as hard as I could to try to chase this wave down and get into it. The offshore wind was kicking up huge plumes of spray, and I couldn’t see anything. Just head down committed. Finally the wave passed under me and I was flicked off the back similar to the way a bull swats away an annoying little fly. As I turned around huffing and puffing to paddle back to the peak I was trying to blink off all the spray that was still hindering my vision. As it settled, all I could see was black. I nearly shit my short john. There must have been sixty people scrambling to get over this wave and I was the only poor bastard fifty yards further in than everyone. I could recognize faces of guys who were big Bay regulars losing composure as they scratched over the set. I remember thinking that if they are all the way out there scared that they might get caught, and I’m all the way in here……..a knot instantly seized in my stomach. This is NOT good. I paddled as hard as I could trying to be aware of the fact that if I’m too winded I won’t be able to hold my breath. The wave was drawing so much water off the reef that it had a suction effect pulling towards our inevitable meeting place. Boils were popping up everywhere around me making it difficult to to keep my paddling speed. I noticed a couple of men looking back down at me. At the moment they realized that they were getting over this set safely, curiosity must have caused them to look back to see what was going on. They had horrified looks on their faces which wasn’t encouraging in the least. As the black water and I get closer it hit the tipping point. When the water got too shallow the mass had nowhere to go but up and over. At this point there was nobody else in my field of vision and it really sunk in that I was completely alone in this situation. It had doubled in size and was now showing the contour of a giant barrel. At this point is when the other danger besides drowning came to mind. The force of one of these waves breaking is unimaginable. Easily enough to dislocate joints or knock you unconscious. Not to mention keeping a full chest of air through an impact like that. Without skipping a beat I went from paddling on my board to rolling off the side and swimming for the bottom. The last thing I saw before I went under was the inside of this huge tube. Thank God I got under the lip! As I was frog kicking for my life under water the pull of the wave got stronger. Then the tension of the leash snapped tight. It took every bit of strength in my 95lb body to reach the surface behind the wave for a sip of air before getting pulled back under by my leash. I considered trying to pull my leash, because I was starting to wonder if there was a second wave, and I was losing precious ground. I decided to keep fighting it and eventually broke free from the pull of this wave. I pulled my board to me as fast as possible and started a frenzied paddle out. My muscles were burning from not getting the oxygen they needed and here I was in the same position as before. Enveloped in the plume of spray from the wave that I just got away from. I couldn’t see what was in front of me and wasn’t sure if I had enough in me to deal with more. I just paddled, breathed, and hoped. As the spray settled I saw something beautiful…. flat water! The moment I saw this my fear left completely and was replaced by euphoria. I realized immediately that it was the most alive I’ve ever felt in my life. I’ve been hooked ever since.
During those early stages who were some of the guys you really looked up to?
Tom Carroll, Brock Little, Sean Briley.
You’ve really established yourself at places like Pipe and Teahupoo. When did the transformation of riding hollow reef lefts turn into chasing giant swells around the globe?
I’ve always been into surfing giant waves as well as surfing places like Pipe and Teahupo’o. The difference is that you get a lot more chances to surf those hollow waves and gain experience as apposed to getting giant surf. We’re lucky to get 4 real 20ft days in Hawaii per season. If I want to progress big wave surfing for myself and the sport I can’t wait all year for a couple of sessions in Hawaii and expect to progress. You might get only one day a year, and you’ll most likely spend it just trying to get the butterflies out. Not pushing the limits. I probably started really looking at the maps and chasing swell in 2001, when I started flying to Maui to surf Jaws with Jamie Sterling. That’s when I started to figure out how to deal with the logistics close to home and expand out. The next step was getting used to surfing cold water in a 5mil suit with a hood, gloves, and booties which opened up most of the big waves on the planet to me.
Do you have any magic days that stick out in your mind as most memorable or are there too many to remember?
There’s a lot of them, but probably the most memorable was a paddle session that Dave Wassel and I had at an outer reef in Hawaii. It was giant top to bottom barrels and we were the only people out. It was late afternoon and the swell was rising. We scratched for our lives over who knows how many waves a mile out to sea with no trustworthy line ups. I think it’s safe to say that both of us paddled into the biggest heaviest waves of our lives that day.
You just recently did a trip to China to ride a tidal bore, does that rate as one of your biggest novelty sessions?
That was absolutely the biggest novelty surf of my life. It still seems like it was all a weird dream to me! Riding the tidal bore was so different than surfing in the ocean. It was really fun to figure out the approach to something that is so different. There’s not exactly any common knowledge or protocol when it comes to riding tidal bores yet. I’m used to chasing huge waves with Greg and Rusty Long, so we have some experience working together in heavier situations, and we all have a slightly different approach to things. We were starting from scratch, and experiencing new things every day of the trip. It was awesome.
What’s your daily routine at home?
My life pretty much revolves around the ocean and weather conditions. If I know the waves are going to be up I head straight to the 50yd line (Quik house at Pipe). If I know that the waves are going to be down I wake up usually at dark and go spearfishing somewhere on the island depending on what the wind and currents are doing. I’ve also got into skydiving, so I’ve been doing that a bunch lately. Besides that I like to hang out with my friends and family that I don’t get to see much during the summer travel season.
Besides home- where is your favorite place to hang and surf?
That’s a hard one. I get bored easily so change is always good. Tavarua is pretty hard to beat though.
Ok, you’re an established shallow lefthand reef surfer, big wave paddle surfer, tow surfer, world class spear fisherman- is there anything funny or weird about you that most people don’t know?
I got my drivers’ license when I was 15 years old. I had worked cleaning vacation rentals here on the North Shore with my mom to raise enough money to buy their old car off of them. It was a crappy little tercel rust bucket. The previous owners were a couple of old fruits who had apparently referred to it as “Golda” because of the gold paint job, which of course my Dad never let me forget. I think it cost me $150. Anyways, what most people don’t know is how small I was when I was younger. I was so short that I couldn’t see over the steering wheel. I actually drove by looking through the gap between the top of the steering wheel and the dash board. I’ll be honest, I had small man syndrome. Driving a little car named Golda and still not being able to see over the steering wheel was about as much of an ego hit as I was willing to take at the time. Breaking down and sitting on phone books so I could actually see was out of the question. The big day had arrived. Time to go up to the DMV in Wahiawa and get my drivers’ license. When I showed up the guy who was supposed to give me the road test tried to bar me before we even got in the car. He said I was too small (in a very condescending way) to be driving. Not willing to go down without a fight I informed this Asian version of Jobba the Hut of my legal rights and we began the road test. I did well and passed. I was looking triumphantly at my shiny new license, when I noticed it said “Restriction” followed by a letter on it. I asked Jobba what it meant and he said that I have to be sitting on some kind of pad (or phone book) at all times while driving. If pulled over without it I would be ticketed or have my driver’s license revoked. That restriction is on my license to this day! The fine people at the Department of Motor Vehicles told me that I’d have to take a road test again to get it removed. I told them that they’re dreamin’, so it’s still there reminding me of what I’ve come from and to not take myself too seriously.