Off the Wall — Interview with Big Wave Surfer Mark Healey

© Fred Pompermayer

© Fred Pompermayer

There’s a place where everyone feels most “at home.” For some people (sadly), that might be the couch. For adventurous types, it could be in the jungle or churning white water. I’d like to think that for me, it’s on the mountain. I’ve got immense respect for humans who have made a decidedly unforgiving environment their natural habitat, which is why I turn the spotlight on big wave surfer and free diver Mark Healey. That’s him above in Tahiti, looking right where he’s supposed to be, in the moment and in life. Inspiring. [Great shot, too, by photographer Frederico Pompermayer. More of his work here.]

In his quest to paddle into the world’s biggest waves, Mark has had his fair share of near-death tosses, the most notable being his 2004 wipeout at Jaws (Peahi). In addition to Teahupo, he’s also taken on Mavericks and Todos Santos. Then of course there’s his free diving with sharks (he once grabbed the fin of a 15-foot Great White and held on for a ride) that has rounded out his image of a man who seems more comfortable in the ocean than anywhere else.

Since meeting Mark at a GoPro event last year I’ve been following him across a few channels. The man does the insane on the daily. I was fortunate enough to pin him down for a few minutes for an interview, which I’m sharing here.

And check out the vid at the bottom of Mark free diving with bull sharks.

What is the book on your nightstand right now? (Or recent favorite book…)
MH: ‘1421 The Year China Discovered America’

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 
MH: Acceptance of variables that are out of my control and appreciation of the moment

What is your greatest fear? 
MH: To lose my freedom

What character traits do you most dislike in others? 
MH: Entitlement

What quality do you most admire in a person? 
Mh: Honesty with others and themselves

What do you most dislike in yourself? 
MH: I can be pretty damn selfish sometimes

Who is your favorite hero of fiction? Why?
MH: I’m not sure if he could be characterized as a “hero”, but Captain Nemo from ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’  I feel like he is an honest character. Briliant, and driven by his principles, but flawed at the same time.

Who is your favorite real life hero? Why?
MH: Colonel Joeseph Kittinger - He did a lot to pave the way for early space exploration, but he’s most famous for his jump from a balloon at 102,800ft in 1960. Can you imagine what was going through his mind! Everything about that mission was a test, the success of which was anyone’s guess. That guy has some serious grit, skill and intelligence.

What is your greatest ambition? 
MH: To positively effect the world while I’m here.  I want to help facilitate a love and respect for the sea and our other wild places. You will only protect something you value. If I can help bring that information and those feelings to people who would have otherwise had no idea, then that seems like the best first step.

Favorite indulgence?
MH: A good Bourbon 

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
MH: Still being alive!

What talent would you most like to have? 
MH: I wish that I could play the Sitar

What is your most treasured possession? 
MH: My dive mask

What is your motto or favorite quote?
MH: “We can not solve our problems with the same thinking we used to make them” -Einstein

What does a good day for you look like? 
MH: That’s a hard one, because it could look like almost anything. My life revolves around what the oceans of the world are doing and what access I have to different adventures, so there is almost no routine to my life. Almost any day you’re breathing is a good one, it’s just a matter of your perception of it. Happiness is a choice.

What does your training look like? 
MH: The bulk of my conditioning comes from actually doing my pursuits ie surfing, freediving, hunting. My more disciplined training usually involves (in this order of importance) flexibility-cardio-strength. Yoga, Gymnastica (a Brazilian thing), swimming, hiking, martial arts. Although, I’ve been getting most of my exercise breaking concrete and digging holes at my house. Nothing beats manual labor!

What’s the most challenging aspect of big wave surfing for you? 
MH: The mental edge. There are plenty of people that are in good enough shape, less that have the ocean knowledge, and far fewer that have the balls to execute when they are confronted with a black wall of water when they are paddling with their own two hands. That’s what separates the men from the boys.

What’s the heaviest hold down you’ve ever survived? 
MH: I was tow surfing Jaws (Big wave off of Maui) for the first time back in 2004. To this day it is still the biggest waves I’ve ever seen. It was late in the day and I was tired and cramping already. Ended up taking a digger on a 60 footer and blowing my eardrum. I had no equilibrium and I was held under for a really long time. My PFD (thin floatation vest) ripped in half and I had caught it in my hand as it was being torn off. That little bit of floatation was all I had to bring me to the surface. All I could do was hold on and wait for light. I started losing consciousness and my whole body was locked up in cramps. All the sudden it got bright white and I figured I was on the surface. My world was spinning because of the broken eardrum and I took a quick sip of air and foam before the next wave hit. I ended up taking four waves on the head before I was picked up and lost about ten minutes of memory. Had to puke so bad, but kept swallowing it back down because I didn’t want to look like a pussy. Hahaha! Good times!

What drives you? 
MH: Overcoming fears, the sense of accomplishment, being on the edge of what is known to be possible, the physicality, but I think the biggest drive is restlessness. I’ve just kinda always had the sense that I’m living on borrowed time.

What inspires you or Who inspires you? (Both or choose one)
MH: The freedom of wild places inspires me.  

To learn a little more about Mark, follow him across these channels:


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