Big wave surfer and champion freediver Mark Healey
Text by Tiffany Iwalani Hervey
Image by Zak Noyle
The bizarre life of pro surfer and champion freediver Mark Healey.
Picture this life: One week is a five-star hotel, parties, helicopters and limo rides. The next is sleeping on a sidewalk outside a Greyhound Bus Station, not showering, and living off vending machine food. You go years without health insurance while enduring chipped teeth, a broken kneecap, a broken heel, cuts super-glued shut, and a blown-out eardrum – four times. Oh, and sometimes you ride on the back of sharks.
“It’s like Amazing Race meets Deadliest Catch meets touring with a rock band,” says Mark Healey of his life chasing big waves.
“The goal is not just catching bigger and better waves but actually riding them – not just petroglyph-stance, ride to the end of the wave and claim it, but actually surfing it with style,” the Sunset Beach local contends. “People don’t really know what it takes to go surf these waves. You go through hell just getting there and when you finally get to the location, you have to figure out how to not die surfing the biggest waves you’ve ever seen.”
To survive all the logistics, barriers, bitter environments and unforgiving elements involved in the big wave game, Healey says the only way to get that mental edge is to truly love the act of doing it. “If you don’t really want it, it will eat you up,” he says.
Growing up freediving, which involves diving without any breathing apparatuses, on the North Shore of O‘ahu has given Healey a gift for that mental edge. He’s become well known for his spear fishing talents and competes in tournaments around the world.
“Freediving is really good for your mind and your lung capacity,” explains the 29-year-old. “It disciplines your mind by knowing you can be consistently in uncomfortable physical situations and separate your mind from your body to make sure you stay calm and in control.”
Healey can freedive to a depth of 153 feet and harvests his own food regularly. He points out that spearfishing is the most selective way to catch fish, much more so than rod-and-reel or netting. While he doesn’t often catch fish bigger than him, Healey does encounter some that are not only bigger but rank higher on the food chain. He’s been riding on sharks and studying their behaviors the last couple years – even latching onto the fin of a great white for a spin.
Healey values how being part of the food chain in the ocean has helped him understand it better. “Freediving and learning about all the fish and habitats in the ocean makes you really connect to this ecosystem,” he says. “When we realize we are a part of something, we tend to value it and protect it more.”