Mark Healey is already one of the world’s best big-wave surfers. The lanky Hawaiian’s feats in heavy water are the stuff of legends, as he’s made an art form of facing his fears. Lately, however, it’s his free-diving beneath the waves that has people buzzing, as he’s been getting extremely cozy with toothy creatures of the deep. In his latest adventure, he came face-to-face with a giant bull shark, which in some regions can be more aggressive than great white sharks.
That said, he’s been free diving with great whites, too, which is another reason why Healey might seem a bit crazy to you and I. But the science of conquering fear is something that he studies. Last year, when images of Healey swimming with great whites surfaced on Surfer Magazine, he revealed how suppressing his survival instincts is one part of his big-wave training which comes in handy in these situations.
“The trick is to allow yourself to relax mentally when you can’t relax physically,” said Healey. “If you can control your mental state enough to control your heart rate, resist our involuntary reflexes, and stay calm, that can translate to other parts of your life. It can help you ignore the speed bumps. The little things.”
Beyond his daring quests is a passion for the ocean and its apex predators, which Healey believes get a bad reputation.
“Sharks can’t change their facial expression. They tell you what they want you to know with their bodies. They always look mean to most people.”
From his up-close observations, Healey now has a few theories of his own about encounters with sharks and a life well-spent in the water:
– “If they want to take you, they’re going to take you. And the only way you’re going to interact with them is if you make yourself completely vulnerable and they make the decision to come to you.”
– “The only reason I’m able to do it is because they’re coming up out of curiosity. I would definitely not be in the water if it looked like they wanted to feed.”
– “After spending time with sharks, I don’t necessarily feel any better about surfing…they’re a lot more intelligent than I expected, and with intelligence comes extra curiosity.”
– “People have ulterior motives. I think people are way more dangerous than sharks.”
– “When I hit the water I feel like I’m home. Everything else is uh, I don’t know … it’s not as simple.”
Photos: Mark Healey diving with great white shark (above) from Surfer Magazine/Team Effort Films; Healey surfing in Fiji (below) taking on more familiar beast at Cloudbreak. Photo: Todd Glaser, Surfer Magazine.