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mark healey surfer

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Hunt For Big Waves & More With Sitka Brand Ambassador Mark Healey

Mark Healey doesn’t recall catching his first wave. Story has it that he nudged into it reluctantly at the behest of his father and uncle at home on Oahu’s North Shore. But that was all it took to get him hooked.

“My dad used to take me out before I could really swim and throw a lifejacket on me, put the leash of the board on my leg and we’d go out into overhead surf and I would basically just get pounded and waterboarded the whole time, but that strangely didn’t dissuade me from surfing,” the Haleiwa, Hawaii-born 42-year-old says of beginning to surf at the age of three. 

A decade later, a photograph of Healey sliding down the face of a 40-foot Waimea Bay steamroller would land him on spreads in multiple surf magazines around the world. What followed were contracts, travel, and such a dizzying array of opportunities and adventures that any thoughts of higher education “went out the window.”

north shore oahu, hawaii surfing

“My end goal was always to see as much of the world as possible, and surfing ended up being the vehicle to do that,” Healey says. “I then looked at my travels as my education and treated it that way.”

Roaming For Big Waves

There’s no shortage of things a classroom will only get in the way of as far as one’s education is concerned, and travel is certainly one of them. But all professional surfers get a taste of travel whether they like it or not.

Healey isn’t any surfer, he’s what is known both colloquially and professionally as a big-wave surfer. He doesn’t compete on the WSL’s Championship Tour (CT). Instead, he travels the world trying to find—and surf—the best big waves, deciding where to go, when to go, how to get there, and how to surf once there. There are no heats, no time constraints, and not much of anyone or anything in his way, save for himself. Just catch big waves—that’s his job. The competition being to produce a video clip of the biggest wave of the year for the “New Big Wave Challenge Awards.” That competition is the successor to the original XXL Big Wave Awards and WSL’s Big Wave Challenge, which he’s won twice for Biggest Tube at an Oregon slab in 2009 and Biggest Paddle-In Wave in 2014, at Jaws, off Maui’s North Shore.

He is also, by and large, “free surfing,” or in layman’s terms, surfing for the hell of it. This affords him a certain liberty that his professional counterparts on the CT can only dream of: He decides when and where to go, how to get there, and how to surf once there. There are no heats, no time constraints, and not much of anyone or anything in his way, save for himself. Just catch big waves—that’s his job.

mark healey

“The draw to big surf is that it requires your undivided attention and focus,” he says. “It keeps you present, and there’s just something about being a part of this incredible natural energy and figuring out a way to interact with it. Chasing storms around the planet and getting in the mix of it. There really isn’t anything else that compares.”

And all the same, as he might just as well be found at Pipeline on more exceptional days, he’s every bit in his happy place, he says, longboarding on tiny, knee-high days. “I think it’s because it’s so far from what I’ve done for a living that it’s about the only surfing I can do without being self-critical.”

Free Diving & Archery Adventures

Healey may enjoy letting his competitive nature lapse here and there, but it doesn’t start and end with surfing. He is a champion free diver, holding his breath for up to six minutes, which also comes in handy on nasty wipeouts, like the one that landed him “Worst Wipeout” in a SURFER Magazine poll. He puts that breath hold to good use spearing everything from “mu,” known as bigeye emperor along Hawaii’s reefs, and wahoo and dogtooth tuna in the blue water, but also performing scientific research, tagging sharks by spear everywhere from the Philippines to Mexico’s Guadalupe Island and Japan. 

mark healey bowhunting while wearing sitka gear

Many of his distinguished colleagues in the surfing world—Laird Hamilton among them—refer to Healey as a waterman, a sort of utilitarian moniker for those who are at home in the H2O regardless of the sport, toil, or folly at hand.

But that would be to overlook his land-borne prowess: He’s also an ace marksman with a bow, hunting axis deer and mouflon sheep in Hawaii, elk out West, and mule deer in Alberta, Canada. He has set his sights on the New Zealand red stag next and counts Sitka Gear among his many sponsors.

If all that wasn’t keeping him busy enough, he’s also an occasional Hollywood stuntman. Performing in Battleship (2012), Point Break (2015), Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), and Jungle Cruise (2021), surfing and otherwise.

The dude may be a bit a little off the deep end by some standards, but he’s got an agenda and he’s sticking to it. Catch some more waves and stay connected to this top-tier waterman via Instagram handle @healeywaterops. For more on his ambassadorship to Sitka, please visit sitkagear.com

Higher Wild Waves Education

Image Credit: Jeff Johnson

Recently, Mark Healey founded Healey Water Ops, a sort of (pardon the pun) crash course in heavy water, teaching breath-holding, grace under pressure, and all the mechanisms by which one might survive rough surf, long hold-downs, heavy currents, and the like.

The online course is called Mark Healey’s Guide to Heavy Water. Whether you’re an experienced surfer at a plateau or just beginning your journey and looking for guidance from an expert, developing the mental fortitude to confidently and safely make progress in the ocean can be paralyzing. “Most people will never get the chance to spend as much time in conditions of consequence as I have, so I want to share that knowledge to help students build confidence and fast-track their learning curve,” says Healey. “This is for beginners all the way up to advanced because these concepts are scalable to surf size and ability. My goal with this course is to give you the tools to be able to do this on your own.” Learn more about pricing and Healey Water Ops at courses.theinertia.com/mark-healey-guide-heavy-water.

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