How To Handle a Worst-Case Scenario

Mark Healey: Not since Poseidon or Aquaman has there been a more adept man of the sea. Photo: Zimmerman

If there’s a man more capable of laughing off a brush with death than Mark Healey, we haven’t met him yet. Part big-wave hellman, part world-class free-diver, all survivor, Mark usually knows what course of action to take to keep you breathing when the shit hits the fan. Although no one should ever try to do what Healey does, here are his thoughts on getting out of sticky situations if you do.

You’re facing an impending natural disaster: If you’re looking at a real disaster and need a few things to survive, I’d grab a water filter, a dive mask, and some cash. Fresh water is pretty crucial, cash is always good to have in a bad scenario, and if you have a dive mask, you’ll be able to pull some food in from the ocean so you won’t starve.

You’re traveling to a sketchy location: The number one thing I’d say is to really be aware of what’s going on around you. It sounds so basic, but I’ve traveled with a few people who are utterly clueless when a bad situation is taking form around them. They just have no idea. For some reason, I guess it was the way that they grew up, they just didn’t see the situation coming together at all. But whenever you’re traveling, just try and be really aware of what’s going on around you.

You’ve paddled to an outer reef, there are strong currents, and your board gets destroyed by a set: The best thing you can do is to know which way the water is moving. It’s not always as easy as you think and at a lot of places, the only way to figure that out is through experience. But obviously, you’ll need to know which way the currents and rips are going. You don’t want to get sucked out to sea. You want to take the path of least resistance. Sometimes, that means having to take a really long swim from one of the Outer Reefs to Waimea or Haleiwa. And then you have to get in. What a lot of people don’t always realize is that sometimes you’re not going to be able to swim in with the rips. You’re going to have to take a few sets on the head because that’s the only way to get in—to let the sets basically beat you to the shore. It sucks, but it’s better than drowning.

You’re surfing and you see another surfer floating face-down on the inside: It’s really difficult to deal with an unconscious floating body by yourself, so the best thing you can do is to try and call as much attention as possible to the situation. If you can, pull people from the lineup and get them to help you bring the person to shore. Also, try and signal people on the land and let them know what’s going on so they can call 911 and get help as soon as possible.

You get an epic wave on the North Shore, only to look back and realized you’ve burned the heaviest local on the entire island: Apologize, apologize, and apologize. You may take a few slaps—and that’s getting off easy—but hopefully you’ll be able to surf that lineup again.

You get caught on the inside at Pipe and all you see are double-overhead lines coming toward you: If I’m at First Reef and stuck in the inside—and trust me, you really don’t want to be in that position in the first place—I’ll try and get as far away from the impact zone as possible. It’s so shallow right there that bad things are bound to happen if you’re taking sets on the head. If I can, I’ll try and paddle in just to get as much distance as I can between me and the impact zone. It’s like the saying from the movie North Shore, “If the wave breaks here, don’t be there.”

You’re surfing in NorCal, you see the fin of a sizeable great white shark: I’d definitely try and go in as soon as possible. I don’t want to chance anything. If the shark is really close, I’d try and get in the impact zone in the lineup. I don’t think they like a lot of turbulence, so hopefully I’d lose them in there.

You spear a fish in deep water that turns out to be a little bigger than it looked, and it takes off for the bottom, dragging you with it: For starters, no fish is worth dying for. I’d rather let go of my spear any day than drown and I’ve had to do it a few times. But when you’re put in a situation like that, you want to gauge how much oxygen you have and how much energy it’s going to take to fight that fish and then make your decision. But in the end, like I said, it’s not worth drowning.

You’re camping on a beach in Indo and you get a reef cut that wont stop bleeding: With anything like that, it’s all about pressure and elevation. Put some pressure on the wound and get it elevated. That should help slow down the bleeding until you can get to a doctor.

You’re about to buy traveler’s insurance, but are having second thoughts: I don’t always buy it, but I think it’s a good thing for sure. I’m not talking about that stuff on Orbitz or anything, but they have packages that you can get for an entire year that are actually a pretty good deal. If you’re in a really heavy situation in a Third World Country, they’ll arrange a private flight to get you out of there. So yeah, it’s a good thing for sure.

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