Left Behind

Mark Healey on taming Waimea's seldom surfed left-hander

Interview by Steve Barilotti

Photos by Kanoa Zimmerman

Consider basalt.  Volcanic in origin, its name derived from the Late Latin basaltes, a misspelling of basanites meaning "very hard stone." How hard? Hardness rating of 6 on the Mohs scale, which is less than quartz, but more than, say, human tooth enamel. The black boulders lining the point leading into Waimea Bay are ancient fragments of extruded volcanic basalt. They tend to be quite porous, weathered by incessant waves pounding their edges into fine fanglike points that can pierce even thick rubber sandals. These spiky outcroppings of lava stone and fossil reefs, when combined with a high-energy wave of 15 to 20 feet will turn the boneyard fronting Waimea Point into nature's own industrial chipper-shredder.

This is the minefield that Mark Healey aims for when going left on an 18-foot day at Waimea. And it's not a matter of if the wave will close out but when. While the Waimea left has been long considered purely death-wish material, it has been ridden and survived by a handful of North Shore goofyfoots such as Shawn Briley and the late Marvin Foster.

For Healey, also a goofyfoot, it's Oahu's only true slab and offers a respite from the crowds at Waimea waiting for a wave that he writes off as mostly a "powder puff" on smaller days. He's spent years studying the wave, calculating the angles, assessing risk. Healey calls the left his "in-between spot" when Pipe is too big and the outer reefs are not quite happening. I caught up with Healey on the black boulders the day after a massive swell that closed out Sunset and lit up Waimea Bay....

When did it occur to you that you wanted to attempt the left at Waimea?

Well, I grew up seeing a couple guys like Marvin Foster go left, so I knew it was doable. Then I caught a couple of lefts in the Eddies that I've been in. But I've never taken the time to really break it down. So over the last couple of years when it got big I'd pick up a plate lunch and come out to the point and study the left. Over time I realized that on the right swell if you pick the right waves it's actually a lot more consistently doable than people think. It's the last Easter egg, you know...the one that got missed and starts stinking really bad two weeks later. It just started stinking for me.

What's the draw for you...Why do this?

I love big, fat, left barrels and figuring things out. I like the learning process. When something is new, that's always the best part of anything for me. That's what's fun about doing stunt work. You show up on set and they want you to fall down an escalator. You've never fallen down an escalator before but you gotta figure out how to do it really fast.

So it's a mental thing?

Yeah. You get accustomed to drinking the Kool-Aid.

Paddle us through the process...

Well, you've got to get a feel for where they're gonna be. What you don't realize initially is what the wave is going to turn into after you stand up, so you have to catch a few and take some beatings to realize that. Basically the way it's going to double in size, the bottom's going to completely fall out of it and you're pretty much taking off where the guys are going right

So you're sitting in the pit with them?

It was kind of a pain in the ass because I was getting crossed up with the guys going right. You gotta come from behind to get barreled and you're almost taking a second drop as the bottom falls out of this thing. You gotta set your edge really quick.

So you aim for the wave that's going to barrel and not closeout.  What are the consequences if you don't pick the right one?

Well, I'm still figuring it out. I'm experimenting to see what does and does not work. I think I have a feel for which ones to get. But you know what? It really hurts falling out there. It hits so hard and you get so slammed. A bunch of times when I got launched back over I was actually really worried that I was just going to pile into the bottom--there's one step that you come off of where you see the rock and it's not more than 3 or 4 feet deep.

Those sharp lava rocks fronting Waimea Point look pretty fearsome, which is why so few people attempt the left.  What's your exit plan if you get caught inside?

My exit strategy is hoping that there's enough water rushing into the bay that if I get up onto the rocks, I'd get pushed toward the bay and around. But that's in theory.

But at this point this is still just a theory...


So usually on the TV they have the disclaimer, "don't try this at home."  Do you have a disclaimer for the masses since you're drawing the attention to this?

Oh, no. Please try it! I want to sit here with popcorn and watch. It ain't pretty. It ain't for everyone. And I'm not too worried about it getting crowded.