Out of Office Reply is Associate Editor Taylor Paul’s column on surf travel, big waves, and other manly bits

Oh. Did you think the cold water would phase him? Mark and friend in the kelp beds off of California. Photo: DJ Struntz

Out of Office Reply

"Hey, I'm not curing cancer here…but hopefully what I do helps inspire somebody to actually live," Mark Healey told me in a recent interview for SURFING's Hawaii Issue [April ’11, on sale now]. Well Mark, it's working. Take these two excerpts from emails I received in response to the interview as proof:

Mark's answers provided a window into an interesting and intelligent guy. They might also be a useful message for some younger surfers: set yourself some high standards, put down the $%^ video game and get something done. His humility is appreciated, in particular the comment, “I’m not curing cancer here, but hopefully what I do helps inspire somebody…” Thanks Mark, I am doing cancer research, and you did inspire me. —John

Mark has always inspired me from afar. I got to shake his hand once. I was trembling a bit, and after 30 seconds of talking to him, I went out and ran a marathon. For the first time. By myself. That's the kind of person he is and the kind of inspiration he provides. —Scott

Mark sweats inspiration and breathes next-level shit. He had so many good things to say during our interview that we were forced to cut thousands of words to fit it in the mag. Here are a few of those lost words.

Mark on Spearfishing:

I'm not even bummed if I dive for nine hours and didn't pull the trigger because I didn't see the fish I wanted. I could be surrounded by fish the whole time but not see the one I wanted. And for me it's a fulfilling experience.

It's a form of meditation that you have to get into. You start getting into a rhythm throughout that dive and you have to calm yourself. You know what? I bet it'd be really good for people with anxiety because the only way you can be successful is if you force yourself to calm down and be a part of it. You come in and you're so mellowed out.

It balances me. Like, if I am stuck in Orange County for three weeks and haven't been able to do anything and am around a lot of people and traffic, if I go diving for two hours and crack a couple of deeper ones it will hit the reset button for a while. It's amazing how fast it will do that. Way faster than surfing does it.

Mark claims that you rarely shoot a fish using the element of surprise. But still, sometimes he can't help but play peek-a-boo.

If I'm spearfishing and [sharks] get close enough, I'll poke them for sure, 'cause I don't want them hanging around all the time. Especially if you've got fish on your belt, which a lot of times I do. The thing is, you're trying to make the predatory fish you're shooting curious, and so you're making noise under water trying to get them to come in. A lot of times when I'm shooting fish, I'm acting like a shark. That's my mindset. I act like I'm a shark or a monk seal and start digging around to feed. Because [the predatory fish] like to come and pick-off stuff that's squirting out the side. They will hang around sharks and stingrays and seals, so that's what I'm doing. So basically it’s like the worst formula you could possibly have in terms of shark safety, because half the time you've got fish on your belt and you're making a commotion that's going to make everything really curious. So you don't want them in the area when you're doing stuff like that.

We took bets around the office as to whether it was a shark or Healey himself who halved this toothy beast. Most said Healey. Photo: DJ Struntz

Mark on Mav's:

Maverick's is great. It's the perfect spot to see where the state of the art of big-wave paddling is. You've got the bowl, where you can get as nuts as you want; it’s right there. All you have to do is go ten feet deeper and it goes from a pretty easy drop to an almost impossible drop. And there's the left. Guys are going left, but if you really want to put your chips on the table and pay the piper, there's opportunity to be had there still…and it's giant.

I'd love to [push the left more]; it's an incredible wave. It's just the repercussions are very real.

Can't imagine why he didn't go left. Mark at Mav's this November, fully wussing out. Photo: Nate Lawrence

The way I see it is you've got about three of those full rotations where you get absolutely smashed and get pounded all the way through, past the rocks, and paddle back around. So you've got to be like, "Alright, I'm going to get some that are really makeable and then I'm going to go on a couple of nuts ones." 'Cause you don't want to fly all the way over there for one session and be done before you've even started. And that's the way I look at it sometimes as far as the left goes. 'Cause you're gonna get smashed. I'm definitely going to be getting absolutely smeared on that left sometime in the near future. But you just have to play the numbers.

And that's the thing about the left: it’s not like, "OK, I'm going to catch a wave and get pounded." You're just as likely to get caught inside by the set. And the current is ripping across towards the right so if you catch a wave on the left, and actually complete the ride and kick out, and the next wave is of equal or greater size, you're probably gonna get clipped. And once you get clipped one more time you're into that current deep and you're behind the 8-ball on the rocks and you're taking like 100 waves on the head and you have to come all the way back around the right. So you want to get the biggest wave in the set, you want to complete that ride, and you want to start hauling for the channel. There's a lot involved.

Taylor Paul interviewed Mark for SURFING’s Hawaii Issue. It was inspiring and, thankfully, non-lethal.