“I am not opposed to drinking beer, that is for sure,” says Mark Healey from his home on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. But if you think the 39-year-old is just another laid-back, pudgy surfer, you’ve got another thing coming. Chiseled, weathered, and lean, Healey has long been considered one of the top watermen in the world, a special Hawaiian-centric distinction for the best mastery of paddling, fishing, surfing, freediving, and about another dozen ocean-centric activities, give or take. And his home is among waves the size of nightmares. With a big-wave resume that includes more than a decade of annual best-wave and best-wipeout awards, he’s long since paid his dues. It’s because of these life-and-death stakes that an evening beer has as critical a role in his life as his morning workout.
“I’m about balance,” he tells The Manual. “You have to let your hair down and relax sometimes. It becomes less sustainable when you’re super hardline about anything, including your diet.”
As a Saint Archer ambassador, Healey’s one of the few pro surfers with a beer sponsor, although he’s in good company, joining a legendary skateboard photographer, a fisherman, and other luminaries within their respective spaces. Come 5 p.m., provided he’s not in the water, it’s Beer O’Clock, with Healey achieving his balance.
Maybe you’ve guessed from his brief resume that Healey isn’t a one-trick pony. But that’s just scratching the surface. Sure, he surfs waves that would make the average man’s bowels evacuate on sight, but he also runs a six-figure guide service called Healey Water Ops, and with his wings clipped after COVID-19 travel restrictions, he’s a year into a budding career as an educator with a series of water survival instructional videos through The Inertia called “Mark Healey’s Guide to Heavy Water.” “It’s basically a Masterclass for watermen,” he says. In the last few months and apparently with his last five free minutes, he expanded into the wellness space, launching Protekt, a supplement-plus company that does everything from reef-safe sunscreens to hydration powders and mushroom capsules. He has basically become the amphibious equivalent of Joe Rogan.
But all of his companies are built around one thing: himself. And so Healey’s job, first and foremost, is to huck his body over some of the gnarliest ledges in the world and duck into some of the deepest pits Mother Nature can curl. He’s had a busy last few months.
From approximately November through April, the North Shore lights up with big waves and bigger crowds, drawn to the Seven-Mile Miracle and its winter season. The waves are world class, and they create a proving ground for the world’s best, who measure time spent there in seconds of tube time and months in seaside shacks. The lineups are crowded with young lions looking, and no one gets a free wave. It’s here that Healey continues to rise, year after year, in a merit- and video-based medium, which then reverberates around the world. It’s also here that he’s been quietly working on his latest pandemic project.
Jaws, the birthplace of modern tow surfing, is a short flight away on Maui, and Healey has spent plenty of days off its windy coastline. But this year, he made the somewhat controversial decision to stay on Oahu and explore the North Shore’s outer reefs, rediscovering their potential while also furthering the sport in an often overlooked place. These deep-sea reefs, a quarter-mile or more out to see and asleep on all but the biggest days, suddenly come alive to relatively few takers. The best surfers in the world? They’re at Jaws. And so Healey has quietly been scoring all season long.
“[In the past,] I missed such amazing days going to Jaws,” he says. “So I was like, I want to stay home, be prepared, and just focus surfing well here.
“There’s opportunity at the outer reefs here to still accomplish that raises the bar on paddle surfing,” he continues. “It takes a very big special swell with the right conditions, and that’s what I identified this last winter.”
So . . . where’s the footage? In the modern era, it’s footage or it didn’t happen, and few have the gall to tell the equivalent of a fish story. If Healey’s got it (and we’re betting he does), he’s not showing it — at least for now. “The path for being a professional action sports athlete, the whole model has changed completely,” he says. “At a certain point, it benefits you more to hold onto your footage and put it into something you’re doing.”
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t put in time with some of the usual suspects — Healey currently has an entry in the annual Wave of the Winter competition, which is contested at the Banzai Pipeline break on the North Shore. Its quintessential azure barrels are hard to miss in more ways than one because of its close proximity to the beach (“front-row seat” is an understatement, and on big swells, absent-minded spectators can have their belongings suddenly swept out to sea). Little escapes the watchful eye of the surf world, and Healey remains a standout among a lineup of standouts. But hundreds of yards out to sea, at a distance that even the most powerful zoom lenses can’t yet reach, Healey is stacking clips to release in an as-yet-unannounced project.
After a lifetime spent on its shores, Healey knows its waves better than just about anyone. In his younger pro days, he spent seven years living across from Pipeline, frothing by the minute and sniffing the wind like a horse for the perfect moment to paddle out. But now, as a father to a one-year-old baby girl, he moved off the ocean, and now he catches only glimpses of its storied waves. He likes it better. “In a way, [living by Pipeline] can be exhausting,” he says. “It’s so hard to get anything done because you’re always looking at the ocean.”
From his home, with his growing family, he spends less time obsessing about the changing of the winds and more time enjoying the peak of his career even as he builds a business empire. That’s why, come 5 p.m., he’s cracking a beer. “Quality beer,” he corrects. He’s past worrying about the carbs. After all, “My ancestors have been doing it for thousands of years, and they were in good shape,” he says. “I figure I can do it as well.”
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