Healey Rides Great White Sharks

A glimpse into our June issue profile on big-wave surfer and great white shark wrangler Mark Healey

| posted on May 24, 2011

Mark Healey takes a "calculated" risk with an oceanic apex predator. Photo: Team Effort Films

What’s it like diving with a great white shark?
If they want to take you, they’re going to take you. And the only way you’re going to interact with them is if you make yourself completely vulnerable and they make the decision to come to you. So you have to put yourself out there and there’s nothing controlled about it at that point. There can be a million people on the boat, 20 feet behind you, and all of a sudden when that thing tunes in on you, you’re all alone. It’s just you and the shark.

Do you carry protection?
I was just swimming with my spear gun, just unloaded. Something to put some distance between myself and the shark, hopefully. I was interacting with wild, healthy sharks, and the only reason I’m able to is because they’re coming up out of curiosity. I would definitely not be in the water if they were acting like they wanted to feed.

How do you know if they want to feed or not?
Just by watching their body language. I have a really good idea of how to read sharks and their body language, just because I’m always around them, and I realized that white sharks feed primarily on large marine mammals, which are really intelligent—that’s completely different from any other sharks I’ve been around. So I knew that they were probably a lot smarter. Within the first 10 minutes there was a big one off the back and just showing me everything I wanted to see out of a shark and it’s like ok, time to put my money where my mouth is. I just jumped in and did it. But that first time when it tuned in on me, I’ve never been so intimidated in my life. I shrank to about 6 inches.

After being face to face with one are you more comfortable surfing in sharky areas?
That’s the funny thing. After spending all that time with the sharks, I don’t necessarily feel any better about surfing. And that’s the thing I realized through interacting with them, that they were a lot more intelligent than I expected, and with intelligence comes extra curiosity. You can tell they probably get bored. A couple of them just loved to hang out. They’re bored and had nothing else to do. I was always trying to really approach them well and get away from them seamlessly without spooking them or freaking them out, and a couple of times, I realized I was a little rough or my approach was shitty and I could see him following me with his eye. But then he’d come right back around and offer his dorsal fin to me. It was weird.

So you decided to grab on and ride it…
I rode three different sharks 12 or 15 times. But the thing is, they don’t like everybody. That’s the weird thing. The nicest sharks would kind of get pissed at some other people. Sometimes we’d let go of these fin rides at like 60 feet. And you have to swim up. That’s when other ones that are less dominant come in and you could tell which ones were going to be punchy. And a lot of the times they have a lot of scars.

So the younger ones are more aggressive and want to assert themselves?
Exactly. Those younger ones seem to be willing to take more chances because they’re last in the pecking order. So I would imagine that they’d be more likely to hit a silhouette. And they would fully try to set you up and hunt you. Like Jurassic Park with the raptors—they fully try to set you up. They’re so smart.

Did you pee in your wetsuit?
Oh yeah, I peed all day in that wetsuit.

Why are you doing this? The sharks, the big waves…
I don’t know, it seems totally normal for me, for what I grew up doing, and maybe I’m so stuck on the inside of it that I can’t see outside, but it’s just the way I grew up and I’m pretty much doing everything that I wanted to do since I was a little kid. I’m getting it all done.

Which would you rather face, a Great White or a giant closeout set?
Closeout set. If a White wants to take you, it’s going to take you. Bottom line. Which they don’t, you know, they don’t want to eat people. It doesn’t seem like. But accidents happen. People get killed in friendly fire in war and humans are pretty intelligent for the most part. Animals make mistakes too.

To find out if Mark Healey is actually insane or not, check out our June issue.

  • Joe

    The same here…..I’ll take a giant closeout set any day over a Great White.

  • Boo Boo

    He’s getting a little too cocky these days….The greatest watermen know when to shut their mouths and go into stealth mode…..

    • yoyo

      haters gonna hate!

    • Yobo

      Boo Boo, you are obviously not a waterman at all. Mark Healey is a world class diver and one of only a handful of people who paddle into the biggest waves in the world. Yes, I said paddle – old school, unlike some guys who can only get close to a monster wave with a jet ski. Cocky – not even remotely close. He doesn’t live his life for the recognition or bragging rights. The reporters find him and he answers their questions honestly. Mark is one of the most intelligent, articulate and HUMBLE human beings on earth. He just happens to do things that 99.9% of the rest of us can’t. Mark is the ULTIMATE waterman – equally adept on top or below the water. He is a true Hawaiian in spirit with great respect for what mother nature has given us and lives his life the way most of us can only dream of.

  • Sar

    I want to do this…..

  • Mike S

    Hey Healey, come swim with our sea lions in Westport, Wa…I bet you’ll pee your wetsuit than.

    • Matt

      You are a such a dill-hole. Healey is a waterman. You are a hater.

  • John Maher

    Mental! Yeah Healey.

  • dang


  • chef_chris

    He reminds me of the grizzly man “Timothy Treadwell” and you know how that ended…

  • wesley Taylor

    Remember that guy who went to live with Grizzly Bears? They ate him.Thinking you can read/predict a wild predator will eventually get you killed. Its amazing that Mr. Healey has been able to get this close but I suggest he quits while he’s ahead, or still has one.

  • daniel

    great research and great way to demistify such an apex predator……….God bless!!!

  • James

    You dont see that everyday!!

  • dawnpatrol

    Wish you nothing but luck my friend….just know when to say when…and hope it’s not too late.

  • Lee efner

    Nice!!!! Amazing how these creatures know who they like hanging with. What I ask myself when I am swimming with the monsters of the deep,is,”what is their trigger” and then watch for posture changes. Always going with my gut instincts. We have many encounters not even knowing it, riding big waves, we are way out in the ocean, alone. Especially, 40 years ago. Living on the edge, beats dying in bed of old age!!!!!

  • markfitzy

    Mr Healey, I salute you… Next level shit. You are always looking at nature playfully, yet fully aware that your card can get pulled at any moment. You live the way most only dream. Thank you for being so true to the adventure.

  • Birdie the Boardie

    Dont like to push that envelope too far.
    The best for surfers to do is get out of the water when sharks are around.
    Sharks at the end of the day,…eat things, and are opportunistic,…they say.

  • Kiira

    Nice article, but you aren’t the first to make these discoveries. Are you aware that Jeremiah Sullivan was doing this in the early 80’s? Jeremiah, founder of the sharksuit, was the pioneer in the study of diver and shark interaction. I’m glad other people are waking up and becoming aware of these preditors beyond those ridiculous and inaccurate “Jaws” stereotypes. It’s great that you are promoting the understanding, rather than the fear, of sharks.

    check out:

  • Muddywood

    Two words : GRIZZLY MAN

  • Gidget

    For those not as brave as Healy
    check out

    a list of all the “shark free” places one can surf.

  • Gidget

    Sorry I spelled Healey wrong previously.

  • JOHN D

    You are nuts Healey!!

  • Big Balls

    so which nut shrank to about 6 inches??

  • Bob Ballew

    Having survived two shark attacks; one by a 15 1/2′ gw, I would put it this way…like the fellow playing russian roulette wth a loaded gun in, “The Deerhunter”, eventually the gun will go off…and, like the weatherman on channel 7, the odds are, that sooner or later, your prediction will be wrong…but, that aside, he is the kind of diver I want at my back when stuff hits the fan….:)

  • Jeff Wannall

    Balls of Steal!

  • Kawika

    I full-on agree with the grizzly man comparison. These are wild animals bruddah no take chance!

  • dustan baker

    This is epic! What’s the location?

  • HBCSurf

    Not me. Not now. Not ever.

  • Stephan Kirby

    Guy has balls. I’ll give him that. But never forget about the Grizzly man. He was exactly the same way. And his ass eventually got ate.

  • Megan

    fucking. crazy. shit.

  • Mike

    Healey is a tireless self promoter, I am sure this stunt has helped him get a few more advertisers in his personal line up. As for the sharks? Do we really need divers riding fins with “unloaded” spear guns to prove a point about virility?

    Next stop Alaska, where Mr Adventurer, with a reality TV crew and perhaps Sarah Palin looking on will saddle up a wild Grizzly bear and ride it with an “unloaded” shot gun, you know, for space.

    What a fraud!

    • Bryan

      You do not want to shoot a great white and piss it off and possibly become attached to it. No point in loading the gun. But it could serve you well to push off, discourage with a pointed poke or distract by thusting it into an open mouth if attacked. Not fraud, the real deal. and he is respecting the shark by meeting it openly, face to face, in the sharks home. His fluid movements in the water, convey the calm acceptance and peace of mind which he must attain to “be” with these great predators. He says it truly, If they want you, they can have you. Respecting that fact, means accepting his own death if it comes. Arm chair referees have got no understanding of the greatness in being a waterman.

  • http://n/a Adam

    Mark Healey has no respect for sharks, otherwise he wouldn’t pull a stunt as stupid as this. To respect the animal means to leave it alone and not intrude into its habitat willingly. Healey goes a step further and “rides” the shark, which is the ultimate move of disrespect. Have some “respect” for the ocean, you true “waterman” you.

  • Boozoo61

    There exist quite a few folks who free dive with Great Whites now….Mark Healy has balls but is quite late to the pass time. Check out South African Andre Hartman…perhaps the first to do so….Free diving with Great whites is now safer and less risky than riding giant waves….As far as the Grizzly man comments….Yes he was eaten in the end..after spending some 13 yrs living amongst them as no human has ever done. He was a nutty cat who got too close but lived an extraordinary life as opposed to the safer choice which for him was…alcoholic Malibu bar tender wannabe actor….quite boring and predictable.

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  • karren mcglohn

    I think they should make a movie about the comic book hero Aquaman and Mark Healey can play the lead.

  • royboy

    adrenalin junkies need to have a little judgement….that being said….he is free to do what ever the hell he wants….be sad but not surprized to hear of him or another shark rider getting eaten….part of the deal

  • Pokemon

    Muy loco Gringo. Muy loco El!


    That’s some crazy ish!

  • Mughi

    Why can’t you just leave the shark alone?