How To Handle a Worst-Case Scenario

| posted on March 07, 2012

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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  • Matt Parker

    Sickest How to Blog yet. One question, what do you if you or a friend gets attacked?

  • Fernando

    About the shark, right thing to do: dont move at all.The less turbulence you create, the higher chances it will go away without mistaking you for a fish or a seal.

    Remenber: when you see a shark, it is usually too late.

    So be quiet for a while if there is no wave coming. Splashing the water, paddling, might be the worst idea at all, if there is no set coming.

  • matt

    Always carry a dive knife. That way if a shark comes around you can poke your friend and he’ll bleed and get bitten instead of you.

  • fernando mairno alejandro

    what do you mean “third world country”, when some of these countries have world’s best waves?
    who’s first?.

  • 40 going on 12

    What do you do if you encounter a bitter 40 year old man who goes by the nickname “Skindog”?

  • Croswell

    matt=genius/worst surf partner ever.

  • Dewey

    Like the article. Here is some advice I got in 1964 (I was 14 and there to surf in the Makaha contest) in the Islands about what to do when caught inside at Sunset. It works for many situations.

    “No panic, have cool head, Brah”

  • Judge #3

    These answers all seem like common sense. But then again, common sense isn’t too common these days…

  • Doc

    putting pressure on the wound sometimes doesnt remedy a lascerated artery. many times people die because people put pressure on the wound rather than the artery. the basic rule of thumb is this–arteries recoil into into the nearest joint (bicep artery would recoil into the shoulder, femural artery into the groin etc. etc.) put pressure on the joint, A LOT of pressure.

  • michael mt danso

    sharks not only gotta eat, but they also LOVE to eat anything that has an electrical ‘LIFE FORCE” that moves..trick is…not to move… not to move at all so you are no longer interesting or food-like…turn down your “yum” factor. .. live to fight and fear another day….
    ( question – what bores a shark ? ..answer – find out fast – trying to scream at the top of your lungs is not a way to go…. dig? )

    Sharks are beautiful to behold in their element .. remember wherever they are, is their territory.. respect is called for and a high level of awareness..
    Pace (Peace ), Pax

    Michael mt danso

  • Pingback: Big-Wave Surfer Mark Healey Faces Down Bull Shark « sidonyneou

  • Tuga

    When you see a shark, not moving might be wisest, but I have a copy of a surf mag from the early nineties that shows a Great White nailing (airborn!) an unbaited surfboard. The advice Healey gives..masks your location with whitewater (albeit temporarily) and puts you into forces that will hammer you towards shore …but I’d rather be hammered than nailed. Also, Mark, as much as I respect you – expanding the collective human psyche as to what is possible, when I lived in the Rockies, one of the biggest factors that contributed to Grizzly attacks was that the bear became ‘habituated’ (lost its natural aversion to human interaction). So please cease and desist, I think they should already make a superhero figure of you (and the story lines that would accompany the doll – most humans would think fiction – but are true). But I don’t want any of your new ‘buddies’ popping up next to me, even if it’s to offer me a ‘ride’. It just ain’t natural (in fact it may, like habituated bears, end in it’s demise). p.s. even worse are shark dives in which via chumming – in which sharks are conditioned to associate humans with food… p.p.s. SURFER MAG, I want to hear about his shark encounters, and especially Jeff Clark’s when he was pioneering giant Mavericks, solo, in the fog..both hardcore.