Arash Markazi
Monday December 24th, 2007

OAHU, Hawaii -- "If I die, I die. I've lived a pretty good life" says Mark Healey, a 25-year-old big-wave surfer. "I can't argue with the boss."

There is no doubting that Healey is living the good life as he walks out to his front yard in Hawaii's famed North Shore, home of the heaviest waves in the world.

Healey is shadow boxing in the garage of the Quiksilver beach house, a single-story 1,200 square-foot playground known just as much for its big parties as the big waves that can be viewed from the driveway. Before getting pounded in the water, however, Healey is circling around the middle of the mixed martial arts cage setup inside the house, challenging any and all comers.

"He's crazy," says fellow surfer Danny Fuller. "He's a wild man."

It makes sense. After all, it would take someone slightly off center to chase waves the size of six-story buildings and continue to go after them after wiping out time after time.

"You're just chasing the same feeling you had when you were a little kid and you just got pushed into your first wave," says Healey. "Like a junkie getting your fix. You want to put your mark on the era you're in I want to go paddle into the biggest wave I've ever paddled into. I want to do something that's going to be memorable. If I'm going to do something I might as well do it right not half-ass it."

Healey, regarded as one of the best big-wave surfers in the world, is currently preparing to compete in the Big Wave Invitational, which is thought of as the Super Bowl of surfing for purists. The problem is he's not sure if he'll get the chance.

None of the 28 international surfers being housed along Kamehameha Highway do.

That's because the competition, nicknamed "The Eddie," in honor of Eddie Aikau, a beloved lifeguard and surfer on the North Shore who lost his life at sea nearly 30 years ago, has only crowned seven winners since its inception in 1985.

For "The Eddie" to be run, there must be a minimum of 20-foot surf -- translating to 30-40 feet face waves -- at Waimea Bay on the North Shore, the birthplace of big-wave riding. If there are no such waves during the holding period, which falls between Dec. 1 and Feb. 29 this season, there will be no competition. The last time the event went off was 2004 and judging from the current wave heights, the new year seems like the earliest the next one will be run.

"There is so much respect given to this contest," says Healey. "No one will ever knock it. You have to be ready to drop everything for this. It's pretty amazing. All these guys who are on tour or doing this or that, everybody is willing to drop what they are doing to fly across the world if need be for this event. Nobody is missing it, and if you do, you've screwed up bad and you might not be on the list next year."

While Healey waits for the "The Eddie" to begin, he continues to go about his daily routine, which usually entails catching his own lunch and dinner, often using only a spear and wrestling massive open-ocean tuna into submission. An avid spear fisher, Healey can often be found in areas infested by sharks that most don't even dare to observe within the safe confines of a cage.

"I feel like I belong in the water," says Healey. "I've seen an experienced a lot of things in the ocean and by now I can read the sharks and see what attitude they have. I don't consider it crazy or nuts or anything, it just makes sense to me. It's so natural for me to be in the water with them. There's so much drama on land but in the water you're by yourself and there are conditions and creatures that don't care who you are or what you look like."

Healey credits his spear-fishing for helping him survive more than one of his legendary wipeouts. Since he is usually under water going after his prey while fishing, he has developed a lung capacity that enables him to hold his breath for more than four minutes and he has often needed every one of those seconds while trying to reach the surface after wiping out.

"There is one big wave that blew me up and ruptured my ear drum and I nearly blacked out but what calmed me was that I thought of spear fishing," says Healey. "There is a certain kind of fish called an Uku that is hard to spear because they're smart and live in deeper waters. My best breath holds have been when I've been spear fishing Uku, so I just imagined a big old Uku in my mind and I got so locked into that I forgot where I was until I came back up."

Although Healey's fearlessness as a waterman has caused some to label him the next Laird Hamilton, he is a dead ringer for Dennis The Menace outside the water. With his shaggy blonde hair and freckled complexion, he looks nothing like the other Hawaiian-born surfers that he grew up with on the North Shore. In an area where the locals protect their waves as fiercely as their homes, Healey had to prove that he belonged from an early age, tackling the biggest waves, wrestling the biggest fish and diving off the highest peaks.

"I was this little white boy trying to hold my own," says Healey. "You're not accepted with open arms, but you have to not kiss anybody's [behind] and earn [your respect] harder than some other people might have to. Whatever, I'm not afraid to earn it the hard way."

Healey's North Shore roots are one of the reasons that "The Eddie" is the most important event to him. It's the only competition he dreamed about winning when he was a kid and the only one that means anything to him now.

"I need to win it, I have to," says Healey. "Once you win you are up there forever. With the group of invitees they get each year no one can ever say anything. Once you win it, it's there for the rest of your life. I need it before I die."

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