Riding sharks for kicks. Running through fireballs. What drives you pal? "It's fucking fun!"
It is a bright Monday afternoon at the LA home of Chanel model Danny Fuller when a conversation is struck with Mr Healey, 30-ish years old, from Sunset Beach (Hawaii, not California). Mark, a shark wrangler (for Nat Geo!), stunt man (for Hawaii 5-0!), pro surfer and survivor of the Great Quiksilver Athlete Purge (and deservedly so!), is in town to “take care of fucking business. I want to get it all done before I start chasing swells. I don’t want to come back!”
There are so many different angles a magazine could take with a surfer such as Mark Healey but the one that intrigues us today is his Instagram account @donkeyshow, currently clocked at 133,000 followers. Let’s follow donkeyshow right now and watch as Mark retrieves the camera from a Great White’s fin, is kicked down an escalator, uses a personal camera to capture the interiors of a Pipeline cathedral. The depth of his photographic musings is unparalleled.
With so many questions to ask, is not the beginning where we must start? Mark explains that the title donkeyshow is not a reference to the lewd animal shows of Tijuana but to the naughty children in the movie Pinocchio who were turned into donkeys and sold.
“I was a little shithead kid so I got the nickname ‘donkey boy’. And, the winter before last when I started my account, I didn’t want to put my name on it. I wanted something that my friends knew about and then it got… popular. And I thought, you know what? I’m always taking photos and I have a ton of stuff that people have never seen. And y’never know, I might die or the hard-drive might crash. So I may as well share it.”
I prefix the next question with a cough and a short preamble about my predictability. But what can you say? Great Whites are a constant source of wonder. On donkeyshow there are so many photos of Mark interacting in the most positive manner with these awesome man consumers that I ask what’s it like to touch and to feel one, to swim man-to-beast? Mark, interestingly, doesn’t have some kinda death wish and he ain’t into adrenalin overloads for kicks but had been thinking about swimming with a White for a long time and he had a mental checklist that had to be ticked off before he wet his feet: it had to be the right kind of shark – one with a predictable pattern, a routine, no erratic movements. “I had to look at his body language. I had to see how punchy he was, that he wasn’t coming in hot. I figured, once I found one, I could make a bunch of excuses not to follow through on my thoughts and theories, but I did it and it was very, very, very… intense.”
Mark thinks about it just a little more and adds: “They’re incredibly… intimidating, incredibly intimidating. I don’t think any human could make you feel that intimidated.”
As a man only in the loosest genetic sense, I ask for more detail on these remarkable events. Does he protect himself with a micro-atomic warhead, for example? And what happens in that minute or so it takes to swim back to the boat? “Well, I wanted to be on its back. It felt safer than when I was in front of it. When they hone in on you it gets personal very fast. You know he’s not coming over ’cause there’s bait or he’s interested in the boat. He’s coming over ’cause you’re in the water, exposed. He’s only interested in… you. That’s when your heart goes into your mouth.”
Even in an air-conditioned office with Spotify filing the air with the sweetest of psychedelic beats, my heart pounds. More? “That’s why I’ve got my unloaded spear. Anything in your hand, any little extra distance is going to help. But if they’re going to take you out you’re fucked.”
So succinct! Please sir, may I have another! “Well, usually I do stuff with Tigers (sharks). It’s the theory bullfighters have. They get really close to the bull, they keep their head almost on it. You’ve got more control really close. You’re not pushing the shark away, you’re pushing yourself off the shark. It’s hard for bigger sharks to turn sharply at low speeds so I try to stay close. It’s better than having them at a distance where they’re able to pick up a lot of speed.”
When he’s not playing aquaman, Mark finds extra cash as a stuntman. Sometimes he might be a zombie; other times he might tossing a Red Camera over the falls at Mavs. The craziest stunt he’s ever been paid to perform was a scene where a helicopter crashes and the blades impale the pilot and the actor hero must rescue he. Mark as stuntman stand-in for the show’s lead, therefore, must grab the pilot and run out through a fireball in the most heroic manner. “An 80-foot fireball!” says Mark. “It’s an incredible amount of wind. You have to have eyes and mouth closed. You don’t breathe in because the heat’s so intense. If you don’t hold your breath for that second you’ll burn your lungs. I have a wig, too. But not synthetic hair. That’ll stick to your head.”
I say, what drives you, pal! “It’s fucking fun!” he says. “Professional surfers get paid to go around the world and have a good time. Why wouldn’t you do all that stuff? It blows my mind how some guys will find ways to piss about how bad things are and sit in their hotel rooms and play with Facebook all day. It blows my mind!”