Mark Healey swims with Great White
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." | Photo: @donkeyshow

Studs of Instagram: Mark Healey’s Donkeyshow

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!”

Contest heats are “Thirty minutes of stupid!”

Hector Santamaria is Puerto Rico's finest export. Better than Erik Estrada. Better than Jennifer Lopez.

Hector Santamaria walks into a room and BAM! It comes alive. Colors change from drab fluorescent-lit drab to sparkly rainbow, royal purple, diggity-diamond and, best of all, platinum. Platinumch. “I see it, all arrrrrround,” he says. And then his eyes, his mad, squinty eyes widen. “Whaaaat? You don’t see the colors? You don’t feel them?” he says. And his voice, his Puerto Rican-tinged voice raises to higher and higher octaves of disbelief.

On paper he is merely a surfer. A sponsored Puerto Rican surfer from Jobos Beach. “I’m from Jobos but you can put Slowbos. That is what I call it. Hahahaha.” I ask him if the locals will care and he says, “I don’t care. It’s all about having fun. It’s not what people think. I don’t care what people think. I don’t care. I don’t care nothing. Hahahaha.” And the wildest thing is, he really does not care which takes him the rarest bird. A giant breath of fresh air. We all, everyone of us, walk down the street caring what people think. Professional surfers care more than others. Professional surfers sit for interviews and hem and haw but not Hector Santamaria. He sings.

And maybe he also sticks front flips on a surfboard. His surfing is a thing of wonder, combining all the progressive airs with all the steezy styley style. And he is most definitely filled with chi power. Chi, or qi, is best described as “life force.” It is the active principle forming any living thing. And Hector Santamaria is filled with it. “Oh that is the thing I loved about surfing first, just the chi for sure. Just like the energy I got when I stand up for the first time it’s like, ‘Ooooooh what is that, what is happening, ayeyeyeye!’ I just felt the love and I’m like, ‘I’m doing this forever.’”

But where, exactly, did Hector Santamaria learn about chi? “I read books. The Power of Now. I reeeeaaaad ch chc ch ch chchchc C.S. Lewis. He’s siiiiick. He has chi. Mega chi. And so I just love the chi of surfing. The first time I went everything just turned into particles and then my mom started taking me surfing all the time and I thought, ‘Oh yeah! This is the best, heh? I’m not going to school. Hahahahahaha!”

But what, exactly, has the most chi in surfing? “I would say airs.” Over barrels? “Yesch. Everybody says barrels and barrels are chi, fully, but when you do an air and you gotta move your body, like, three times. I even like those layback turns that Dane does when he goes shshshshshshshshshhwhwhwshs.”

But where, exactly, has the most chi? “Florida has no chi. Cali has good chi. Puerto Rico has good chi. You know where’s good chi? Fiji. They have chi but it’s kinda slow. It’s not like I thought. But Cali has the most chi for sure. I feel Cali is wicked ‘cause a lotta people live here so everything is moving….. I like Newport. I love San Clemente too. I like Surfside.”

A giant breath of fresh air. Hector Santamaria doesn’t compete. “No. I don’t like too. First of all, you need time to do what you love. You don’t want thirty minutes of stupid. Like, you cannot do a double rotation in a contest because you don’t have the…..the……the chi is not there.” He just lives. He lives bigger and wilder and more colorful and without any sort of restraint. A giant breath of fresh air.

I heard a story from Surfing Magazine’s famous Brendan Buckley. He said he paddled out one completely crowded perfect Trestles day and as he paddled he heard a loud siren coming from the lineup. As he got closer he heard people yelling at the siren, “HEY! SHUT THE FUCK UP!” but the siren didn’t shut up. And then he saw Hector Santamaria sitting on the peak, waving his arms in circles, head to the sky, screaming out a siren sound. What does he think when people yell him to shut the fuck up? “I don’t care. I don’t care. I’m just giving it my best. I’m not trying to kill anyone. When they yell, ‘HEY! SCHUT UP!’ I yell back, “You don’t pay my bills!’ Hhahahahhahaha! And then I say, ‘Chi power. Chi power. No chi suckers!’” The rarest bird. In a world where surf has turned drab fluorescent-lit drab, Hector Santamaria is our color. He is the prayer for us sinners.

The Naked and the Dead and The Gallery
The Gallery'll make a man cry; Naked'll put you right there in WWII.

Six books every surfer should read

Precisely because they have nothing to do with surfing… 

…but are great pieces of literature. Foundational pieces.

1. Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh

… is the most awesome piece of racism that you’ll ever read. I love it so much. Racism is, anyhow, a social construct that is almost always funny. Even when people really mean it, it’s funny. I know, I know, it’s easy for me to say since I’m white. But Waugh elevates the idea of national building in Africa to such ridiculous heights. It’s the sort of old-timey aristocratic remove that today’s social liberal would cry about. Waugh doesn’t take himself seriously either. The well-bred Englishman star of the show is absurd. Awesome. I can’t talk about it anymore. You should go and buy a copy right now.

2. The Gallery by John Horne Burns 

…make-a-me cry. It’s not a linear tale, rather a series of vignettes told in World War II Naples, Italy. I remember going to Naples and thinking the pizza tasted delis and the men dressed like greasy wops. Burns’ impressions are much more devastating. It didn’t make me cry because it was said (you’re a jerk for thinking me a pussy!) rather the bugs of brilliance are overwhelming. I can’t do it justice. Here’s a piece. “Every five minutes she looked out the window into the swirling foggy streets to see if there were any New Zealanders coming. She remembered what Il Duce had said the Kiwis would do to the women of Italy. She had Giulia fetch the carving knife from the cupboard. She promised that this knife would finish in Giulia’s heart if ever a New Zealand tread were heard on the stairs. Then Mamma would turn the knife, smoking from her daughter’s blood, on herself: for who knew that even a matron of her age would be safe from ravishing New Zealand soldiery?” OH MAN! So good, and as a bonus, highlights the perversity of New Zealanders.

3. The Plague by Albert Camus

…is considered an existential classic. A few years ago I loved existentialism because I liked how the word looks.


It sounds good when you say it and it can be attributed to almost anything. “Hmmm, that experience I heard you talking about is soooo existential.” Then I read Sartre and barfed all over his ugly face and thought maybe existentialism wasn’t so pretty. Camus was handsome to the point of ironically beautiful. The very picture of French Algerian masculinity. He had tuberculosis but smoked like a chimney and the cigarette was always at a jaunty angle. I love the absurd. And I love Camus and I love The Plague. We have no control, baby. None at all. I think that makes many people sad. It makes me happy.

4. Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis 

…is breathless. I’ll only vouch for the first half, which kicks dick. Bret Easton E’s popular culture references, shot at machine-gun speed, will blow up your mind. The way he lists celebrity names in long sentences is genius. I don’t know how he does it. He just lists celebrity names and creates a huge meaning from the list. It’s just too good. Also, the main character, Victor, is the most vacuous creation ever. Love it. You’re on your own at the point Victor is involved in a lengthy homosexual ménage. It sorta goes downhill at that point. But the first half? Fag-u-lous!

5. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer 

…is long, rambling and shot through with radiance. Set in the South Pacific during WWII. Bummer. It seems as if I have a WWII fetish. It’s going to lead to sexual role-play if I’m not careful.

6. The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton

GK is one of the most fabulous men to ever live. He was big and fat and wore a cape. He loved paradox. This is a good story and two interesting historical figures counted it among their favourites: Michael Collins, famous Irish Republican white terrorist took from the book, if you don’t seem to be hiding, no one will hunt you out. And Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent who sold tons of secrets to the USSR used to give the book to his friends. Good enough for me.

“The Most Insane, Courageous Performance I’ve Ever Seen!”

Dion Agius remembers Damien Hobgood's surfing at a rough Indonesian reef. "He was an animal!"

Some time ago, while filming for Strange Rumblings, Dion Agius and other Globe surfers including Creed McTaggart, sought out the circles of Greenbush in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Greenbush is one of those waves where tuberiding to the death is preferable to opening the cat-flap or proning straight. For surfers such as Craig Anderson and, in our case, Damien Hobgood, it is where their courage and their skills are most visible.

I’d heard about Damien Hobgood’s solo session at 12-foot at Greenbush from Dion Agius and Creed McTaggart. As I swooped on their drinks cabinet they mimicked what they believed had transpired. Giant drops beyond the vertical axis! Circles that were so big that even if a camera had been there it wouldn’t have been able to translate its enormity to pixels.

Damien, see, was in Bali and had heard the wave was going to be good and, short of partners, flew, drove and hopped a boat until he was sitting in the channel of an Indonesia version of Teahupoo, ready to surf solo. And solo he did.

The following day, when the swell had dropped but was still a respectable, even horrifying, eight foot, Dion and Creed and the rest of the Globe gang arrived. And Damien, hardened from the previous day, owned it.

Now let’s talk with Dion!

BeachGrit: Describe to me how Damien behaved in these waves?

Dion: Damo acted like an animal out there, like a man possessed. It was the most insane performance of talent and courage I’ve ever seen. He did not give one fuck and was getting bounced of the reef and bleeding everywhere and just kept charging.

What about when he surfaced with his back covered in glitches. He laughed it off, yeah? 

Yep, he had been bounced on the inside. Tore up his whole back, copped the next death set on the head on the inside section and swam down to the bottom and bear-hugged a giant coral head while an eight foot dry set bore down on his head. And he gritted his teeth and said underwater “not today.” That’s what he told us when he paddled back out bleeding. “Not today!” Jesus. I wanted to go home crying. I was so scared at that point.

Can you describe, in detail, one outrageous wave he rode? 

He got one that came in looking like Black Death. The whole channel went black, it was the biggest wave of the day by far and he saw it and just started paddling for the horizon. A the very last second he swung as fast as you’ve ever seen and put his head down. I think his face may have even been in the water and he was grunting an paddling so hard paddling like 20 miles an hour. Once his board caught up with the tremendous forward thrusts his arms were producing, he took off behind the peak and lost contact for a second before regaining at the bottom and accidetanlly went into a soul arch with an eight-foot guillotine lip heading at his face. He ducked about two-inches and it slid right by his ear before he stood completely straight and proceeded to man-handle the beast all the way down the line and then got spat out right in front of my face. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. He was giggling.

What sorts of things do you remember him saying to you? 

I think he said, “that was fun.” I couldn’t speak for about 20 minutes.

What can we learn from a man like Damo? 

How to be a man. And an awesome loving, caring gentle man that is also as tough, and strong and crazy as the manliest of men.

Do you wish you were more like Damo? 

I wish I was Damo.

Empty waves during Cyclone Iggy in 2012
''You're just looking at each other with your mouths open and you're shaking your head and nothing comes out, you don't know what to say. I'd lost my voice by the end of the day," says Taj of a wave that has only appeared, in this sort of form, twice, and only for a few hours each time, in the past 20 years. | Photo: Jamie Scott

Is this the best wave in the world?

Long, draining, warm-water, sand-bottom point. In Western Australia. Make you wanna chase?

What do you want in a “world’s best wave”? A few jocks will chase the Teahupoo dream; others are Hawaii; a few thrill to the cold-water ledges.

Me? And you? I’m thinking warm-water sand-bottom points with a cap on the wave size at, say, six foot. Like this remarkable confluence of sand and swell three hours drive south of Perth in Western Australia, and relatively close to the primary residence of the tour’s Taj Burrow.

”You’re just looking at each other with your mouths open and you’re shaking your head and nothing comes out, you don’t know what to say. I’d lost my voice by the end of the day,” says Taj of a wave that has only appeared, in this sort of form, twice, and only for a few hours each time, in the past 20 years.

Cyclone Bianca (2011) and Cyclone Iggy (2012) are two meteorological events that surfers who were there, on this day, and on the previous one the year before, will remember for the rest of their lives.

Cyclones, y’see, don’t do a hell of a lot for waves around these parts, usually. Mostly they’re too far up north, Exmouth and beyond. But Bianca and Iggy flew south and spun their north-swell dreams into a part of the state more famous for its lefts (Let’s leave North Point outta the picture for a minute).

And what happens is the prevailing southerlies push sand up into the beachbreaks, every day, every year. But without a north swell to light ’em up, they’re always closeouts.

“We couldn’t believe it happened two years in a row,” says Jamie Scott, who shot this photo. “That never happens. Two in a row! We were losing it.” The “we” refers to Taj, Jay Davies and another local surfer Dino Adrian.

Jamie is 44 years old and takes surf photos for a living. He also prints these shots, makes frames and then “sits it out at the markets every Saturday and Sunday in summer.”

“As far as beachies go, these were the best waves we’ve ever had down here,” says Jamie. “North Point gets fucked up as you know, but these were long, draining, heavy beachies with shape. And it was pumping, as in the waves didn’t stop. Usually our swells are long-period here but because the cyclone was so close there was a real short period and the waves were closer together, pumping through.”

Which means, “good lineup shots,” says Jamie.

How long can you mind-surf this photo for?

(To buy this image or to flip through Jamie’s catalogue click here. You want his social? Click here for Facebook. And click here for his Instagram.