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Beach Grit

Healey: “I experienced real racism!”

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

Big-waver Mark Healey reveals wild childhood on podcast, The Truth Barrel… 

The Hawaiian Mark Healy is someone you can safely refer to as a “waterman” without conjuring up scenes of noise and braggadocio.

Without fanfare, the thirty five year old from Wahiawa, has won the WSL biggest-paddle in award (2014), the Todos Santos big-wave event (2010), the XXL Monster Tube Award (2009), the Surfer Poll worst wipeout (2008), and in the same year he won the World Cup of Spearfishing in La Pax, Mexico. Outside magazine called Healey the “greatest athlete you’ve never heard of.” Mark likes to dive with the fabulous Great White, too.

Recently, Mark was a guest on The Truth Barrel, a podcast that takes place in a heated sauna and is hosted by the journalist and one-time pick-up artist Neil Strauss and pro volleyballer and wife of Laird Hamilton, Gabby Reece.

“There’s no fluff around Mark Healey,” says Reece, who posits that it wasn’t just Mark’s exposure to the ocean that turned him into the beast he is today, but growing up a small, white kid in a tough, local Hawaiian school.

In this episode, Mark speaks movingly of being the smallest kid of 200 in his grade at Kahuku High, girls included. The only kid who approached his diminutiveness was a boy with cancer.

“I didn’t break one hundred pounds until I was seventeen,” says Mark.

Small, white, no connections.

“I experienced real racism,” he says. “But then again it’s complex issues. A lot of white people did a lot of bad stuff over there. I didn’t. I wasn’t coming from land barons. My parents were just as poor and hard-working as anybody else, probably a lot more poorer than the local families. It’s human nature (to bully, exclude). You deal with a lot of stuff. Racism is obviously an issue and bullying is obviously an issue today but…

“Come on people, if they experienced the skin of stuff I experienced growing up. I’d be twelve years old, and small for twelve years old, and have a senior come by and give me his best shot. Straight down the pipe. Blow my face out. You were constantly on edge. You’d get in altercations twice a week. You learned to be either a doormat or stick up for yourself. Not a lot of kids stick up for themselves. You kinda snap every now and then.

“The crappy thing is,” says Mark, “you get forced into a situation where you have to react and if you lose, you lose. If you win, then you have their entire family looking for you.”

And don’t go expecting the other small white kids to help. They’re “shaking in a corner with PTS,” laughs Mark.

Thing is, he says, the fights, the racism helped him become who he is.

“I was dealing with an environment where I was, a, a minority and it was a little rough, b, being the smallest guy, c, being poor… I always tell kids this. If there’s anything that’s really served me, it’s this. I learned at an early age that sometimes you have to work twice as hard to get the same results as the person next to you. Life’s not fair. Do you want it or not? Do what it takes to get it.”

Listen here.