Behind the Shot: Big-Wave Surfer Mark Healey Catches a Monster Wave at Teahupoo
Learn how the photographer got the shot and see more images like this in our Extreme Photo of the Week gallery: http://on.natgeo.com/i3409T
Adventure: What were you thinking at this moment?
Mark Healey: I was thinking that falling wasn’t an option!
A: Tell us about this wave? What was it like to ride it?
M.H.: This wave is named Teahupoo. It’s at the end of the road on the southeast corner of Tahiti. It is truly one of the wonders of the world, and I’ve been making an annual pilgrimage there for the last 17 years. The wave is created because of the dramatic bottom contour. It goes from 150-feet-deep to dry reef in a matter of 100 yards. That means that the unimpeded energy of Southern Ocean swells are forced up in a matter of seconds creating a violent, albiet “rideable” wave.
A:We have heard the waves have been better than average at Teahupoo. Why? And why has this moment been so special to surfers?
M.H.: In a typical Southern Hemisphere swell season we get, on average one very large swell for Tahiti, and it usually peaks for a matter of hours. Last week we saw three days straight of some of the biggest surf to hit Tahiti in recent memory. This was due to a complex storm system that spawned off of Antarctica and was really three storms acting as one, feeding off of each other.
A: When did you hear this swell was coming in? What did you do?
M.H.: I saw the forecasted storm on the charts about a week out and monitored it about 20 times a day until it came! I try not to get emotionally attached to a swell that far out, because so much can change. When it was 48 hours out and still looking massive, I booked my flight to Tahiti.
A: For a big-wave surfer, what does it mean to you to be riding waves like this in the ocean?
M.H.: This was a very special wave for me because it was the largest I have ever ridden there. It took a culmination of experience from my years there to ride it successfully. To be a part of an energy like that is something that’s hard to put into words.
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A: How many other big-wave surfers came out for these ways? What was the scene like?
M.H.: A lot of big-wave surfers showed up. The swell was no secret. It gets really crazy out there. The photo boats get so close to the wave and are jockey-ing for the best position while the surfers are jockey-ing for the waves themselves. It can make an already dangerous situation a lot worse. People were being sent off to the hospital almost hourly. Thank God no one died.
A: How do you know when it’s time to go home?
M.H: After I caught this wave, I got on the Jet Ski and towed my friends into some waves and ran safety. You can’t get too greedy. I got what I had come for that day.
A: Are you working toward any big goals right now?
M.H.: I’m always training and looking to ride the biggest waves on the planet, but lately I’ve been focusing more on bringing my experiences in the ocean to a wider audience. I want to show people the amazing things that our ocean has to offer. If that causes people to value it more, then they are much more likely to want to protect it.