Mark Healey is best known for his big-wave surfing, but that actually undersells his unique abilities in the ocean.
The 34-year-old is perhaps the only human alive who can paddle into and ride 60-foot waves, free-dive 135 feet under the ocean without oxygen, and ride great white sharks—as in, wait for one to cruise by, then grab its dorsal fin and rip through the water on the back of the ocean’s apex predator.
In 2016, when scientists needed someone to tag a number of Japan’s elusive hammerhead sharks, they called Healey, who swam into shark groups and applied the tags. “It’s a very unusual, broad-spectrum water and troubleshooting skill set,” he explains.
Healey’s daily life is a workout in itself, but when he’s not in the water he does ginastica natural, a Brazilian blend of martial arts and yoga that makes him more “fluid and powerful” while also improving his deep breathing.
He has a growing list of sponsors—he’s a longtime GoPro athlete—and is also the proprietor of Healey Water Ops, a company that offers “exclusive access to experiences in, on, under, and around water, globally.” In other words, he’s the guy CEOs and sheikhs call when they want to swim with a shark or tackle a big wave, because he knows how to achieve the absurd, safely.
“Fear is going to keep you alive,” says Healey. “If you’re fearless, you step off a building and explode on the pavement. Obviously I’m not going to do that.”