Really good surfers are like really good musicians. Whenever a musician is communicating something that comes from the heart, it translates with you as a listener. Think about a guy like with Johnny Cash. You can listen to Cash and tell that the guy means what he’s saying. His music comes from experience and a deeper place. Just like when you see Tom Carroll or Shawn Briley surf, you know that’s them reacting. It’s so real. That’s what drew me to certain surfers, and that’s what translated into the surfer I am today. –Mark Healey
As a kid, Tom Carroll was always my favorite surfer. I loved his approach and the fact that he was a goofyfooter. Of course there’s that Pipe Masters performance with the snap under the lip, and then him putting the samurai helmet on — but watching him surf is cool because it’s always Tom being Tom and no one else. He’s doing what he wants on a wave, and he’s not necessarily trying to impress anybody — he’s just a wild animal. Like gremlins. They’re all nice until they hit water and then they turn into monsters and that’s Tommy Gun. He lets it all hang out and I fucking love that.
I really admired how Briley was completely fearless. I loved how he wasn’t afraid to try things that other people were unwilling to do. Sometimes it worked out, most times it didn’t. And he always marched to the beat of his own drum. The first time I ever surfed Pipe as a kid, I was terrified. It was 8-feet and I paddled out with Jamie O’Brien and Kalani Chapman. We were shitting ourselves. But we paddled out, all scared groms that had never seen anything close to the kind of waves that were coming through. The first wave I see ridden is by Shawn Briley. He took off 30 feet deeper than anybody…and then just soul arched into a giant closeout. My mind was already blown from seeing waves like that for the first time, but then to see this guy’s utter-disregard for all consequences? Unforgettable.
We grew up together and went tit-for-tat in big waves. We’re really good friends and we are both super stubborn and competitive. Jamie had been to Maverick’s a handful of times before I’d ever been, and watching him go and break ground for Hawaii that young — it really inspired me. He was the guy I compared myself to growing up, though I felt like I was chasing him for so many years. [laughs] One great example of when he pushed me was when we were like 13 and neither of us had been out at Waimea on a proper 20-foot [Hawaiian] day. That day finally came and of course I broke my eardrum like 2 or 3 days earlier and couldn’t be in the water. So I went fishing with my uncle and I remember being 30 miles out to sea and seeing these humungous lines and all I could think was: Jamie’s at Waimea. Jamie’s at Waimea. He got some good waves and sooo soundly beat me to the punch. The fact that he went out and manned up on real waves that day, it just lit a fire in me.
Everyone in our contemporary group of big-wave paddle surfers looks up to Brock Little. Seeing his performance at that Eddie — the closeout that he air-dropped into destruction and that tube he pulled into — it was all next-level for back then. We’re only now approaching that level today. He was so ahead of his time. A lot of guys that I look up to, they looked up to him. The Malloys, Kelly Slater — Brock was teaching them the ropes. But a lot of these big-wave guys are like that: they’re larger than life. Brock’s a stuntman that likes to off-road cars and surf big waves. He’s like a Steve McQueen character. And to a boy it was like, holy shit I want to be him when I grow up.
I really surfing with Shane because I know that he’ll put a real fire under my ass. It’s all eyes on Shane when he hits the water on a big day. It’s amazing to watch when he’s really clicked-in, breathing fire and confident. Because when you marry those things — his skill level with a lack of hesitation and a deep desire to catch giant waves and surf them in a certain way — it’s hard to match. The day that I really got to see that third element was out at Teahupo’o on a really windy, messy 8-12ft day. It was nearly big enough to tow. But I watched Shane throw himself at two of those waves that weren’t even close to makeable and get annihilated. You could clearly see 2-to-3 seconds before he took off that he wouldn’t make it, but he had made up his mind and was going. To see such an intelligent and calculated [erspm blend that chemistry with utter fearlessness, it was like, OK, now I get it. And maybe he’s a little nuts too. [laughs]