Deepwater Hunting With Mark Healey

MarkHealey_winter2015-16_BrentBielmann024Photo: Brent Bielmann

In the wee hours of the morning Haleiwa Town is sleepy and still. I roll by the shuttered shops and cafes that line the road, nearly at the harbor and Mark texts: Mind stopping by 7-11 for two 20lbs bags of ice?

F–k. That’s a lot of ice. As in, does he actually expect me to contribute in the catch to necessitate said poundage of ice? This worries me because I have a problem with retaining shit my dad taught me when I was young. My dad’s a carpenter, very good with his hands, and there’s three things I’ve done a hundred times with him that I still suck at and that’s: Building houses, fixing dings and catching fish. I lug a couple of bags of ice to the counter in 7-11 and the clerk looks at me, grinning. “What, hanapa’a!? [going fishing?] and I nod yes, like a phony.

At the harbor, Mark’s backing his trailer with a mounted Jet Ski down the ramp like he’s maneuvering a Fiat coupe. SURFING staff photographer Brent Bielmann slides in after him with the same expert precision. I had figured I’d be more observing Mark in his element, but he insisted that he bring me gear to partake in the hunt. You’ve dived before, right? he’d asked me over the phone the night prior. To which I gave a similar answer as I did the 7-11 clerk.

Mark points to a bag of diving apparatus in the back of his huge pickup truck and says, “Take your pick; something’s gotta fit.”

I look in the bag and there’s oceanically camoflauged digi-print fullsuit bottoms and hooded tops, which also scares me because it hints at real divers spending real periods of time below the surface. The fins are the kind that are like 6 feet long. Big-dick-diver fins, as I call them. I grab a mask and snorkel and one of the spearguns, which I fear I’m already holding wrong, and Mark cocks his head back and goes, “Craaap…I forgot to bring you a dive knife.”

I look at him with matching faux-regret, and suck in air like, what are we gonna do now?, but reassure him that I’ll manage.

I blink and Mark’s already got his wetsuit on, hood and all, revving the engine on the Ski. I’m trying to get mine on and it feels like I’m attempting to fit my entire body into a condom. Mark looks over and says, “Dip the suit in saltwater and it’ll slide right on.”

Mark Healey is a pro.

Mark is also 34 years old, fit as a fiddle and wears a perpetual half-smile on his face like if the zombie apocalypse came tomorrow…he’d be juuust fine. One of the guys that’d captain a successful survivor’s crew during said apocalypse. Mad Mark. Yes, Mark goes left at big Waimea, deep at bigger Peahi and he’s been a hell-man since before he was a man. Mark’s been spearing fish since he was 5 years old, can freedive nearly 160 feet on one breath and these days, gets his kicks kissing—I mean tagging, for scientific purposes only—great white sharks off obscure Mexican islands. He’s also a professional stuntman, usually booked for but not limited to aquatic-based feats a few times a year for major Hollywood blockbusters. The latest being Point Break, for which he and Russian freediving world champion Marina Kazankova dove off Tahiti for a week straight. Bare naked, I should add.

Indeed, Mark Healey is a pro — a modern-day survivalist who also gets paid to do shit that normal humans won’t. And I’m pretty sure — but not certain — my fins are on the correct feet.

We whiz out of the harbor and gallop west toward Mokuleia. The wind is dead, the sky is clear, the sea is slick and the sun peeks over the backside of the mountains like a curious toddler. We speed out, about a mile off shore and toward Kaena Point where the north and west shores converge. The place that ancient Hawaiians called ka leina a ka uhane, or “The Jumping Off Point.” The place where souls of the departed would travel to and leap from, into the netherworld.

Closer to the point and further from shore, the water gets bluer and deeper — a profound shade of blue that I’ve never seen in all my life. The color from which all blues are born. Port side, the Waianae Mountains look ancient and the golden, lost beaches of Mokuleia look practically undiscovered, save for the few specks of surfers waiting for sets in the pristine conditions.

Then suddenly, we stop.

Mark glares into the sea, then toward the point, then back at the mountains for a marker, sniffs the air and throws the anchor into the blue. He hawks a loogie into his mask and rubs the mucous around to clean the glass. I follow suit and spit in mine (his), miss, and partially hit the rubber frame and my own fingers, more than the actual glass. He hops off the Ski with his gun and cocks back both rubbers, lodging the butt of the speargun into his chest for leverage. I attempt to mimic him confidently and the butt of my speargun slips off my chest and into my solar plexus, simultaneously knocking the wind out of me and locking the first rubber.

I don’t have the balls to ask Mark how to reload the spear, should I even take a shot. Precisely one of those things I’ve learned from my dad a dozen times and forgotten.

“Um, you might wanna keep the safety on until you see a fish,” says Mark, flipping the switch on the side of my gun.

I shrug, like, Well, maybe you might want to…

Just as I’d suspected, the water is f–king deep. Blue fading into black. I definitely can’t see the bottom and watch as Mark descends into the abyss. He drops a chum line of fish-parts with him on the way down, which suspends in his wake.

MarkHealey_winter2015-16_BrentBielmann017Photo: Brent Bielmann

Because I can’t see the bottom — a first for me while diving — I get seasick pretty fast. Suddenly I envision blowing chunks above Mark, somewhere below. Vomit bursts from my snorkel, a cloud of coffee and barfy breakfast bagel particles surrounding me, attracting a frenzy of pelagic fish and bloodthirsty sharks.

Shit, maybe it’d help. My unique, albeit ugly, method of contribution. For the record, I do not barf.

In the midst of my nausea, hovering a few feet below the surface and at least 60 feet above Mark, I see him kicking languidly, rising to the surface in slo-mo like Jesus Christ, with a nice uku on the end of his spear. Uku, a type of deepwater blue-green snapper, is especially delicious, excellent when raw for sashimi.

I give Mark a proud thumbs-up like, Look at us, already! A thumbs-up that may have been a jinx, as for the next few dives, Mark doesn’t spot another fish. In fact, I don’t either, however far over him I float.

Mark grabs the chum line and decides we ought to try right off the point. We zip up there, put in and watch the two currents from both shores mix with each other underwater. Seasick again, I watch Mark at work and it’s extraordinary. His movements and posture underwater are like a ballet dancer’s — precise, elegant, fluid — perfect. But still no fish.

After a few more dives and the same misfortune, we jet to another zone that’s shallower, off the edge of a reef pass. Focusing on the shoreline to counteract the dizziness, I’m mostly hanging on the Ski this round while Mark searches for more fish that are, frankly, nowhere to be seen today.

Confounded, Mark pops up smiling and shrugs, “Your guess is as good as mine,” and throws the chum line and speargun on the Ski to head for home. I don’t believe that my guess is remotely as good as his — not one bit — but I appreciate his pity and we cruise back to Haleiwa harbor.

Hosing off the Ski and dive gear, Mark offers to cut up and drop off the uku for the boys at the SURFING house — a true gentleman. I drive home and think of that saying, Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime, and somehow neither applies to me.

But c’mon, that man didn’t learn to fish a mile offshore on a JetSki in deepwater. Sure, I didn’t learn how to fish today from Mark, nor over a lifetime from my dad, but I definitely learned that Mr. Healey is perfectly at home in places and situations that would make most of us completely nauseous.–Beau Flemister