Mark Healey talks the biggest wave ever paddled at Puerto Escondido
Sorry for the sensational fucking title, but when Coco Nogales, king of Puerto Escondido, says it’s the biggest paddle-in wave ever ridden at the place… then it just is. Coco also says that today at Puerto was the craziest ocean he’s seen in at least 20 years. Can you believe that Mark Healey competed in the Quiksilver Ceremonial at Punta de Lobos in Chile, then shot to Mexico the next day to meet this two-decade swell head on? Stab can, because Healey doesn’t play by the normal rules. It’s what found him in the lineup at first light this morning, and what caused him to “Black out” and paddle into the biggest non-jetski-entry wave ever ridden on a Mexican beachbreak. Stab dialled in the fabulously articulate Healey for a firsthand account of what’ll probably already be XXL Biggest Wave.
Stab: You had quite a day.
Mark Healey: Today was honestly twice as big as the biggest I’ve ever seen it here. The energy and the water moving was just… so beyond anything I’ve ever seen here. Everything else pales in comparison.
Did you surf all day? No, I didn’t actually. I checked a couple other spots at first light just in case it was too maxed out at the beachbreak and there were some other options. I went out at Puerto and I got lucky, I got that wave in the first 15-20 minutes of getting to the actual lineup. It’s a 2km walk down to the harbour, then it was a 45-minute paddle from the harbour way out and around at sea, cause you can’t even get out at the beachbreak. It’s a natural disaster here at the moment, there’s military guys with guns everywhere making sure people aren’t looting and stuff. There’s cars getting washed around, it’s crazy carnage. I think it’s a three-day weekend for a holiday, so all the people from inland are here partying their asses off, so there’s twice as many people, and the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight was last night, and it’s a full moon, and there’s giant swell… it just feels like the place is going to explode (laughs). All of these swells seem to be on a saturday or a sunday with a full moon, like sometimes when you’re walking down there in the darkness to the harbour to paddle out, you’ve gotta actually watch out, like… you might get stabbed or something. Drunk people all over the place, clubs still blasting, it’s in the dark, it’s bizarre.
Is that the biggest wave you’ve ever caught? I don’t know. No idea. Definitely the biggest wave I’ve ever caught at Puerto Escondido.
Biggest wave you’ve ever paddled? Mmm, I don’t know. No idea! I didn’t even realise it was that big. I saw the photo later and it was, woah, it looks solid. I went full black out when I saw it, I just went “Ok, I need to commit to this. Done. It’s happening.” I barely remember what it looked like coming in.
Ok, so, this wave. It was hard to find a corner, and there were waves that were breaking so much further out on the biggest sets. You either had to be way inside and try to go for the normal waves, or outside for the sets. And then even outside was like, you might be able to make it around the biggest, furthest-out set. Pretty tricky, and the waves are moving so, so fast. The waves must be going 40 miles per hour. The wave I got was a normal set, it wasn’t the biggest wave. That was the first wave of a set, and all the guys who were around me when I caught that, all got fucking smashed by all the waves behind me. So if I hadn’t caught that wave…
Ew. Thank god it didn’t go top to bottom cause I was in the lip, and I stood up and it just held me there in the offshore, and just lurched a little bit. And so I had to make a decision, and I decided to just really stomp down on it. It let me in, and I just thought “Oh, wow, that’s a big wall.” I got my edge in and I didn’t wanna bottom turn too fast, cause there was so much water and I wanted to see what it was going to shape up and do. So I’m bottom turning so it doesn’t outrun me, like, “Oh my god, this thing is running to Timbuktu, I’m probably not gonna make it. Or, it might just be the biggest barrel I’ve ever been in, in my life." And then I just saw it start going almond-shape on me, I was like “Oh, no. It’s gonna just land on my face right now.” And I just ducked under it – the lip brushed my head – I just got under it and I knew it was going to shut and outrun me. So I got under it and jumped off… and got absolutely destroyed, and about 12 other waves on the head after it.
Darkness! I don’t think I would’ve ever got up and got a breath if I didn’t have that Patagonia vest on. The thing that’s so scary about there, is that it’s exploding so violently, and there’s like eight feet of aerated water. No matter how hard you fight, you can’t get your head up for a breath. Even with that vest fully inflated, I was barely getting breaths. My eyes would come up and I’d just get pulled back down or sideways, trying to get little sips of air without taking in water. Luckily it pushed me in more. Sometimes it’ll just keep you in the same spot and recycle you. But I got about 10 waves on the head before it deposited me on the beach.
You must’ve been rinsed after that. Were you done? No, I was doing great! I just went and got an orange juice. I was going to go back out, and I was walking down, and I saw Coco Nogales… I thought he was trying to get back out on the jetski, he kept trying and he was going further and further down the beach towards the rocks. I saw something black pop up and I was like, I hope that was a log or something and not a person. Then I saw a half board and realised he was trying to get somebody. So I threw down my board and ran down to see if he needed me to jump on the sled to be a grabber, in case the person was unconscious. But then the waves lulled out right then and he got the guy, who ended up being my friend I was with this morning. He picked him up right at the rocks. I ran around to the harbour where they came in, and I was helping them out. He was all good, just needed a serious breather. The wind had started coming back up and he was like, “Man, don’t go back out, you already got the wave and the wind’s coming up.”
What kind of board gets you into a wave like yours? I was on a 9’8” made by a guy named Ron Meeks, from Hawaii. It’s got a lot of beef. It feels like I could catch anything on it, and I don’t feel like I’m trying to turn a sidewalk when I’m at the bottom, it actually responds. It’s hard to find a board with both those qualities. It’s a thruster! Just in case some rights pop up. I like the thruster for the rights, especially if you have to pick out a 25-footer.
It must've been a strange mix of lightspeed ultraviolence and slowest motion turning? It really is. It’s interesting, it can play tricks on your senses. You’re trying to gauge like, “I can see that lip way the hell up there.” And then figure out, based on your peripheral vision, what you think it’s gonna do. Just another reason why experience helps so much in big waves. It’s a strange sensation you have to go through a few times before you’re not deer in the headlights. It’s like when you’re a grom and you get in your first barrel, and you just freeze up, like “Oh my god! I’m in a barrel!” It’s the same thing, it’s like being a kid and being in your first barrel. Then when you get experienced you figure out like, “Oh I have to pump, I’ve gotta adjust my line, I should probably breathe…”