A handful of freedivers have recently taken to riding sharks by gently grabbing onto their dorsal fins, and Healey was asked by Surfing magazine why he does this and whether it's a smart idea. He answered: "The whole point of doing it is to make people think about how they perceive sharks. If more people are feeling comfortable with sharks and seeing them in different ways, then that's a good thing."
Mark Healey, a big-wave surfer and passionate freediver, is seen stiff-arming a tiger shark in the accompanying photo and video (video posted below).
What's not shown is Healey riding the same tiger shark 30 minutes before he issued the football move to the advancing predator.
What he means, and what other freedivers have tried to explain, is that this is one way to show that sharks are not the bloodthirsty killers many people still believe them to be.
Sharks most definitely are not bloodthirsty man-eaters. But by riding large sharks–including great whites–freedivers appear to be taking for granted that these wild creatures are never going to turn and bite in response to this kind of intrusion.
However, Healey, who lives in Hawaii and has spent much of his life in the ocean, might be smarter than some people think.
When asked by Surfing if he thinks "someone who's inexperienced will get hurt trying something like this," the athlete responded:
"Well, it's a numbers game. The more you're around sharks, the more likely it is you'll get hit."
He added: "But if you’re inexperienced, you’ll probably be all skittish and scare the shark away, anyway. Because it’s not like you’re forcing them to do anything, they make the conscious decision to let you be there with them. But at the end of the day it’s natural selection."
Healey recalled that he was once asked by Surfing magazine how surfers can prevent more deaths in big waves, and said that answer applies with shark diving as well.
"The answer is to stop surfing big waves. That’s basically it," he said. "Because you can dance next to the fire in a calculated way but there’s a certain amount of risk that will never be taken out of the equation. These things aren’t safe and they never will be."
That said, Healey is eagerly anticipating the winter surfing season and the swells it brings. The bigger, the better...
–Note: Pete also writes for GrindTv