By now, the majority of the surf world has seen footage of Australian hellman Mark Visser tow-surfing 20-foot Jaws in the middle of the night. In case you need a refresher, on January 20th a little after 2 AM, Visser descended the face of a Peahi monster while wearing a NASA-designed LED lighting system. He wasn’t alone. With two helicopters hovering overhead to document the madness, Visser became the first person to surf Maui’s Peahi at night. So it only made sense to speak with Mark about his training, his equipment, and ultimately his sanity, because quite frankly, the whole ordeal seems absolutely absurd.
So Mark, what was the motivation behind your night surf?
I wanted to push myself beyond all the limits that I thought I could physically do, and to really go above and beyond what I thought was possible.
How did you get the idea to do it?
Someone told me about a dream they had about surfing at night. They were obviously talking about smaller waves, but that’s what initially triggered me to think more about it.
Was it a publicity stunt, or was it something you’d have done even if it wasn’t being filmed?
Yeah, I was going to do it anyway. Initially, I would have done it with a smaller team, but I had to make a compromise when the producers came on board. They loved the story and wanted to help me achieve my goal. The safety elements were obviously a big one, and they provided us with the two choppers, but at the end of the day it was all about my personal goal of being the best athlete I could. I just wanted to push myself with a test that wasn’t an easy one.
When you’re surfing on waves of obvious consequence like Jaws, how much do you think of your friends and family? Do you take the danger factor into account?
Well, when I’m actually surfing, I don’t think of anything other than doing the job at hand. Prior to going anywhere, my friends and family know it’s what I want to do and it’s my path in life. They know I’d be unhappy if I wasn’t pursuing that, and they support me 110%.
The video you released seems like it had a pretty big impact. Has your life changed much as a result? Any new sponsors or unexpected opportunities?
Nothing has really changed that much. I don’t really pay attention to it. This is just one of a series of goals of mine that I want to achieve, and I’m not really looking at it from that point of view. I’m just focusing on what I actually want to do.
How long were you surfing before you decided to take it to the next level?
I left the WQS tour four or five years ago, and I’ve competed in some biggish wave events there – Teahupoo, Pipeline, Sunset – but in the last 3 to 4 years on the tour, my sole focus was on big-wave riding and big-wave events. That’s when I really started to think about how I could push myself. I’d towed and paddled into every major spot around the world, so I just kept asking the question, what else is out there?
How long did you train for this?
Well, the training elements of it have been happening for over three years, but this particular event was three years in the making. We had been waiting for about a year, and the conditions that we had that night were perfect. I don’t know if they would come together like that for a long time now, maybe not for another 20 years. It was really rare the way it worked out. We got lucky!
Did you have any issues with the helicopter flying at night? I know a lot of companies won’t let their pilots fly at night.
We used Don Shearer; he’s the best helicopter pilot in the business. There’s no one else that I’ve ever seen that can fly that way in big waves. He’s the best. The things that he was doing at night were amazing. We got so lucky to have him involved in the project!
Was the light system on your board made especially for that session?
Yeah, the light system was made with infrared lights specifically for the night surf, just so the camera crew could track where I was going. Initially, I didn’t want to have any lights on me at all. Like I said, I just wanted to do it myself, but then they brought in the element of safety with helicopters and stuff, so it was a bit of a compromise.
I heard you can hold your breath for over six minutes. Is that true? And how did you get to that level?
Yeah, it’s true. I’ve been training for about 4 years in all kinds of training drills. Negative oxygen training sessions, hard underwater lap sessions, stuff like that. It takes time to build it up, you know? There really aren’t any shortcuts.
Have you got anything else planned for the future?
Well, we’ve a whole series of events coming up in a documentary called “9 Lives.” You’ll have to watch it to see what it’s all about.