Australian adventurer Mark Visser discusses his love of big waves, big projects and Breitling watches.
In 2011 Mark Visser made history when he became the first person to night ride the 30-40 foot waves of Maui’s famous “Jaws” break. Subsequently he’s undertaken “Operation Deep Blue” – parachuting out of aircraft with jetskis and surfboards into storm swells in the middle of the ocean in search of freak waves. For Visser, the research and planning of the project, and the adventure involved in getting to some extremely remote places, in as thrilling as riding the giant waves.
How did you get into big-wave surfing?
I represented Australia in surfing at schoolboy level but was never the best kid and I wasn’t really passionate about small waves. I was always out there thinking about other stuff like, “I wonder what’s up that mountain over there.” When I caught myself doing that I knew my heart’s not in this. I always had better results when the surf was bigger and that’s what led me to pursue big waves, and also that spirit of adventure.
How long did it take to prepare the famous night surf at Jaws?
Four years. It was on idea, a dream. It was shelved,’ a couple of times, because it didn’t seem safe. Then came a different angle, a different approach that worked… then a year of training to perfect it. It was perhaps the most terrifying thing I could think of doing but I really want to stretch myself and see what I was made of so I put everything I had into it.
People think it’s a lunatic thing to do but your preparation is about taking the risk out of the endeavour, right?
Every single thing is done over and over and over again the point where I’m still scared the first 20 times, but when it comes to the main project I’m so familiar with it that it really doesn’t seem like such a risk because of all the work I’ve put in.
Was it truly surreal to surf that break at night?
Jaws itself is one of the scariest breaks anyway. Add the night factor and yes, all the common things are out the window. I actually caught 14 waves that night and the first few I was really scared but when I was able to relax there came that feeling of being the moment and of it being the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. It made me truly humble and I was just in silence. I didn’t need to taIk for another month.
You’re recognised as one of the fittest guys in big wave-surfing – it takes serious discipline to do this full-time, we’re guessing?
You’ve got to be able to put in a high level of effort, you can’t just wade out them and give it a nudge. The fitness level has been taken to another realm and the guys who want to do it fulltime have to be very professional. You want to limit the chances of things going horribly wrong no you have to put in a lot of work.
We hear you’re also a watch tragic with a thing for Breitlings?
That whole company is about air, land and sea and that’s pretty much everything I do. We sort of formed an alliance and I’ve always loved their timepieces… other brands make very, good quality watches but Breitling’s that more cutting edge brand. They just make cool stuff and they have an identity about them.
Which are your favourites?
I have a few. I just did underwater training this morning and I was wearing the Chronomat 44 Raven with a rubber strap. It’s the type of watch that if you’re in huge surf, it’s never going to come off. And I have favourites which are cool dress watches like a Superocean Heritage and a Super Avenger. Some people love shoes. I just love watch.