Mark Healey Surfing Teahupoo, Tahiti

Photograph by Fred Pompermayer

“Falling wasn't an option,” was the thought running through the mind of big-wave surfer and waterman Mark Healey as he rode this wave. “Teahupo'o is truly one of the wonders of the world. I’ve been making an annual pilgrimage to there for the past 17 years.”

Last week's swells were particularly large—the largest in recent memory—at the wave break just off Tahiti, which beckoned many of the world's best big-wave surfers. From his home in Oahu, Hawaii, Healey had monitored a complex storm system that spawned off of Antarctica. When the storm was 48 hours out and still looked massive, he booked his flight.

“This was a very special wave for me because it was the largest I have ever ridden at Teahupo'o. It took a culmination of experience from my years there to ride it successfully,” says Healy. But with the huge waves come huge risks—and some surfers ended up in the hospital. “After I caught this wave, I got on the Jet Ski and towed my friends into some waves and ran safety,” he recalls. “You can't get too greedy. I got what I had come for that day.”

Getting the Shot

“In the morning, the waves were six to eight feet and surfers were paddling out," recalls surfer and adventure photographer Frederico Pompermayer. "At 11 a.m., the first tow-in set came in with a 15-foot swell, which is too big to paddle. After that, the swells increased and picked up. By the end of the day, we saw a couple of sets come in at 25 feet."

Pompermayer watched and photographed Healey catching this massive wave. “Mark Healey was towed into the perfect position with the exact speed he needed to set him up for this insane wave,” says Pompermayer. “This trip was fantastic because we had two big-swell days. It was so crowded—all the big riders from around the world showed up for this swell. It was a challenge to get a good shot on the boat because of the amount of boats and Jet Skis in the area, but I found it exciting.”

Pompermayer shot with a Canon EOS 1D X, a f/4, 70-200mm lens, and a SanDisk Extreme memory card.