How does an overweight hairdresser in San Diego become a shirtless, show-stopping fire breather in the South Pacific? 


Step 1: Join the Navy.


Sick of the unstable financial prospects of a stylist, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Sherwin Mora entered a Navy recruiter's office at 5-foot-7 and 260 pounds. He dropped about 50 pounds to fall within minimum body composition standards, enlisted in 2009 and would eventually find himself stationed at Navy Base Guam in 2012.


Once there, a friend introduced him to a local dance scene that incorporates multiple regional styles — Tahitian, Tongan, Samoan, even the Haka made famous by indigenous New Zealanders — alongside the local Chamorro style.


Mora had been exposed to such dances by family members in Hawaii. He'd always wanted to try, he said, but "I was pretty self-conscious about my weight, so I didn't get into it."

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Sherwin Mora hits the gym at least six days a week and credits the fitness required for Navy service with giving him the confidence to perform.

Photo Credit: Brayton Metzger/Navy

Now in shape, he earned a spot in a dance troupe of about 22 performers, with about a dozen taking the stage in a given show. He played his role, he said, but wasn’t standing out.


"I felt like everybody had their thing," said Mora, 32, "All the boys had something that they did … we all have this little section.


"I knew I was able to breathe fire."


Mora had experimented with fire breathing before, and once he received permission to try it in the performance, there wasn't all that much of beta-testing period — he acquired some lighter fluid from the barbecue setup, grabbed a torch and let fly.


"Our manager happened to watch that night," Mora recalled, "and he really liked it."


The fire act became part of the Haka performance and eventually expanded into other parts of the show. Mora said he prefers lighter fluid because it's always available, but others in the trade use kerosene or alcohol.

Unlike his time on stage, Mora says he keeps "a low profile" on duty.

Photo Credit: Brayton Metzger/Navy

"It doesn’t taste bad, it just tastes oily," he said of the fire fuel.


As far as technique goes, the HM3 offered only a simple safety tip: "Never breathe through your mouth. If you inhale, you're going to completely burn your breathing tube and your lungs will suffer damage. Breathe through your nose … and you kind of spray out."


Mora said he's suffered no injuries during his performances, which sometimes come in front of unsuspecting co-workers.


"I keep a low profile," said Mora, who is looking into a move to the Navy Reserve after high-year tenure rules end his active-duty service in May. "Sometimes people in the hospital, they'll see me at the show and then they'll see me afterward and they'll recognize me ... they'll come up and take pictures [with the dancers] and they'll say, 'Hey, I know you from somewhere.' "


Once they find out from where, the shirtless fire breather usually hears the same rationale.


"Oh, you look different without all your clothes," he said.


See more images of Mora in action here.