A few days ago, one of our friends over at goFlow let us know that Ian Walsh had joined their team. They thought we could talk to him about it. Then I started thinking that Ian is one of those guys that I’ve watched a million times, and at least half of those times I’ve either made a whimpering noise or had to look away.
But apart from seeing him throw himself into some of the biggest waves the planet has to offer, I didn’t know that much about him. He was from Maui – I knew that much. He surfs waves that I can’t even wrap my head around unless I’ve been drinking too much – I also knew that. And then there was something about an inflatable hotdog at Jaws, but that was pretty much it. So I called him and picked his brain for an hour. Turns out there was a lot that I didn’t know. But I already knew that. Since my shitty Kyocera flip phone doesn’t have a conference calling option and I don’t have your number, I wrote our conversation down. He’s a really nice guy, and he has had some really cool shit happen to him.
How’s your winter going so far, Ian?
Having a busy winter. I’m happy. It’s been a scary winter, so that means it’s been a good winter.
Good for us spectators, too. How about that Jaws tow session? That was nuts.
The biggest day we’ve had all winter just had to be this black stormy day. It’s much more inviting when it’s warm and blue skies… still scary, but more inviting. That day was really solid.
I read that you were stunting for Bodhi that day. How’d that come about?
It came about as a super last minute thing. We were getting our stuff ready to surf out there the next day, and the production came into town planning on filming this stormy big wave shot with a boat going over it, and possibly getting a big wave for a scene in the movie.
Did they call you?
Yeah, they reached out to me and a few other surfers. Everything was really last minute, though, because the wind forecasts for the big day changed very late to possibly having a window to surf before it blew out. They needed some water safety guys and a couple of surfers to do their production here, and it worked out well because we were planning on having a look out there anyway. If it was on, we could do the surfing, and my brothers could also run the safety from the water for them with the help of some of the other safety guys that they had brought in.
How pumped are you that you’re going to be in Point Break 2?
(Laughing) It’d be pretty classic. Utah, gimme two! I guess this is a pretty high-level remake of it. Who knows… they change the script and the edit so much in movies that I don’t know if I’ll end up in it. It’s pretty rare to have surfing on a big screen like that, so it’d be cool to see some waves in solid theater.
Almost guaranteed it’ll stay in. They’re not going get that footage again.
Yeah. It’d be pretty hard to get that again. It’s been a long time since it has been that big here.
Do you ever get bored doing your thing? Does it feel like work?
Not really, to be perfectly honest. There’s so much going on. I have a problem with not ever being able to sit still. Couple that with having the ability to chase waves around the world and being able to drop everything to chase them – unless you’re hurt – it’s definitely is hard to sit still. I’m still having just as much fun as when I first started. I don’t get bored too often. It never feels like work to me. I’m pretty grateful to be doing what I’m doing. I’d be doing the same thing every single day if I were working at a restaurant at night, maybe with a little less traveling.
You travel a shitload, right? You ever get worn out?
Yeah, I travel a lot. I get tired but I love to keep moving. Sleep on the planes and keep the pace going. I’ll go on four-month runs, like back-to-back-to-back-to-back. It’s always fun, though – going to new places and meeting new people. The spontaneity of it is the best part about traveling. When someone asks me what I have been up to for the last couple months, it almost makes me laugh to myself. When I think about it quietly, I’m like, “Did that really happen in the last two months?”
Think you’ll settle down at some point?
I think eventually I will settle down on Maui for sure. I want to have kids at some point and that will naturally put a little bit of a settling point in. Right now though, if I’m home for two weeks, I start wondering whether or not I should be somewhere else and on the move. I’m sure that’ll all change for me at some point. But right now, I feel like I’d be wasting the position I’m in if I wasn’t taking advantage of the opportunity to go to all these places.
I’m glad you feel like that. How about the whole Portgual/Nazaré thing? Any interest in going over there?
I think the wave definitely has its moments. When it’s six feet, it looks like a perfect peaky beach-break. When it’s big, it definitely has its moments, too. I would like to try and paddle it. It’d be hard though – it’s so peaky and spread out that it’d be hard to line up a wave. It seems like it’s not like surfing at Waimea or Mavericks, where there’s more of a defined reef and the wave’s going to break in a similar place on each set. Nazaré seems like you could so easily just not even get a wave at all, or you could get fifty of them on the head. I mean, I haven’t been there; I’ve never surfed there; I’ve never stood on the cliff and looked at it, so I can’t say too much about it.
How about crowds at Jaws? Is that really annoying?
No one likes surfing in a crowd, whether it’s two feet or twenty feet. When the waves get bigger, I’d much rather surf with two or three people out. That way, you’re pushing yourself into position instead of having the crowd dictate where you’re going to take off. Your positioning, when there’s no one out, all comes down to where you want to be – how far you want to push yourself. When there’s a crowd, it’s like, “oh, that wave’s coming to me, but there are ten other guys around me, so I guess I have to go right here.” I understand it, though. Jaws is one of those waves like Pipeline. Everyone wants to give it a go. The bigger days will flush it out, I think. Same as it does at Pipeline: when it’s really big and washing though, the crowd thins out really fast.
Is there a line for you where you can’t paddle?
I don’t think there’s a line, you know? It’s not like a football field where you’re like, “ok, there’s the out-of-bounds.” It’s more just the feeling. If you can visualize it and you want to give it a go… that’s when you’re going to go out and push yourself to do it. There’s no scale when you’re out there. It’s not like, “ok, today is thirty-nine and half feet, so we’re paddling. If it was fifty-nine and a half feet, we’d be towing.” A lot of the big days, there’s going to be a rogue set that comes through that’s going to clean everybody up. If I go out there and I can visualize myself catching a big wave, then that’s what I want to do.The right conditions can give a lot more opportunity to possibly get into some waves on the bigger days.
Have you ever had one that made you not want to do it anymore?
There’s never been one where I’ve thought I didn’t want to do this anymore, but there have been a few that stung. Never something that made me not to go surfing when I wake up the next day. A few have given me a full-on check. One of them was at Jaws when I was pretty young. It knocked the wind out of me when I fell, so I was already behind in the whole process when I started. I vividly remember trying to get to the surface, and in the end, it was almost like fight or flight stage. You know you’re not near the surface, but you need air, like, right now. I was scramble dog-paddling to get up to the surface, and right before I surfaced, I remember my brain still firing, telling my body to, “kick with your legs and swim with your arms. Kick and swim,” and having both of those parts of my body just stop working.