For The Record: Ian Walsh on Big Wave Surfing

By: Chris Latronic

Photo: Tony Heff

When did you make the transition into big wave surfing?

I never had a transition, a specific day where I said ‘now I’m going to surf big waves’. It comes naturally for most kids that grow up in Hawaii. There’s such a good variety of surf here for anything you want to do to progress or push yourself. It’s also being a product of your environment. From big waves to small waves, you start by sitting on shoulder scared. On bigger days, it creeps up on you and all of a sudden you want to be out there on biggest days.

Has your mental preparedness from big wave surfing helped you in the contest arena?

It can work both ways, especially when the waves are bigger. You have to have a good understanding of where and when to be there. The biggest thing I take away from heats is that it’s easy to get worked up and anxious, nervous with adrenaline and oversurf the wave. In big waves it’s similar: there’s butterflies, your stomach is churching and the horizon is standing up and your head is telling you to paddle to the shoulder but to stay there and ride it takes focus and patience. You have to slow everything down, and in heats it’s easy to bog a first turn because you’re psyched. So you have to slow everything down and focus on first turn itself and fall into a rhythm. It’s the same with big waves.

How do you balance both big wave surfing and contest surfing?

It’s a lot of balls in the air at one time. It’s challenging on my body more than anything, because it’s a stress of do I be here or there. I want to compete and I want to surf really big waves, so I figure
out a way to do both. My family and those around me have helped consolidate a lot of my sporadic thoughts and my schedule so that I can get to the right places at the right times.

How do you keep calm during a long hold down at notorious big wave locations like Jaws?

It’s more about feeling what’s going on and asking yourself ‘does this wave feel a lot more violent than you’re used to’? And ‘how good was the breath you got? Did you get the wind knocked out of you’? It’s about getting to the surface and nothing else. For me, it all goes back to slowing everything down and trying to absorb what’s going on and what it feels like. And at the end of the day, it’s simple: get to the surface.

In regards to surfers you’ve looked up to, we’re guessing one of them is a fellow big wave surfer?

When I was young, the main one was Shane Dorian. And Andy Irons, both because of their overall versatility and the way they could jump from surfing the Eddie one day to small Haleiwa the next day and then surf well at Pipeline the following day. It’s incredible, and is something I was always drawn to as a kid: their ability to jump into any kind of surf at the highest level, whether that was big days or small days.

Do you have aspirations for the Big Wave World Tour?

I’ve been so busy chasing swells…I love watching it when those events run. That’s a bit of a challenge because if the waves are really big at the contest they’re big at other locations too. It’s ‘do I want to go compete there or do I try and find somewhere new or find a new wave’? I just want to ride big waves whether it’s in a heat or not. I want to go out and paddle into a really big wave. It’s what I work for all winter long: to put myself in a position to try and have a sniff of one of those big waves. If I don’t get a wave or if I don’t feel it, then I don’t get it but I want to at least know that I put in the work if that wave does come. We’ve yet to see Jaws with a paddle event. I don’t know how it’s going to shake out, but whatever it is I’m going to be ready.


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