There haven’t been many swell strikes happening over the past few months, and more than a few pro surfers have gone relatively quiet without the help of their typical jet-set activities.
But Maui’s Ian Walsh hasn’t let the pandemic get him down. Between an epic late-season run of swell at home, cooking up a storm in his kitchen, and reminiscing on his recent expedition in Alaska, Ian has been as busy as ever—even if he hasn’t left Hawaii in four months.
Between working out in his home gym and marinating rib-eye steaks, we caught up with Ian to see what he’s been up to, and what he has planned once the world reopens.
Last time we did an interview you had just made the best barrel in competitive history, and what still stands as one of the five best waves ever at Jaws. Since then, you have been all over the place—I bumped into you at an obscure sandbar, you've been doing big-mountain ascents in Alaska, and even posting quarantine cooking videos. Catch us up on where you have been focusing the past couple of years.
A lot has happened over the last year and a half. I have made big push into expanding some of the stuff I have been learning in the mountains, so that took up a big chunk of my spring and early summer last year. And then in early June I tried to climb and snowboard Denali, and that was one of the most memorable months of my life. There’s so much to see up there, and it was a full immersion into the expedition experience.
The process of prepping for that trip and going through it gave me a lot of motivation going into last winter, and I had a really fun season, with a lot of big waves. I worked hard to progress my equipment, which was a big focus of mine this past season.
I think the equipment is evolving and starting to catch up to where surfers’ minds are going on the waves, and that’s really cool to see
And in between all of that was just the normal, full-paced treadmill for me—making sure my family is all good, trying to grow and expand a kids event I have here on Maui every spring, and parlaying some of the emphasis of that event into scholarships for kids here locally in Hawaii.
Other than that, I’ve just been dipping into the snow when I have a minute, and trying to keep moving full speed ahead.
That barrel you made in the comp a couple of years ago was nuts. Since then, I can only think of two waves that compare...Twiggy's massive almost-make two seasons ago, and Billy's mental barrel last season. What did you think about those two waves?
Those are two remarkable rides, and it is really fun to see the progression and growth, and just the difference in how people are approaching waves and takeoffs at Jaws and all over the world. I think the equipment is evolving and starting to catch up to where surfers’ minds are going on the waves, and that’s really cool to see.
I think there’s still a lot of room to grow. When you get moving that fast, there’s so much that is happening underneath your feet, with the boards, the fins, and the leashes. I think there’s a lot of room to grow, but it’s really neat to see all the progression in that direction. It’s fun to be a part of it, and a great time to be a surfer.
Peahi seemed to have a pretty slow season last year. How do you stay focused and frothy when Maui has a lackluster big wave season?
I think the January 23 day was a pretty good day—a nice swell, not gigantic, but with a good angle, good consistency, and light winds all day, so it was a great opportunity to try different equipment.
It was the first day in a long time that we had light winds out there on a decent swell. And then the other big swell we had was the contest day in December, which was massive and really intimidating—a really steep angle on the swell, and a lot of wind up the face.
And then outside of that there were actually a few days that weren’t the best for paddling, but that were pretty good for towing. Just shortly after the January 23 day there were a couple of good tow days on January 25 and 26, and then right after that I took off on a quick snow trip to Utah, and then bailed from there to Nazare for 10 days of massive surf just after the first week of February. And that was really eye-opening for me. It was just 10 days straight of massive surf, starting February 7 or so.
And then we did have a good run of swell right around New Year's—a unique swell that Greg Long and I surfed at Waimea Bay on the 30th. Then we went over to Jaws on New Year's Eve, and it was nuking trade winds, but a fun day for towing. And then we flew to Maverick’s the next day, all on the same swell. So that was a pretty fun strike mission.
Altogether we didn’t get too many big days at Jaws over the season, but it was a really fun winter, and it was cool to get to surf some other waves this season too.
With COVID-19 shutting down travel for the past few months, and an uncertain future in the coming year, things are sort of in flux for swell chasers and big wave surfing in general. Where do you see things going over the next 12-18 months?
I honestly have no idea. I haven’t begun to think about what’s going to happen. I’m just kind of going day by day, and have a motto of “expect nothing and appreciate everything.” It’s really hard to tell what’s going to happen…things have changed so much over the past few months, so I don’t even spend time thinking about what’s going to happen in the future.
I’m just trying to focus on what’s right in front of me, and that’s keeping me pretty busy
I’m just trying to focus on what’s right in front of me, and that’s keeping me pretty busy. It’s given me a chance to kind of appreciate that sort of mindset. I feel like I’m always thinking about what I’m doing next, where I’m going next, what’s happening next—so it’s kind of been refreshing to not really worry about what the future holds, and instead just appreciate what’s going on right now, and to just try to find some of the positives to what is going on—getting to spend more time with my family, and things like that.
That’s a good way to look at things. But at the same time, I’m sure you are still focusing on your training there at home. How have you stayed stoked and fit during the quarantine? Did it affect you much on Maui, or were you pretty much free to do whatever you wanted?
Well in April I had to pull an audible, because I usually go to a gym here in Maui called Deep Relief Peak Performance, but they obviously had to shut down. I normally go there five days a week, so I had to pull a full audible, put up a little mini-setup at my house, and just crank out in there every week.
It’s been nice, as it really makes you realise how efficient your days can be when you aren’t zooming around all the time. You have lots of time to get training done and bang some chores out every day. I’m making way more food at home, eating way cleaner, and working out a lot.
I have always had a pretty dedicated work ethic for staying in shape, and this has just created a unique opportunity to get a little more creative and do stuff at home. I mean, you don’t need a full gym to stay in shape, that’s for sure. I’ve been burning myself sideways, just using water bottles and stuff.
Speaking of eating healthy, you’ve been posting all sorts of cooking videos on your Instagram feed [@ian.walsh]. What’s that all about?
Well with all of the free time during the pandemic I really wanted to expand my limited horizons in the kitchen a bit, and just start trying different foods that I’ve always wanted to make. I enjoy all of these different cuisines from all over the planet, but I never make them—I just end up making a handful of routine meals at my house.
So it’s been fun to expand that a little bit and take the cap off the diet. I typically watch what I eat quite a bit throughout most of the year, and especially through big training camps. So during this time it’s been fun to try different meals and not be too worried about what the dietary restrictions are on it—and to just try my hand at different things I’ve always been interested in trying to make, and see what the process is in that.
Along the way I’ve been filming a few of them and putting them out, and it’s really fun because I feel like I’ve been learning with the viewer. I’ve sort of been going through the process and making all of the dumb mistakes that they can avoid. It’s been fun, just cooking at home.
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Good thing two of my brothers work for the Fire Department... Learned a valuable lesson about “Just The Tip” of a thermometer! Despite a couple fumbles this meal came out ridiculously good! P.S. You can sub tofu for the chicken & it’s just as incredible! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ @mauimarcc ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ @redbull @patagonia @paumauivodka @livemomentous @paiabowls @kipabeach
It seems like you always have some big projects in the works. Anything specific and exciting planned for the next year?
I’d really like to expand on some of the stuff I learned on the Denali trip. I’d love to do another expedition-type trip, because that was such a fun adventure. And to be able to pull all of that information from those guys and watch the way they do their thing in the backcountry was really eye-opening.
And other than that, I want to mix some of that expedition-style stuff with surf exploration. I want to take that sense of being removed from the world on a trip like that, and sort of integrate it into surf exploration to some extent. So that’s what’s on my target board for when the world opens up again.
And in the meantime I’m also planning to move a bunch of my cooking videos onto my YouTube channel, so that should be fun.
Well we will be sure to tune in and see what you’ve been keeping on the back burner. Thanks!