THE IAN WALSH INTERVIEW
By Eric Greene
We should interview Ian Walsh. Great idea. He seems cool and he fucking charges. I hear he likes to party, too…
I did the whole back-and-forth thing with Ian for a couple of months, working on this interview. He was at home in Maui when I first talked to him, then he was hanging out and snowboarding with Travis Rice in Jackson Hole. Kind of weird for a Hawaiian pro surfer, but it seemed like Ian was in kahoots with Travis for some kind of media stunt, and a big beverage company was giving them wings to pull it off.
The next time we talked he was back in Hawaii, then in Alaska heli-boarding with Travis, then he went down to California, then Hawaii again, then back to Alaska to guest star in a web series that John and Eric Jackson were doing. And when the hectic schedule seemed like it was about to slow down, he went to Coachella to party. That’s no normal life…dude is always on the move. It’s common for pro surfers to be living out of a board bag in Indo and Mexico, but Alaska and the Wyoming? Where does he find time to surf!
Ian grew up in Hawaii – in the ocean – where he became a big wave charger and paddled himself into elite status in his profession. Now, he apparently has an interest in big mountain snowboarding and does heli drops with the best riders on Earth. I grew up in the mountains, but I have an interest in surfing. That doesn’t mean I’m going to paddle into Jaws, though. Ian skipped a whole bunch of steps you’re supposed to take before strapping in with Rice and the gang. The whole thing seems ass backwards to me, but Ian Walsh is on a completely different level than I am. Same goes for you. I’m sorry, but you will never be on the Ian Walsh level.
The last time we spoke to conclude this interview, he apologized for being unreachable, claiming he’d been “on a whirlwind the last few weeks.” I almost laughed at him. The whirlwind of his life has been going on a lot longer than a few weeks. This interview is the closest that many of you will ever get to the whirlwind that is Ian Walsh. But trust me…the guy is on the right level.
How much of your winter did you take off of surfing to go on snowboard trips with Travis Rice?
I only did a couple of week-long trips as winter was wrapping up. The last trip we just did was one of the best trips of my life. We were in Alaska and scored such good snow in the Tordrillo Mountains. I was with John and Eric Jackson, and after the snowboarding part we all did a boat trip looking for a bunch of new surf spots in Alaska. We ended up scoring some really fun waves. It was so amazing to be surfing and looking in at the gigantic glaciers and snow covered mountains touching the water. It was definitely a different view than I’ve ever seen from the water.
Were there any times where you had to make the call between a macking swell in Hawaii and a blue sky heli day in Alaska?
No. Alaska seems to be better as you get into spring and the solid swells for Hawaii tend to slow down a lot at that time of year. And as much as I love hopping out of a heli with butterflies in my stomach on the top of a steep run in Alaska, surfing comes first.
Did you take any good beats in the mountains?
Just a few minor tomahawks. Nothing like what those other guys go through when they fall, though.
How long have you been snowboarding?
I’ve been snowboarding for a few years now. I hadn’t really been in the snow ever until a few years ago, but after one trip to Jackson Hole I knew I never wanted to miss a winter again.
A surfer getting into snowboarding later in life seems kind of rare, whereas all snowboarders want to surf after they beat the shit out of themselves on snow for long enough. What do you like about snowboarding that is different than surfing?
I like the fact that you can stop and look around at the mountains and pick your perfect line. It’s like seeing an amazing wave and being able to pause it so you can draw all the lines you want to ride.
How many times have you been to Canada?
I’ve been to Canada a few times. One time I was with two Finns, Iikka [Backstrom] and Eero [Niemela], and that trip really left a mark on me [laughs].
What’s the best thing to do in Canada?
Not go to Whistler during the gay ski week [laughs].
What do you think of the surf in Canada?
I haven’t been in the water there yet, but it looks like there are a ton of sick zones.
You probably travel more than anyone I’ve ever heard of. What’s the worst airline to fly with?
Delta. They charge $200 for each board in your board bag and you can’t do shit with their miles if you fly from Hawaii.
What’s the best airline?
Singapore, Virgin, and any other airline that doesn’t fist you with a board bag charge.
You’re originally from New England, right? How did you end up in Hawaii?
My dad was a surfer from Rhode Island, but he lived on Maui before I was born, just surfing and cruising around Hawaii. He went back to Rhode Island for a little bit, had me, and then packed it all up to move back to Maui and get back in the warm surf.
Speaking of Maui, you’ve surfed some of the biggest swells at Jaws. Some people say that wave is always shot from the cliffs above because it makes it look bigger than it actually is. Is that true?
I’m not sure if that is true or not, but it sure does seem fucking big when you’re sitting out in the water. I think that wave will look big from wherever you’re looking at it.
Were you stoked when there was a shot of Laird Hamilton in Playboy and they mislabeled it as you?
[Laughs] At least it was a surf shot and not a shot of some naked guy mislabeled as me.
What do you think about the younger group of Maui surfers that are stepping up to the big swells, like Albee Layer and Matt Meola?
I’m really proud of all those kids. There are a ton of other kids aside from Matt and Albee that have created a really solid spot in the surfing world for themselves just by being themselves and being creative. Any kid from Maui that’s doing well—I’m more than happy for them and stoked to see them surf.
Have you taken it upon yourself to haze any of those guys into the big waves?
There’s not very much college frat hazing going on in the lineup at Jaws.
What’s up with your unofficial job title of “Minister of Nocturnal Affairs?”
That’s a title of many definitions. You’ll just have to use your imagination.
You are known for traveling off the beaten path in some sketchy areas, yet you live in a place notorious for perfect waves. Why do you chase waves all over the world with the chance of getting skunked or running into trouble?
A big part of my passion for surfing is exploration and being able to go to the furthest corners of the world to surf the best waves that I always dreamed about as a little kid. It’s something I definitely don’t take for granted and I feel like if I’m not constantly on the move, searching for and finding perfect surf, then I’m wasting this amazing seat that I’m sitting in right now. I would rather fly all the way across the world and get completely skunked than sit at home and wonder how it was over there. Maui does have amazing surf, but traveling to feel different oceans, reefs, and sand is a good way to expand your surfing and step out of your comfort zone.
Have you scored better waves in the Caspian Sea or the Black Sea?
Both of those places were fun and really unique to surf, but if I had to choose one, I had a really fun day in Bulgaria in the Caspian Sea.
In what country have you experienced the most dangerous travel experience?
I’d have to say in South Africa and Mozambique.
Paddle or tow-in?
Right now my head is in paddling, but that could all change with one big swell heading to Tahiti.
What’s the best thing to do on Maui when there are no waves?
Find Shaun and D.K. Walsh. You’ll always be thoroughly entertained when they’re around.
What’s the best thing to do in Alaska when the skies are grey?
See how many pieces of flair you can find in John Jackson’s dreads.