Maui's big wave specialist Ian Walsh dominated this week's HIC Pro, Presented by Vans, for the second time in his career, exactly 10 years after his maiden victory. This win rockets Walsh to No. 1 spot on WSL Hawaii's regional ratings, a ranking that grants him a wildcard into the first event of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing that begins November 12.
Walsh, 32, excelled through every giant swell pulse during the event, then took total command of the 30-minute Final, opening with a 9.33 -- the best single wave score of the day -- backed up by a 7.07 to leave his challengers in need of a combination of high scores early on. Fellow Maui surfer Billy Kemper, 24, answered back with a 7.17, while 21-year-old Kaito Kino (HAW) and 17-year-old Jack Robinson (AUS) battled back and forth for third and fourth places respectively.
Wave face heights for the final day of competition were in the range of 12-to-15 feet and excellent quality.
"I feel like a lot of years I surf up until the Semi or Final and then I seem to change my strategy and I feel like I need way bigger scores than what got me to that point," Walsh said. At this whole event I just tried to keep the same strategy, the same rhythm and just do the same things over and over and treat it like another heat. If the wave gives you a big canvas, light it up. If not, whatever wave you stand up on you have to make it count. Whatever wave you get, surf it to its full potential."
Walsh also talked about the excitement of winning an event again and what the path to success looks like for a dedicated athlete.
"You have a goal you're working for, and to finally be there and stand on the podium and hold a check above your head, it's hard to put into words. Originally when I won this event 10 years ago, I wanted that feeling back again. You get a little taste and then every event you want to do it again."
Walsh will compete next in Haleiwa at the Hawaiian Pro. His HIC Pro win will give him the confidence to surf against the world's best. "It's a good start to winter, hopefully I can keep some momentum into the Triple Crown," said Walsh.
Robinson was by far the teenage standout of the event and showed uncanny confidence and positioning through the week. His big wave experience comes from growing up surfing Western Australia, a region renowned for its thick, sizable surf. He is eager to grow his North Shore surf experience this winter.
Robinson was unstoppable through every round baring the Final, where he spent the first 20 minutes of the 30-minute heat waiting to post an opening score.
"I didn't find the waves at the start," he said. "Ian and the other guys got in position. I'm stoked to make the Final, just get in the rhythm of contests again."
Kemper was in-form throughout the event as well and showcased powerful turns and calculated carves during the Semifinals and Finals. A 7.17 and 6.30 kept him in second behind Walsh in the Final, but his determination for first was nearly tangible. Kemper won the HIC Pro in 2010 and drew upon that experience to race his way from the Round of 96 all the way to a second place podium finish.
Kino found a 7.50 wave score in the first Semifinal against Kemper, Hank Gaskell (HAW) and Alex Smith (HAW), which was his best score of the day. The Honolulu surfer saw one of his career bests today in the WSL Qualifying Series, and powered his way through to a third place finish.
The first stage of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing -- the Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa Ali'i Beach Park -- commences November 12, 2015.