It's been less than 24 hours since the historic Pe'ahi Challenge Finals day and a Semifinal -- co-starring Hippo -- that has already been dubbed the best heat in BWT history. Gold Coast surfer Ryan Hipwood is already in the waiting room of a Maui-based physical therapist.
Hippo confesses his head still aches from some celebratory drinks the night previous, but it's his back that is really making him uncomfortable. "It feels like I've been in a car accident," he said. It's from the contorted outcome of an aborted take-off during the Final when he discovered Kai Lenny on his inside...but with a perfect 10 in the bag from the day previous and a commendable 6th place in his first-ever WSL Big Wave Tour event, Hipwood has every bloody reason to feel good.
WSL: How do you go from the Gold Coast (dead flat) straight to one of the biggest and best days Jaws has ever seen? That's a hell of an adjustment.
Ryan Hipwood: In all honesty, throughout the last five years I've dedicated a lot of my time to surfing Jaws and it has taken a lot of dedication to get to the point I'm at. Not only that, I feel like I'm in a good position living in Australia because after the Hawaiian winter is done it's not far for me to travel to South Oz or WA, and those places kinda have similar waves to Jaws. I'm not going to name any spots but I've done a couple of trips this year to locations that are really kind of similar to Jaws and I did get some good practice at those spots and I did have Jaws in mind when I was surfing there. Jaws might get half a dozen swells a year, and I'll fly over for three or four of those. Then after the Hawaiian winter is done, the waves go flat and I go home where winter is just starting.
The amazing 10 you scored in that very stacked Semifinal with Ian Walsh, Kai Lenny, Albee Layer and Jamie Mitchell, was it fate that such a good wave came to you, or did you have to scrap hard?
I knew that Semi was going to be extra tough because of the draw. Obviously both Semis were super amazing, but Semi 2 looked pretty stacked from what I saw, so I kinda knew if I wanted to get through that heat I was going to have to put it all on the line and perform really well to advance. I knew that I had to do something special and I knew it was going to have to be a high score to get through. So I stuck with my lineups, I didn't get put off by the other guys pushing deeper and I stuck to what I knew. I feel like it can get pretty scrappy out in the water, which is kinda sketchy. It's scary enough surfing those waves and to have guys wanting it and being that hungry and then no priority system in place can put you in a sticky situation at times. But that thing -- the 10 -- pretty much just came straight to me. I didn't really have to paddle much for it. Well, I had to paddle my arse off to get down it, but I was in position for it. And from then on, I stuck to the same lineup, I didn't get pushed deeper by the pack and got on a pretty good run of waves.
Had many 10s in your career?
I think I've had three. I got an 11 at the Backdoor Shootout last year. And I think I had a 10 before that somewhere else. I think it was at Kirra maybe.
You were awarded the WSL wildcard slot into Jaws. To get the call-up to such a coveted event must be hugely significant?
Massively, yeah, and I'm just really proud with what I've done with the opportunity. I kind of owe a lot of it to Snips [Mike Parsons, Big Wave Commissioner] to obviously trusting me enough and knowing that I could potentially perform at a high enough level to validate the decision. And I think it's more so I'd be disappointed with myself if I didn't at least give it everything I had. I think if you give it everything you've got then you can walk away and say it wasn't meant to be, or I've got to work on this or that … I definitely wanted to walk away and be able to say I left it all in the water, it was as much as I could do and I've done that.
This was your first WSL Big Wave event. Have you competed much in your career?
I didn't even do the Qualifying Series (QS) to be honest. The only events I've done are a few specialty events. I've done the Tahiti trials a few times and I've done a couple Backdoor Shootouts, and Cape Fear. I used to compete full time as a junior so I do have a competitive background. I feel like most of the guys who are doing well on the Big Wave Tour now are guys who have the experience of knowing what to do in a heat, have strategies, time management and whatnot, and I've got that. I knew in my heat that two average scores would probably be enough to get through. I was kind of lucky no one got another wave and got the score. I was super stoked with how it went. I was just glad I didn't get knocked that first day because everyone knew the second day was just going to be flawless.