Ian Walsh isn't used to long spells at home. What world-class big-wave surfer is? He had his wings clipped for nine months -- until two recent trips from Hawaii to California to score at Mavericks.
The first strike mission on December 8 brought the day of days. It was clean, sunny, hollow, and massive. On his second jaunt to the mainland, however, Walsh negotiated a big front that shredded the ocean, making for an exceptionally cold and rugged experience.
We gave Ian a call when he got back to Maui to get the low down on his swell chase and see how he's remained productive and in big wave shape during the extra days at home.
WSL: So Mavericks looked insane, tell me all about those two trips.
Ian Walsh: Yeah, the waves were fun. It wasn't as good as that swell we had on December 8, but it had the potential to [be the same]. The forecast could have went either way but a local swell was mixed in with a long period swell, which is what we were there for. And it made the waves hard to read and really sporadic. They were breaking all over the lineup, no rhyme or reason. So it was really hard to be in the right spot.
And then we had a clean day, a few days later. So it was kind of a coin flip, and we found it was a little more work to find the pockets of a good conditions. But there were a few moments to find good waves and it's always good to test new equipment in big surf and just kind of keep the momentum moving through winter.
What type of equipment were you on out there? Were you doing both paddle and tow?
I was mostly focused on paddling for both days and I was trying out a new 9'8" from Chris Christensen. It was a revision from a bunch of the boards we had made last season and it felt good. It felt kinda kind of alive and chippy and it had a little bit less volume so it felt good to paddle around because Mavericks can be such a slab. It's nice to have something that doesn't feel like you're paddling around on an aircraft carrier.
You want to have something that you feel like you can whip under a really steep slabby, takeoff. Short enough to fit the transition and the drop, and responsive enough to make your way down the line. It's a such an incredible wave the way it doubles up, you can hook some turns if the [board] is responsive enough.
Most people go right, but what's the left like at Mavericks? Do you like going left?
The left is very spicy [laughs]. It loads up on the shelf and creates this incredible drop and flares out a big barrel, but it seems like a lot of the waves clamp.
Kai [Lenny], Lucas [Chianca], and I were actually talking about it out in the water a couple of days ago where if it just had like 10 more feet or reef, it might just explode with spit into the channel every wave. But it seems like majority of the waves hit this big knuckle and kind of clamp down.
There is the odd one there, but I was pretty focused on trying to find rights this swell. It's just a little bit trickier when there are sets breaking out the back because If you're sitting in there trying to chip into a left and get into the pocket or the barrel, then you might just get smoked by one that lurches up out the back.
What's it like coming from Hawaii straight into a 5mm suit?
I wear a [Patagonia] R3, but you could definitely use warmer. It's freezing and it's not my natural habitat that's for sure. But I think wetsuits are so good nowadays and Patagonia's gear is so good that I'm actually pretty comfortable.
A good thing about Mavericks -- if it's consistent, you're constantly stimulated. You're looking at the sets coming in, moving around the lineup, trying to position, give yourself an opportunity ... that keeps you pretty warm.
Hood and gloves?
I went with no hood, which was nice. It's more similar to how I grew up surfing. Some guys like the hood -- it's almost like a little safety cocoon for them and that keeps them warm if there are long lulls. But I prefer the no hood.
This last swell was much colder than the one earlier I felt. So I rocked gloves for both sessions this time. That definitely feels foreign, but it is nice having your hands not being completely crab clawed, especially if you eat it and you want to inflate your vest. It's like trying to open your car when your hands are completely frozen and numb, you can't even work your car keys.
Or numb your hands in an ice bucket and then try to do a burpee. So it can become a bit of a headache to try to inflate your vest if you're getting smoked.
We know you love food, how were the eats in San Fran?
We went on a food tour for sure. I think San Francisco has some of the best food in the world. I got some really good recommendations from people. I feel like the trip definitely became just as much about the food as it did about the surfing.
I've been sharing some cooking stuff just on social media, cause I really do enjoy cooking. It's fun, each time I land in a location, I have tons of people write in and send recommendations of their famous restaurants or favorite places to eat in that area.
So, when's your cook book coming out? Maybe a pandemic project?
[Laughs] Yeah, I've been thinking about doing some sort of book as well in the future. Surfing has given me a really unique opportunity to go to so many places around the world. Part of what brings me back to a lot of these locations outside of the surf is the food and the people in those locations.
Something I realized once I started staying home throughout this entire pandemic was how much I miss some of the food in those regions when I'm usually traveling that time of the year. So a book is definitely in the cards for the future.
How else have you spent this extended time at home?
Mavericks was my first trip in nine months, so I got to ramp up my training a little bit earlier than I would normally each season. Its a mix of everything, a lot of biking, a lot of time in the gym, and some time in the pool doing breath hold work and dynamic movements with a bit more emphasis on recovery. I think cycling is a really good way of getting low impact cardio and just keep everything flushed and moving. I [also] really enjoy learning new stuff. Whether that's sailing, cooking, or anything. It's fun to work your way through something.
Follow Ian Walsh on Instagram for tasty recipes, big wave training regimens, and epic surfing.