Ian Walsh on Knifing the Greatest Ever Barrel Ridden at Jaws

Matt Rott

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Updated 22d ago

Not too long ago, Peahi was considered a tow-only wave. But then a handful of local boys started pushing the limits out there, and suddenly the wave that had started the tow movement was the ultimate paddle arena.

Ian Walsh was one of the first guys to really start pushing the paddle envelope at Peahi, so it’s appropriate that he won the Peahi Challenge this past week, and caught one of the best waves ever out there in the process. With the Hawaiian waters settling back down to normal, mortal levels, Ian sat down with us for a few minutes to talk about the experience.

You grew up on Maui and were one of the early guys to paddle Peahi. How did your community influence your approach to this wave, and what does it mean to you to get this win at home?
It was a really special experience to be able to have an accomplishment like that at home. And it was a lot of fun to have my family there. You know, when I was growing up, my parents didn't get to travel to a lot of the events I did as a kid.

They were obviously there for the amateur events around Maui, but to have them at an event with a scale like this, to have my mom on the cliff and my dad close by, left a mark on me more than anything. Coming in at Maliko and seeing them right there when I stepped onto the beach was such a cool experience.

I’m stoked to keep the title on Maui, and more than anything it was just a great couple of days of waves. It was such a fun swell to be a part of, and to be in the event with all of the guys. The level was so high, and it seems like it progresses every swell, when the waves are on. So it was a joy to watch that happening.

© 2017 - WSL/Heff

That ride you had in the semi was a crazy one—not only the actual barrel, but also the score, since Ryan Hipwood had already received a 10, and yours was arguably a couple of points higher. The judges were kind of in a corner, and could only give you an equal score, and you actually only barely squeaked through that heat.
Yeah, that would have stung a little bit to lose in the semis after having that wave. And it was a really close heat, with me being in third.

But I guess that’s just a testament to how well everyone surfed in that semi. When you are out there you don’t really know what happened on the other guys’ waves, but I just knew that I needed a pretty big score in the back half of the heat.

And after getting that wave and hearing that I’d squeaked through in third, I was just so stoked, and felt so fortunate to be in the final and have a chance there.

Talk us through that barrel in the semis—a lot of guys are saying it was the greatest big wave ride of all time, and maybe the best barrel of all time, full stop.
That wave seemed big—that was my initial take on it. It really stood up out of the deep blue outside of us, and had this big wall really stretching out. The wave before it was a little bit fatter and in on the reef.

I’d been waiting for a long time for a wave, and I was trying not to get lured into anything but the wave I was waiting for. And I had a feeling the second wave might stand up out the back with more energy. I had to sort of knife it and project off the fins as fast as I could go, so much so that I can vividly remember my toes digging into the wax on the inside rail So I shot over the first wave, and as I got to the top of it, I saw the second one starting to stand up. And initially I thought I might be too far inside. But then I saw a little window of hope to catch it. As I committed to it, I could really see the wall standing up down the line, and I guess the biggest thing about that wave for me, more than anything, was the amount of speed and projection down the line as soon as I stood up.

I had to sort of knife it and project off the fins as fast as I could go, so much so that I can vividly remember my toes digging into the wax on the inside rail. I was trying to time the rhythm of when I thought the wave might open up and barrel, and also get as much speed as possible into that initial pump into the barrel.

The wave that I got around 30-minutes before that in the heat, I took off in a similar place, but it just kind of clamped—there was no entrance into a barrel whatsoever, from what I saw.

I just sort of had to dive off. So I was hoping that wouldn't happen with the second wave, that there wouldn’t be a chandelier on it. And as I was driving into it, I just hoped that when it hit the reef it would load up and have a lot more room in the barrel.

It was so unique how much speed there was coming into the barrel. A lot of times in surfing, you sort of slow down for barrels, but that seemed to speed up as I drove into it. And it took a bit of adjustment while the barrel was breathing, to kind of pump a couple of times and find my line.

Can you feel your heart pound right through your chest?

Can you feel your heart pound right through your chest?

© 2017 - WSL/Hallman

Before the event, there was a bit of criticism and doubt as to whether the swell was worthy of the contest. What was your take on that?
From the beginning this swell looked like it had a lot of energy, and was really similar to a November storm we had in 2014.

They were strikingly similar, but this one just seemed to have a little more energy and a longer period. But the major difference between the two swells was that this wind forecast was not the greatest.

So when they called it on, it seemed like it was going to be big, but maybe with some northerly trade winds—not quite a straight northerly, but like a NNE trade wind. But fortunately, as the swell made its way down, the forecast just got better and better.

More often than not, they seem to get worse the closer you get to the day of the swell, but this one seemed to get better as far as strength of the swell and local wind forecast.

But I wasn’t really overthinking it. I just figured, “Okay, it’s on, the first swell of the season.” You know, whether they called it on or not, I just wanted to be out there with my brothers and my friends, sort of dusting the cobwebs off and getting the feet in the wax for the 2017/18 winter.

The champ.

The champ.

© 2017 - WSL/Hallman

You weren’t ranked on tour before this event, which you surfed as a wild card. But after your win, and the WSL rating the Peahi Challenge with a gold coefficient (which multiplies the points due to the size of the waves), you are suddenly rated third, with a legitimate shot at the title. Is that something you are thinking about? Will you be competing at Nazare and Maverick’s if the events run?
I’m not sure what my exact plans are yet. I definitely have interest in doing the other two events and am really looking forward to chasing a few swells to Mavs again this year contest or no contest.

I’ve surfed some swells there, and I do like that wave. It’s a scary, beautiful, big wave. So I’m interested in going over there and surfing more. And Europe is my favourite place to travel outside of the water, so it would be pretty cool to get to surf over there on a really good swell.

So I don’t know. I haven’t really digested everything yet. I guess it’s kind of just swell dependent. I’ll see how I feel when the next few swells show up, and take it from there.

I’m just really grateful to even have had the chance to catch that wave. It was the culmination of a lot of hard days and a lot of great days, and a lot of violent beatings all coming together in one moment. So that was really fun to be a part of.


Matt Rott

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