IAN WALSH ON JAWS, POINT BREAK AND PADDLING V TOW
"They sent the lead for Bodhi a few photos from the day saying, “Here you go, this is you surfing today.” Ian Walsh
When Maui big-wave rider Ian Walsh says the waves he towed last week (see above, Ian in the full length wetsuit) were the biggest he had ever seen at Jaws, you know are dealing with some serious, serious shit. At the time he was doing stunt work for the movie Point Break 2 and we caught up with him on skype to talk Hollywood, tow vs paddle, Laird and life in general.
Woah, what’s with the blonde hair? You had some highlights done?
Haha I’ve been in the sun for days. We've been putting in some serious time in the water with loads a nine hour days and back-to-back-to-back-to-back swells. surfing all day is a good substitute for the salon. It just seems January is a very good time for Maui.
Right now Jaws is very much at the centre of the big-wave movement, how’d that happen?
The wave itself helps with that. And I suppose some of the swells lately have been user friendly. We’ve had two or three days with light winds and very solid crowd, which isn't that fun no matter where you are surfing. I mean no one wants to surf with 65 other people. And I understand everyone wants to give it a go, and when there isn’t a 40 knot tradewind blowing 4 foot ribs up the face it makes it a bit more approachable.
How tight is the take-off spot out there?
The line-up is actually pretty spread out and different sets break in different spots. I always like surfing big waves with only a few people out, because where you take off then is dictated by how far you want to push yourself. You are not letting a crowd of people move you around and dictate your positioning. And look there were a few amazing rides on these last few swells. The waves my brother Shaun and Billy Kemper rode were incredible. When you see a big wave that perfect, it’s just amazing and stops you in your tracks, but there wasn't that many like those
The day you were doing stunt work for Point Break 2, would you have been out there otherwise?
I would have went out for a sniff, regardless of the movie. Just the way the buoys were reading, we hadn’t seen a swell like that in so long, so I wanted to go out and have a look at what the ocean was doing. Then we would have made a call out there depending on what the wind was doing.
And what was happening out there?
That day was heavy. I saw some of the biggest waves I have seen at Jaws. It was so raw and powerful with how fast the swell built. It was compressing and condensing into one big heavy section. You could feel the power - it was like riding a super sucky barrel where you could sense the momentum and speed that was coming from behind you, it was just shoveling down the line super fast.
There must have been a lot going on, between massive slabs foot and a Hollywood movie.
It just happened that it all came together with this swell and storm, because they needed surfing and some stormy shots which followed the surf window once the wind went straight onshore. But there was a lot going on with the production. There were guys repelling out of helicopters and then once the storm actually hit, with the crazy wind that came, they starting doing a heli chase scenes with boats and all sorts. It was all run by the second unit director Phil Boston and he pulled off a quite a show over those two days. They wanted big waves and storm stuff and he nailed it.
Were any of the actors over there taking it in?
Nah, they sent the lead for Bodhi a few photos from the day saying, “Here you go, this is you surfing today." But it worked for us, we were just surfing while the waves were good and then as soon as the storm hit they were jumping out of helis and chasing boats and just doing general Hollywood deal.
Worth the day rate then?
Well yeah, but once the wind hit it after the swell had made its initial punch that was some of the heaviest seas I have ever been involved in. When we were going home it was 30 knots direct onshore with these huge seas, so the swells were capping. The current was crazy and we were just like a cork in the ocean on the jetski - it was wild.
Back to the actual surfing, for many it was actually refreshing to see Laird and yourself actually towing. Like we’d almost forgotten what that allows you to do out there?
You know that was the first wave I’d towed into in about four years. It felt weird, even blowing the dust off the tow board and grabbing the fins. I’d put all this time and effort into refining my equipment and then I had just put it in the back of my boardroom where it sat gathering dust. I just hadn’t had the chance to use it. The swells over the last few years just naturally lent themselves to paddling.
How was it being back towing?
Well go from a board that is 10’6" long, four inches thick and 21 inches wide, just these big mooses, and then to jump on a little board was so different. But once you are up and riding on the wave it feels totally natural again. You just are a few clicks earlier and the little board lets your turn tighter lines on a dime. You can pick those bits of flat, smooth water, so even though the waves are so big, it’s still a matter of inches where you place your turn. You are still processing and reading the wave - you understand as a surfer where you need to be.
The paddle days are so much scarier, that is way more heavy to me. Don't get me wrong, falling on a very solid wave you tow is heavy but with paddling you are positioning yourself and trying to line a up a three foot platform to have the wave come right to you. The wave catches you, not the other way round, and gives you an opportunity but it's up to you to put yourself in the right spot to create the opportunity. Then it’s up to you whether you wanna take it or not. Paddling is radical because that also comes with a lot of waves catching you inside and landing on your head that you don't get with a jet ski. Paddling you might spend the the whole day to get one wave, but it’s a different, greater, sense of accomplishment. But that day showed that towing has its own rightful place for sure conditions depending.
Could you have paddled any of those waves?
That day I was still thinking if I could paddle some of the waves I saw, or could you stay out of trouble trying to hunt one, so it was still at the very forefront of my mind. But as I said, that day I saw some of the biggest waves I have seen at Jaws the the chances of getting caught by one of the bigger waves were 110%. Maybe you could have paddled out and tried and get an edge on one, you know just give it a chance and send it, but most of the waves I saw didn't look they had any entry whatsoever with how fast they were moving and what the wind was doing. The main factor though is that waves are moving so much faster than on the paddle swells we have had. The difference in speed of a big big paddle wave and a big big tow wave is vast. It may look like slow motion, but when you are paddling up the face trying to turn around, it feels like a ferrari going past. That's the biggest factor.
I can’t imagine a wipeout or being caught by a clean up out there, but given the choice, what would you prefer?
I’d take falling on a wave ten times over getting caught inside. With the pounding at least you have the rush of trying to knife into one. When you are getting caught inside you are staring that fucker right in the face when it comes at you. There’s no blinking, nothing can help you and you have a very good idea of how big the waves is that is about to mow you down.