Stab Magazine | A Different Kind of Rush
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A Different Kind of Rush

If Ian Walsh and Shane Dorian don’t gotta tow, they won’t. The Hawaiian duo, who favour bare-handed entry to mountainous waves, are currently at the forefront of big-wave riding. Their widely-publicised paddle session at Jaws on Maui during the past Hawaiian winter took big-wave surfing into the stratosphere. When Stab spoke with Ian, he’d just returned home from […]

news // Feb 22, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

If Ian Walsh and Shane Dorian don’t gotta tow, they won’t. The Hawaiian duo, who favour bare-handed entry to mountainous waves, are currently at the forefront of big-wave riding. Their widely-publicised paddle session at Jaws on Maui during the past Hawaiian winter took big-wave surfing into the stratosphere. When Stab spoke with Ian, he’d just returned home from a 15-foot plus session at Mexico’s Puerto Escondido. The story and sequence will appear in the next Stab, but in the meantime here’s Ian’s current take on the world of big-wave surfing.

Stab: Tell us about paddling big waves? 
Ian Walsh: I’m still psyched to paddle. That’s a whole other point of the game, to line up a wave like that. To get in that position, hold your line and get into it. That’s a whole separate feeling that comes with riding a wave. That’s almost a fun part of it, too. Finding it, getting in the spot and committing to it.

There’s a glamour coming through in big wave surfing moving away from jetskis. There’s good surfers who  who light it up when it’s small, and then they’re all paddling in really serious stuff. I think that’s important for our sport, to make it appealing to the next generation. They’ll be the ones who’ll push the boundary so much.

Do you wear a leg-rope if you’re paddling? I always wear a leggie. If you get knocked out without a leggie, you’re done. No one can find you. I’d rather break 10 boards wearing leggies than knock myself out once without having a leggie on (surfers have long ridden waves like Puerto Escondido in Mex without leashes because boards would break more easily because the board stays with the surfer via a leash). Most guys do that now, too.

What do you think’s been wrong with big-wave surfing and skis in the past? I think what’s been wrong with it is that some of these guys – out in these gigantic waves – don’t even surf. Y’know, they couldn’t paddle out to Lances right now and do a cutback, or even ride the barrel. That’s something seriously wrong if they’re towing into, like, a 60-foot wave. Like, where’s your wave knowledge and ability to read the ocean? With paddling I get a different feeling. I’ve been towing Jaws for a long time and I paddled it here and there when I was younger, but this winter we finally started paddling on good tow days. And the thing is, you can ride eight-to-10 waves if you’re towing and have a really good, stoked, content feeling at the end of the day, and you might get whipped and you still feel like you pushed it but I’ll gladly sit out there for six or seven hours to get just one chance to paddle into a wave. I might not even get one, but I’d sit out there for seven hours to get one look at one and maybe have a chip-shot into it. And that feeling you get paddling is just a different kind of rush. They’re both similar feelings, but paddling is just down to bare bones. It’s just you, your board and the ocean. It takes a different commitment. Half the battle is just to hold your line. You see these massive sets, blacking-out the horizon and your natural instinct is to wanna scramble and paddle out and get away from these things, but you’ll never catch a wave if you keep doing that, ’cause you’ll go too far off the ledge. To sit there, and hold it, and wait for the wave to come is frightening. Sometimes these waves just break, 50 yards further out if it’s a rogue set, so you’re holding your line and the wave breaks 50 yards in front of you.

The best one you caught at Jaws, the one Shane Dorian got at Jaws, did you think, when you first saw those, you could be wearing them on the head? At Jaws, sometimes when you first see them, you’re like “Fuck, is this thing gonna barrel on me, or am I gonna get a chance to paddle into it?” Jaws is different to other spots ’cause the line-up’s so all-over. Shane’s wave I still remember ’cause I was right next to him, yelling at him to go, it looked like it was gonna have a double-up and a big wall, but then it just grew so big when he started dropping in and I was like, yelling at him, “Yew!”. In a sense though, that’s a lot of the feeling, too. Being out there and lining up a wave like that. We don’t know what the boundary is yet. When are we gonna drop into a wave and the board is just not gonna work?

Ten years ago, in small-wave high-performance surfing, you probably couldn’t have imagined how inverted  airs would get. It always moves quicker than you think. And then always goes a little further. Fast-forward 10 years for big-wave riding, what’s gonna happen? I’ve always said this, since I was little: The towing aspect of it is gonna change from just dropping into these gigantic waves and getting from point A to point B in the safest way possible to actually surfing them. You might not be doing blow-tails and stuff, but actually carving these things and setting-up for the barrel, finding different lines. When I close my eyes and think about the way I wanna surf Jaws, before I even tow into a wave, I wanna do turns and surf the wave properly, as you would a smaller wave. Actually ride the wave. Then as far as paddling, I think the level is gonna go to a point where, on these tow days, guys are gonna be paddling and trying to line up these big waves.

Will it reach a point where you guys are out there paddling, and if someone’s coming in on a ski, you guys are gonna just drop in on them? Or will those guys have the respect to kick out? Hopefully they’ll have the respect to kick-out. That’s another problem. When someone’s towing at you, they’re up and riding, they’re fine and dandy and going their speed, and asking you, “You want this one or the next one?” like, waving at you. You don’t have time to fucken communicate with this guy. You’re so focused on looking at a 50-foot wave, deciding if you’re in the right spot, if the wind’s under your nose, if it’s gonna break on your back, if you’re far enough in to get it, if you’re gonna have to air-drop – you don’t need to be fucken telling some guy towing, “Oh yeah, this one?” You wanna just decide for yourself, at the right time. You’re so far away from communicating with anyone, it’s all a feeling at that point and you don’t wanna have some guy, like, talking to you. It looks mellow to him, ’cause he’s already going 50 miles an hour. But I think paddling, in a sense, to answer your question, is gonna go bigger, deeper, and guys are gonna start hunting barrels. I can’t wait to see what the next generation of kids does behind us. They’re gonna push us super far, same with the next generation after them. It’s all about the kids. They’re gonna go to the next level. – Sam McIntosh.

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