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Was Ian Walsh's Jaws Barrel The Best-Ever In Competition?

Barrels in big wave competitions are a fairly new, but quickly normalizing concept. Over the years we’ve seen a couple pits at Punta de Lobos, a handful at plus-sized Puerto, a few makes at The Eddie, and several quick ones at Jaws.

But this year’s Pe’ahi Challenge showed a different level of commitment, skill, and lines being drawn by BWT competitors. Mark Healey started it off with the pigdog from hell, followed shortly by Billy Kemper’s almost-make of the century. The second semifinal included three incredible tubs (Albee, Hippo, and Ian), plus a breathtaking pocket-glide from Kai Lenny. All signs point to the fact that tuberiding is a quickly evolving, ever-important aspect of the modern day big wave approach.

So, question: Was Ian Walsh’s 10-point Jaws barrel the best tube ever ridden in competition? 

It was clearly the best-ever in big-wave competition, but how does it compare to barrels in more "tame" conditions like Pipe or Chopes? And yes, I’m aware of how futile an endeavor it is to compare a 40-foot Jaws pit to Slater’s airdrop-to-layback Teahupo’o screamer in 2005. But for history’s sake, let’s compare a few of the greatest singlet-donned tubes of the 21st century. 

Kelly Slater, Billabong Pro Tahiti, 2005

As if this wasn’t already one of the greatest athletic feats in the history of surfing, it's especially great when you consider the long-term ramifications of Kelly's ride. This fall to forehead-stall got Kelly out of an impossible combination against Bruce Irons, which led to his winning the heat, then the contest, then his first world title in six years. 

Koa Rothman, Backdoor Shootout, 2017

Probably the deepest anyone has ever ridden at Pipe and lived to tell the tale. Watching this clip for the six-zillionth time, I’m still not sure where Koa could have gone to escape the wave's gargantuan foamball. Maybe he used one of those portals from that game Portal. 

Joel Centeio, Pipe Invitational, 2014

This wave never got the attention it deserved. Joel Centeio stroked into one of the meanest double-ups I’ve ever seen, packed it as deep as possible, and somehow rode out behind the shotgun spit. Easily one of the best Backdoor waves to date and thus it survives this illustrious list. 

CJ Hobgood, Billabong Pro Tahiti, 2015

Some barrels, like Joel’s above, are magnificent in how thoroughly they embrace the reef. But others have kinks and trapdoors, foamballs and chandeliers, minor and major glitches that make a ride impossible, and therefore great. CJ never should have escaped this mini-avalanche and for that his ride is immortalized henceforth.

Sebastian Zietz, Margaret River Pro, 2017

Pete Mel called this “THE BEST 10 EVER” and who is willing to debate The Condor? Seabass outran roughly 12 sections to find the end of this North Point tunnel and it was goddamn glorious. 

Grant Twiggy Baker, Puerto Escondido Challenge, 2016

A perfect Puerto wave, ridden expertly by a big wave legend. While relatively similar to Ian's tube in terms of depth and duration, Twiggy's wave looks about half the size of Walshy's bomb, making it incomparable in terms of overall quality.

Ryan Hipwood, Pe’ahi Challenge, 2017

Poor Hippo. He surfed what was arguably the best wave ever at the Pe’ahi Challenge, until 10 minutes later when Ian Walsh threaded a tube thrice as good. That these waves received the same score is comical but not entirely bizarre. Big wave judging is significantly harder than normal wave judging on account of its newness and unlimited potential. It’s like when a chick does an early-grab air, the judges give it a nine-five, but what happens when the girl behind her lands a full-rote (which will happen, someday)?

Ian Walsh, Pe’ahi Challenge, 2017


What more is there to say about Ian's barrel? It was huge, long, and at one point fairly deep – the best wave we've seen in a Jaws competition by far, and amazingly there remains potential for much deeper, heavier waves to be ridden at this miracle reef. And keep in mind, this was only the first Jaws swell of the season...  

Now, is the fact that 7/8 tubes on the list occurred in the last five years some sort of coincidence? Not in the slightest.

First of all, these tubes are fresher in my mind than those of history's past – that's just how the brain works. 

Second, as the years pass, it becomes more and more likely that an entity (like the WSL) or an independent user will capture upload single waves to a video platform such as Youtube – making my ability to find these rides that much simpler.    

Lastly, guys today are simply more skilled and pushing it harder than ever before in heavier surf. This is especially true in XXL conditions, like Jaws, but I believe it also applies in more humane conditions like Pipe and Chopes. It ain’t exactly exponential growth, but tuberiding continues to evolve nonetheless.

Point being, I'm probably missing a lot of historically relevant competition tubes in this list, so feel free to remind me of any I've forgotten (Youtube links get extra credit) in the comments.  

Now, before we enter our debate, let’s see how a few surfing experts answered the Walshy question, via Stab’s DMs… 

Was Ian Walsh’s 10-point Jaws barrel the best tube ever ridden in competition?

Albee: It was definitely the best.

Matt Biolos: Yes.

Pete Mel: Absolutely. He’s going to make a lot of money off that wave. He’ll win Ride of the Year, Tube of the Year, and his bomb in round one will be Biggest Paddle.

Dorian: In a big wave competition, for sure.

Greg Long: I think that’s a very fair assessment.

Billy Kemper: That’s a hard question, but arguably yes… idk tho, if I would have made mine in the first heat it would have topped his [laughs].

For me, Koa’s barrel is still the most incredible of the bunch. Slater’s layback takes a close second and Ian’s bomb steals third. But Billy Kemper is correct that his would have been the best of all, had he made it (ever felt that way?)... 

And let the debate begin! But keep in mind we’re comparing apples to GMO grapefruits here.


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