Ian Walsh

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Even in a world of big waves and big names, Ian Walsh stands apart. The Maui-based surfer has built his reputation on tackling mountain-size waves at surf spots from Portugal to Hawaii, California to Tahiti. You can catch Walsh riding eight-story swells in Distance Between Dreams, a new documentary he produced with Red Bull. The world-class surfer spoke with MAXIM about the dangers of big-wave surfing, the challenges of chasing storms around the world, and how to use culinary recipes to avoid drowning.

On Distance Between Dreams:
The motivation for me was just to put all of my time and energy into a project that would time-stamp a period in surfing’s progression. I narrowed my focus into the singular goal of doing this film, and we got very lucky. It was a two-year project, and the bulk of it was shot over the last year, which was a historic winter for big waves. The first year was lackluster, but then we happened to catch the most incredible winter in big-wave surfing history.
El Niños like the one we experienced are pretty rare, and when you’re at the peak of your career you might only see a couple of them. This one was really unique because we got massive 60 to 70-foot surf, but the weather was light so there weren’t any of the big winds or rains that can destroy ideal conditions. It had all the makings of these massive swells but with perfect weather.

On being an amateur meteorologist:
The process starts by looking at satellite images of a projected swell, typically seven days out. Two days will pass and that projected swell might turn into the real thing, and I’ll check the data on wind speeds and sea heights. Finally, 24 to 48 hours before the time the swell arrives is when I get a really good understanding of what’s going to be coming. I’ve become a complete geek on Google Earth.
I follow the updates to the last minute, literally pushing my travel plans as far back as I can. Sometimes I’ll be halfway to Morocco, South Africa, Australia, or Tahiti and the system will just fall apart while I’m en route. I’ll land, and the swell isn’t what I had thought it would be. You’re never really in control, and that can be frustrating. But it’s also what makes it so special when everything comes together.

On the preparation required to survive surfing the world’s biggest waves:
A lot more goes into this sport than what typically gets shown, and showing the audience the behind-the-scenes work we put in was a big part of the film. It all starts with preparation. There is a really heavy routine in the gym, pool training with breath holding, and open ocean diving down to 155 feet to better understand time and pressure underwater. We also spend a lot of prep time on our safety procedures, as everyone works to create a seamless, compact team, because if something really bad happens we’re all that we have.
Fortunately for me, my brothers and I have developed a procedure through trial and error that allows us to look out for each other, and if something catastrophic happens, to neutralise and deal with it ourselves.

For the full article grab the May 2017 issue of MAXIM Australia.

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