How To Be A Well-Rounded Surfer

Ian Walsh on mastering the spectrum of conditions

Ian Walsh, always a standout in the lineup at Jaws. Photo: Noyle
Ian Walsh, always a standout in the lineup at Jaws. Photo: Noyle

To be a great surfer, you have to be ready to handle whatever the ocean throws at you. There are few people more capable of handling every type of condition than Ian Walsh, so we asked him for advice on how to be versatile in the water.

Good surfers are well-rounded. The days of being a specialist in a certain field have gone the way of Nose Guards and the Bud Tour. The best surfers of today are truly jacks of all trades, equally adept at manhandling a 12-foot reef pass and getting technical at 2-foot beachbreaks. "I feel like all the best surfers in the world today, whether they are on the Tour or not, are amazing surfers in every type of surf," says Ian. "A good chunk of the leaders of the next generation are standouts when it comes to airs and big barrels, and are really capable in massive surf. The days of just being one or the other are quickly fading away."

Doing it all takes training. If you're hell bent on expanding your surfing, you can't approach it lightly. For Ian, making the transition from fun-sized to terrifying conditions almost cost him his life. "When I was younger, I didn't even think about it, I just surfed and treated a huge day like any other day. But after two bad situations, I started doing more to get my body and mind ready for the worst-case scenarios," says Ian. "I haven't really told many people this, but I used to not be able to hold my breath very long or swim deeper than 25 feet. So to get myself ready for the bigger stuff, I started doing free-dive training to learn how to use my lungs for all they're worth. It's also given me the know-how to control what my what my body is going through. Mix that with a lot more time in the gym, and that's how I train for big waves. I went from being able to hold my breath for 45 seconds to being able to do a four-minute static in the pool. Free-dive training transfers to smaller waves and heats as well. I think knowing how to relax and lower your heart rate really quickly is useful in any type of surf."

WATCH: Ian Walsh – Micronesia Blues

Be a grom. To keep his small-wave game razor sharp, Ian hasn't grown jaded over the years and remains just as pumped to surf when conditions are less than stellar, as he did when he was barely a teenager. There will inherently be mediocre days, but if you paddle out anyway, your small-wave game will only benefit. "When you're having fun, you're surfing better," says Ian. "If it's small and still looks fun, I'll be frothing like I was 14 again, dying to drop in and get the fins out the back. That never gets old."

Put in the time and don't be afraid to fail. They say if you're not making any mistakes, you're not improving. For Ian, becoming a well-rounded surfer didn't come easy. But through plenty of time in the lineup, he was able to slowly improve his game to eventually become the surfer he is today. "You can't be afraid to fail," says Ian. "There isn't a specific trick you can do to be a better all-around surfer. It takes work and you have to surf a lot of different waves in a variety of conditions. If you're uncomfortable in big waves, start training your body and start surfing them more. If you don't feel like you're surfing well in small waves, surf them more. You have to put in the time and be okay with making mistakes. The more you do anything, the more comfortable it becomes."

You're as likely to find Ian in the lineup on a head-high day as a 20-foot day, and he'll still be turning heads. Photo: Burkard
You’re as likely to find Ian in the lineup on a head-high day as a 20-foot day, and he’ll still be turning heads. Photo: Burkard