Ian Walsh joins "Brothers on the Run"
When the second episode of Eric and John Jackson's AK-to-Chile shred/surf road trip web series "Brothers on the Run" came out this week, we weren't surprised to see Travis Rice make a cameo. After all, the footage was shot in Alaska's Tordrillo Range, which is where Rice and John filmed most of their all-time-banger AK lines for "The Art of Flight."
Anyone familiar with AK missions knows that you do not just fly to Alaska for four days and expect to get weather and snow conditions good enough for shooting. Most people wait weeks for a window like that. And yet, this is what happened for the boys on this trip. If a god of snowboarding exists, it is clear that he loves these guys.
What we didn't expect was to see big-wave surfer Ian Walsh on screen, ripping steep lines with authority. Because, while it's true that most pro snowboarders harbor closet dreams of being pro surfers, the pendulum rarely swings back the other way.
The few surfers who do snowboard mostly spend their time riding mellow pow lines on low-profile family vacations -- they definitely aren't jumping out of helis in AK on the same peaks that Rice and the Jacksons are filming on and holding their own on the way down. We tracked Walsh down to figure out what kind of special Superman powder he's adding to his papaya juice.
ESPN: First off, how does a guy who grew up in Maui, and makes a living surfing full-time, become a snowboarder?
Ian Walsh: Andy Irons. He was a close friend of mine, and when I was about 20 he won the world title and ... well, right after that he just wanted to do something different. He wanted to go snowboarding. So I went with him. We went to Park City, Utah. I'd never been in the snow before, but after the second or third day we were jumping around and I just thought, "Whoa, this is really fun."
It's like me taking those guys to Pipeline, taking off on the first wave of the set and being like, 'Yeah, just go on No. 2! You're all good!'”
A little while after that I did a project with the TGR guys, and afterwards they kept bugging me to come to Jackson Hole. I was like, "Why on earth would I ever go to Wyoming?" But they just kept on it. So finally we went, and it was incredible -- blower pow, it just kept snowing so it was like the mountain got a reset every night. I got to ride with Jeremy Jones.
I just had so much fun, it was like learning how to surf again. I felt like I was 8 years old, figuring out something new with every little turn. It was so different.
This is what I'm talking about, though. Most people who are just days into learning how to snowboard can't keep up with Jeremy Jones.
Yeah, but we were running at our fastest speed -- to the point where we thought we were just going to tomahawk down the whole mountain, and he was probably just cruising. It's been so great though, to be able to see the mountains through Jeremy and Travis and the Jackson brothers' eyes, to see how they look at the mountain. Like I'll look at something and think, "Wow ... I don't even know how to get down that." And they just look at it like a skate park.
How did you get hooked up with these guys?
I met Travis a few years ago in California. We were both doing something for Red Bull, and we ended up going for a surf and became friends. I went to Jackson Hole and we rode a day or two there. He hooked me up with the Jackson brothers and off we went.
Had you ever been to Alaska before this trip?
My first time in Alaska was three weeks before, actually. I was in Jackson Hole, just on a semi-vacation riding with two of my brothers, trying to hunt down pow. Travis flew home while I was there and we ended up having a really good day riding at the resort, and he said, "Hey I'm shooting some stuff for Quik in Alaska next week. You should just come with me." I had a few extra days to spare so I hopped on a plane and flew up there with him.
What'd you think?
I had never ridden anything that steep in my life. I thought, the next time I come up here I really want to try to do like a mini, little spine. And then three weeks later those guys called me to meet them up there again for their trip. [Laughs] I canceled everything I had going on and hopped back on a plane.
It's funny to me that in your first real AK mission those guys would just drop you off on the top of a spine line and assume that, because you're this gnarly surfer, that it's all just going to be cool.
[Laughs] Yeah, that is different, for sure. It's like me taking those guys to Pipeline, taking off on the first wave of the set and being like, "Yeah, just go on No. 2! You're all good!"
That's what I mean! Were you scared?
Medium scared. I mean, I only get to snowboard a few days a winter. I'm not doing a whole season in Jackson. But I figured if I just dove right into it -- you know, it's the same as surfing. I figure the only way I'm going to blow it is if I'm hesitant going into it. You don't really have too much time to think about it. And they're going so quick because they're filming all these crazy lines.
For a minute, when I was jumping out of a heli on this pinnacle ridge where both sides were straight down, I was definitely like, Damn, is this out of my league right now? Am I going to be able to do this? But once you get your feet in the bindings you feel so much more comfortable. Once I started going I got a full reset. Less thinking, more feeling, so I felt normal again.
When you're thinking about it, of course it's scary, but once I get going my brain shuts off and it all becomes reaction.
Are you going to try to meet up with them again, further along in the trip?
Definitely. I've been traveling for 10 years straight, pretty much nonstop, nine months a year, and that was by far in the top three trips that I've ever gone on in my life. We got amazing bluebird conditions for the heli days. Just to be out there and watch them ride in person was so inspiring. And then after that we found surf -- the sickest surf spot with no wind, and it was sunny the whole time.
It was one of the few trips I can think of where it was ending and I was so bummed. I was like, I don't want to get on a plane and go somewhere else. I just want this to keep going.
It's just such a good crew. Everyone involved in the project is so easy to hang out with. So I'm going to help them forecast so they can be in the right places when swells move in in a couple zones in Mexico. I'd like to strike mission in with Travis, try to meet up with them in the Galapagos, and then down in Chile. I'll try to sneak a couple more days in the snow and then hunt down these crazy left barrels I've been geeking out on on Google Earth lately. It's going to be fun.