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In the gym with big-wave surfer Ian Walsh

This strict training regimen and diet helps the pro surfer keep top form


It takes strength and dedication in and out of the water to surf big waves like these. Photo Courtesy of Fox Head, Inc.

It takes strength and dedication in and out of the water to surf big waves like these. Photo courtesy of Fox Head Inc.

Ian Walsh was born in 1983 in Hawaii and has been in the surf nearly ever since. He was only 16 years old when he began surfing Maui’s most reputable and frightening big wave, “Jaws.” Only a handful of years later he was nominated for the Wave of the Year at the Billabong XXL awards after successfully surfing a 70-foot wave at the legendary spot. In the time since that first nomination, Walsh has gone on to garner several accolades in the sport of big-wave surfing and has proven his mettle in locations across the globe.

Sliding down the face of a wave the size of a two-story building takes a tremendous amount of gall, but is also requires an extreme amount of athleticism, which is why for years now Walsh has been tackling his training with the same degree of dedication as an Olympic athlete. In addition to surfing nearly three to four hours or going for a morning bike ride every day—Walsh hits the gym three to five times a week with his trainer. And the results are paying off.

GrindTV caught up with both Walsh and his trainer, Izaak Tyrrell of Upcountry Fitness, in Hawaii to get the scoop on the big-wave surfer’s workouts and diet. Working with an athlete like Walsh requires creating a workout with enough variation to address all of his needs, Tyrrell says. “Extreme athletes have to do extreme exercises,” he says. “They need to practice at intensity in a controlled environment so that it becomes second nature to them when they are performing in their sport. When I create a program for someone like Ian, it’s important to look at the risk-to-benefit factor ratio. Meaning, are they risking more by doing the exercise then they are benefiting themselves? Or, is it going to enhance them enough, to get them to the level they need?”

To perform at this level, a big-wave surfer like Walsh is using his entire body to not only stabilize himself on the wave, but also to paddle into the waves and have the stamina to be held underwater for minutes at a time. Tyrrell says addressing all of these needs can be tricky. “Big-wave surfers want to be strong, stable, and possess the most range of motion as much as possible without being tight. It’s a cross between a ninja and a ballerina,” he says.

To accomplish this Walsh practices holding his breath while performing many of his in-the-gym exercises, and he works on keeping his body limber through foam rolling and yoga.

Ian Walsh at Jaws in Maui, Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Fox Head, Inc.

Ian Walsh at Jaws in Hawaii; photo courtesy of Fox Head Inc.

Food for fuel

Walsh is also very serious when it comes to fueling his body. “Diet plays a big part in my training,” says Walsh. “To be able to put in all the hours in the water and gym that I want to, I have to have enough energy and calories to burn to make it happen.

“To cut down on weight a little bit pre-winter this year I tried slowing down or cutting out eating breads, rice, and pastas and getting most of my carbs from fruit instead,” he continues. “I noticed a lot of my overall body fat was lost very quickly. I have a lot more energy throughout the day if I keep up on my meals. I like to start the day with a parfait with an apple, strawberries, a banana, blueberries, a little granola, and yogurt. Then I’ll have either three to four egg whites with breakfast or a Progenex protein shake with the meal.”

Post-workout, Walsh is careful to replenish what calories and nutrients he has burned. “It is important to eat relatively quickly once you finish,” he says. “I get a Progenex recovery shake in to start to get ready for whatever else I have going on that day. The rest of my meals are a mix of a lot of veggies and salads on the side of a main meat dish of either steak, chicken, pork, or turkey.”

Move to the music
When you’re in the gym as much as Walsh, there’s always room for some music. Walsh says he stays motivated by keeping his Apple iPod Shuffle loaded with a variety of tunes from the following artists.

Ian Walsh performs medicine ball catches. Photo courtesy of Fox Head, Inc.

Ian Walsh performs medicine ball catches; photo courtesy of Fox Head Inc.

Exercises on the side

Medicine ball twist

What it helps: Side to side rotation that helps with reaction, agility, and the lateral rotations needed in surfing.

How he does it: Walsh and Tyrrell play catch with a 12-pound medicine ball; each time Walsh is catching the ball completing a full single side rotation before throwing the ball back to his trainer. He does this for one full minute before switching sides—he is always closing gaps of imbalances in the body.

Ian Walsh jumping rope. Photo courtesy of Fox Head, Inc.

Ian Walsh jumping rope; photo courtesy of Fox Head Inc.

Jumping rope

What it helps: Cardio and stability.

How he does it: Surfing is cardio in very short, intense anaerobic spurts. By jumping rope, Walsh is able to contribute to his fitness as well as switch up duration and style of jumping to address his needs. It is also a very travel-friendly cardio option when Walsh is on the road.

Ian Walsh tractor tire flipping. Photo courtesy of Fox Head, Inc.

Ian Walsh tractor tire flipping; photo courtesy of Fox Head Inc.

Tractor tire flips

What it helps: Strength and endurance.

How he does it: Using good body mechanics, Walsh flips the tires for three minutes at a time. He occasionally does breath holds while performing the exercise. To perform tire flips properly, athletes need to possess a strong back and core to be able to do it many times.

Advanced moves like these help keep Ian Walsh surfing Jaws. Photo courtesy of Fox Head, Inc.

Advanced moves like this stability ball squat curl shoulder press help keep Ian Walsh surfing Jaws. Photo courtesy of Fox Head Inc.

Stability ball squat curl shoulder press

What it helps: This highly advanced movement requires every muscle in the body—it’s strength training in its most demanding and challenging form.

How he does it: Tyrrell cautions that this movement should not be tried at home. It is an exercise that Walsh has come to perform after years of training and development. The highly advanced exercise is performed while standing atop a balance ball, where Walsh then completes a series of weight and squat movements for greater core and muscle strength.

Being serious about his training and diet is a key part of Ian Walsh's surfing success. Photo courtesy of Fox Head, Inc.

Being serious about his training and diet is a key part of Ian Walsh’s surfing success. Photo courtesy of Fox Head Inc.

Gear necessities

In the workout photos Ian is wearing the following training gear that is available by following the links below.

Abound Out Tech Tee

Flux Jacket

Stride Short

Motion Elite Shoes

Ian Walsh Signature “Spike Fade” Boardshort