Few people get to experience the world the way surfer Ian Walsh does, grabbing flights at a moment’s notice to chase the best waves all over the globe. He’s had to develop some flexibility (to say the least) over the years, not knowing from one day to the next where he might find himself, so who better to get a few travel tips from? We checked in with him on a recent layover to get some advice and a glimpse into what it’s like to fly as much as he does.
What’s your local airport?
OGG, Kahului, Maui.
How many frequent flyer miles do you have?
I have no idea. Last time I checked into it, I got all my brothers tickets to go snowboarding with me and there were over 200,000. That was just with one airline; I’m always flying on American, United, Singapore, Qantas… Usually my miles are split between the One World and Star Alliance programs; they’re spread out all over across the board.
Have you cashed them in for anything else?
I don’t use them; I never upgrade or whatever. I guess they just go into the vault, and if my mom wants to go somewhere, she can use them to get rental cars, flights and whatever else. My brothers use them a bit, too. I would rather my family use them than use them myself just to sit in the front of the plane.
How often do you fly/travel?
Depends; sometimes I’m gone a lot. When I was younger I’d be gone ten months out of the year. I’d be home three or four days here and there. I’m home a little bit more now because I can get a lot done there as well. I’m still only there three or four months out of the year. The rest of the time I’m in a constant ping-pong between airports. I definitely know all the good restaurants in every single airport around the world.
What’s your favorite airport?
My favorite airport is Singapore, for sure. You can get a massage, you can go to the gym, get a room right in the airport, hot shower, good food, good shopping, anything. You can buy all kinds of sick electronics there.
What countries have you flown to?
Norway, Spain, Portugal, France, England, Ireland, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, Japan, Bali, Indonesia, Australia, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Maldives, Mexico, all over the U.S. Some of them, like Japan and Tahiti, I’ve been to about 13 times each. I’ve been going to them since I was like 14.
One place I’d like to go is Italy; just go and eat good food and check that place out. And I want to go to Morocco. Those will both get done this summer for sure.
Are you always traveling with surfboards?
Most of the time I’ve got boards with me, unless I’m going to Vegas or something – we just went there last week for a meeting and to get loose for a couple of days. Anytime I don’t have boards, I’m happy. Dragging around those board bags, every time you walk up you’re just rolling the dice. I hate that feeling; you check in and they’re like “How many boards you got?” They’re just waiting to nail you for a good excess charge.
"I’d rather lose my passport than my iPod."
What’s your favorite place you’ve flown to?
I really like Chile, because you can surf really good waves and go snowboarding in the same season. My favorite place in the world is probably Indonesia. There are really good waves there, and good food, and you can stay in really cool places. It’s a cool culture there. It’s between there and Tahiti. Tahiti’s like Hawaii 50 years ago. I can go there and really feel what Hawaii was like before I was born. All that being said, I’ll never live anywhere but Maui. That’s without a doubt my number one.
Do you ever get to fly first class?
I do every now and then. Not nearly enough; I feel like I should be flying first class when I’m flying into Tahiti for a 60-foot swell on a red-eye – show up at 5 o’clock in the morning and surf all day. I have had it a few times where I just get randomly bumped up. It’s definitely not a bad thing, but I almost wish I had never even done it, because how do you go back to economy after that? It’s a different world…
Aisle or window?
Aisle. I can’t sit still. I’m getting up for my laptop, magazines, iPod, book…
Peanuts or pretzels?
I ask for both every time.
How do you kill time on the plane?
I keep a log of everything I’ve been doing for the last few years, so I’ll catch up on that. I can’t travel without an iPod; I’ll have my headphones on for ten hours straight, until that battery is limping. I’ll run that thing into the ground. I can’t do it without music. That’s like my number one thing; I’d rather lose my passport than my iPod. You can always get an emergency passport, but you can’t get 6,000 songs back real quick.
Any other methods to kill time on long layovers?
You just gotta take it on the chin and deal with it. I just try to have fun everywhere I am and look at the positive side of everything. It’s so easy to get frustrated with how things are going when you’re on the move that much. Not everything’s going to go your way.
Is there anything you always make sure you have with you when you fly?
My iPod, and I will always have my passport, even if I’m just coming to California for two days. Every time I get on a plane, there’s a 50/50 chance that I’ll end up flying someplace else. All my trips go down with no notice. I’ll be sitting here talking to you, then go back and check my phone and somebody will be saying, “Tahiti’s going to be really good in like 48 hours, so get on a red-eye tonight.”
If you had to give one piece of travel advice, what would it be?
Keep your stuff organized. Know where your wallet goes in your bag, where your passport goes in your bag, where your phone goes… Always put them in the same pocket so you’re not doing the panic attack looking for them every time you’re going through customs. And just have fun – anything you forget can be replaced when you get there, so don’t stress about it.
Tell us a quick story about one of the events or places you’ve flown to?
I left in the middle of a contest in Hawaii because we heard about a big swell in Tahiti - I was booking my flights on the way to the airport. I flew to L.A. to hop on a red eye to Tahiti because I couldn’t get one direct from Hawaii. I got in at 4 a.m. and drove two hours to the waves we were chasing and it was massive! I surfed all day and came in around 5 p.m. and did a couple of interviews soaking wet as I packed my gear up. Then I hopped back in the car and went to the airport. I flew back to L.A., then got another flight to Hawaii. I made it back in time to surf my contest heat by minutes.
Has anything scary, funny or weird happened on any of your flights?
I was asked, during a flight, if I'd be willing to assist people getting off of the plane, because they told me we were going to crash into water and they figured I would be comfortable in the water. That was a little nerve-wracking. We ended up making it to the airport luckily.
Have you ever missed a flight?
Yes, but it was either from just deciding to do something else or cutting it too close with time.
What would make flying better or easier for you?
A private jet. The few times I’ve flown that way really made me wish I owned a plane.