COURTESY OF XCEL PRO
Maui's Ian Walsh won the prestigious Xcel Pro at Sunset Beach yesterday, earning a $7,000 check and a load of respect.
Walsh becomes the man with Xcel championship
The 22-year old puts his name on the sport's list of legends in Hawaii's first big-wave event
When the 22nd annual Xcel Pro started on Sunday, competitor Ian Walsh of Maui predicted that the eventual winner would be considered by everyone as one of the world's best surfers.
Three straight days of competition later, Walsh is that guy.
Yesterday, the 22-year-old pro from Kuau won the prestigious event at Sunset Beach that marks the start of the Hawaii big-wave season, the $7,000 first-place check and the loads of respect that come with it.
"I'm just psyched to be on that (winners') list, that list stays up forever," said Walsh, who also made the Xcel finals last year, finishing third. "This is my first real big win, and it means so much.
"I remember watching this contest when I was younger, and (former winners) Pancho Sullivan and Mike Ho and those guys, and to win out here and be on a list with those names is just so amazing."
The Xcel was a 3-star World Qualifying Series event that started with an international field of 132 surfers.
Waves were only in the 6- to 10-foot-face range yesterday, but with no real swells forecast for the remainder of the waiting period organizers decided to finish the contest.
Walsh had to surf four heats yesterday. He won his fourth-rounder and quarterfinal, and then qualified for the four-man, 35-minute final with a second-place showing in his semi.
Defending champion Fred Patacchia Jr. did not compete this year, and three-time winner and 2003 champ Sullivan went down in the other semifinal.
In an all-Hawaii final that could have well been a state junior-division decider just a few years ago. Walsh won convincingly with 16.00 points (out of 20 maximum) for his top two waves. Another Valley Isle surfer, 19-year-old Hank Gaskell, placed second with 12.90, while Oahu's Raymond Reichle (10.35) and Nathan Carroll (7.25) finished third and fourth.
With Reichle also only 19 and Carroll, 20, "I felt like the old man of the group," Walsh said. "But it's nice to see all the kids doing good."
Reichle caught the most waves in the final with eight total rides, while Carroll struggled the entire heat and did not catch his first until almost 20 minutes had passed. Gaskell made the most of his low of four waves, but he too couldn't keep up with Walsh.
"Maui boys, one and two," Gaskell said. "I wish I could've been one, but I'm really happy with second. It's my best (pro) result ever. It was hard out there, and Ian just got the better (waves)."
Walsh surfed five total waves, and his keepers came on his third and fourth.
He received an 8.50 about 19 minutes in after executing a hard off-the-top and a big floater before working the waves' inside section, and then followed with a 7.50 some 6 minutes later after flipping his two-maneuver sequence on his next wave.
"I had the same strategy every heat," Walsh said. "Be the deepest when it starts, get a decent start, and let the ball roll from there. I just got lucky because those guys were surfing really good, too."
Between the semifinals and final there was a 30-minute longboard expression session. Former world champion Bonga Perkins of Oahu won the heat and $1,000.