A hundred feet underwater with a boiling ocean above driving him even deeper, you think this would be the perfect place for Ryan Hipwood to contemplate some of the life choices he’d made that had brought him here. Instead, of course, at that point he was dwelling on some more pressing matters… breathing being top of the list. He’d just wiped out at a secret offshore reef in a remote corner of Western Australia, a wipeout that would shake him to the core and re-engineer his thinking about big waves and why he’s dedicated his life to riding them.
Well, most of his life, anyway. “There are guys who just seem born to surf big waves, but I wasn’t one of them. I was shitscared of big surf as a kid,” he happily admits. It’s been a journey from that wide-eyed grommet to today, where he’s regarded as one of the most fearless and savvy big-wave surfers in the world.
“Hippo” was just another Gold Coast kid, a good surfer who grew up through the system, surfing contests with stars in his eyes, aiming for a career as a professional surfer. It was his first trip to Hawaii as a 14-year-old that opened his eyes to a bigger world in bigger waves. Surfing Pipeline on a big day the kid almost drowned (not for the last time) and was washed up on the beach afterwards looking like a dog after a bath. “I realized it was a men’s club out there and that I was a boy.” He picked up his board and paddled straight back out.
When someone asks him today what he does for a living, Hippo smirks. “I tell them I surf for a living, but it’s a little more complicated than that. I explain I’m scouring swell forecasts every day to look for the biggest waves I can find… then I go and surf them.” Hippo has earned his rep the hard way, travelling the world for over a decade chasing huge surf. He’s tackled giant Jaws (Hawaii), caught trophy waves at Cloudbreak (Fiji), pioneered a handful of the world’s most dangerous slab waves, and twice been a finalist in the XXL Big Wave Awards.
His near drowning in Western Australia was a catalyst for him to reinvent himself. “After I nearly drowned, that really shook me up. I was so rattled. I tried to put on a brave face but it got to the point where I questioned whether I really wanted to do this.”
More than anything, the wipeout taught Hippo to learn about how his body worked under stress, underwater… and under a hundred feet of water. Ryan‘s dedication to becoming the worlds best big wave surfer has taught him that what happens in the water is directly associated with what happens out of it. Strength & conditioning, specialist breathing techniques, mental preparation and detailed high performance planning all form part of his greater training philosophy in preparation for whatever the ocean can throw at him.
2017/18 will see Hippo’s surfing continue to evolve as he continues to push himself into new and fresh challenges. Competitively, the WSL Big Wave World Title looms as a huge goal, and the prospect of being the first Australian to win it making it even more enticing. Testing his mental and physical ability is just part of what makes him who he is, and challenging himself in some of the most remote and harsh conditions on the planet add to a narrative that is just waiting to be told.
Ryan is currently partnered with Monster Energy, FCS Accessories, Izuzu D-Max, DHD Surfboards and Liive Vision.