PAIA - Between charging 70-foot waves at Peahi and competing against the world's top surfers, Haiku's Ian Walsh has plenty to be proud of.
Another distinction, though, sets him apart as well - he was King Kekaulike High School's class of 2001 valedictorian.
"I don't think a lot of people know that. It's not something that comes up a lot in the interviews I've done with surfing, but it's something I'm proud of for sure," the 28-year-old said.
Ian Walsh signs an autograph for 8-year-old Jackson Bunch of Haiku during the ninth annual Menehune Mayhem at Hookipa Beach Park on Saturday.
The Maui News / LEHIA APANA photo
Walsh, who hosted his ninth annual Menehune Mayhem youth surf contest at Hookipa Beach Park on Saturday, is an advocate for Hawaii's keiki working hard in the water and the classroom.
His one-day contest tests the skills of Maui's top junior surfers, and challenges them to excel in academics, with several awards given out based on grade-point average. This year's winners were boys Logan Bediamol (4.0), Cody Young (4.0) and Miles Serafica (3.7), and girls Tasha Jahmarkt (4.1), Cayla Moore (3.9), and Shophia Johnson (3.6).
"Those are actually our best prizes in the whole contest and a lot of kids strive for that," Walsh said.
Walsh created the free event with the help of his sponsors, Red Bull and Fox, as a way of giving back.
"I used to do Shane Dorian's event when I was a little kid, but at the time I started there weren't any contests on Maui for the kids to do," he said. "And I thought this might be a good way to give them something to look forward to and to do."
Dorian and fellow pro surfer Bruce Irons joined Walsh at his home break for an event that was also packed with land activities for youths, including a jumping castle, art stations and a dunk tank.
"I just wanted an event like how I would've wanted it," Walsh said. "So free entry, tons of other activities to do, and whether you get first place or last place, you get a huge prize bag of gear."
The event also had five memorial awards named in honor of Walsh's friends Eric Diaz, Steve Cooney, Sion Milosky, Andy Irons and Tristan "Turtle" Brennan.
Although Walsh is known more for his surfing accomplishments, he says school always came first.
"I didn't want to miss really good days of surf, so it's a balance of doing both," he said. "And obviously when you're a kid, school is more important, so if I did miss school for a surf contest, (my parents) made sure that I did everything, plus extra credit for the days I was skipping to surf."
He said his passion for surfing fostered his academic drive.
"I was just kind of adamant about doing well and getting my homework done because I wanted to surf every day," Walsh said, noting that math was his strongest subject. "So I'd do as much schoolwork as I could during school, then get to the beach and surf till dark."
Walsh, who spends much of his time traveling the globe in search of the next big swell, said the contest is "a highlight of my year."
"Every time I do it, I can't wait for the next one to throw," he said. "Without a doubt I couldn't do this without all the help of the community and my mom and dad. And for one person to try and do that is impossible. It really is everyone's event. It's this whole community's event."
* Lehia Apana is at email@example.com