The surfing community is in mourning for the loss of an athlete who embodied his sport. Andy Irons was one of the world’s greatest ever surfers.
A 3 times world champion ( 2002 / 03 / 04 ) made famous by his epic battles with Kelly Slater.
“I surf because… it keeps my life at an even keel, without it I would tip into oblivion”- Andy
“It’s all about the feeling I get from riding that wave,” he once said. “I have a lot of inner demons and if I didn’t have surfing to get them out of my system, I would self-destruct.
Irons admittedly battled “inner demons” occasionally throughout his career, and sought the ocean and its waves as a means to escape them. He loved being home on Kauai, and became homesick during his travels. He spent the better part of his career torn between wanting to conquer the world and wanting to get home. There was always that conflict and it was always a tug-of-war for him because he came from such a beautiful place.”
“I thought right then, ‘This is the coolest thing in the world.’ … I literally will never forget that wave”
Andy Irons was regarded as a surfer’s surfer, a charmed boardrider with movie star looks and laid-back approach to his success.
Wayne ( rabbit) Bartholomew said .. “Irons had a profound influence on the top Australians and his death will have the kind of impact on surfing, that Ayrton Senna’s death in 1994 had on motor racing. It will leave a big hole in the surfing world.”
Iron’s sudden death at 32 is hard to comprehend because only 2 months ago he was at his indestructible best when he triumphed at arguably the the gnarliest break on the planet, Tahiti’s Teahupoo, — to record his 20th win in a world championship event.
Andy was expected to compete against two Australian surfers in his first heat of the Rip Curl Pro Search in Puerto Rico, but didn’t show up, much to the confusion of commentators. Rip Curl officials said Irons withdrew, citing an illness he contracted during an event in Portugal.
Irons initially flew to Miami and received an IV drip before deciding to head back to Hawaii to receive treatment from his personal doctor. His flight had a layover in Dallas, and during the trip Irons reportedly was feverish and started vomiting. Irons was unable to make the next flight, and checked in to a Dallas hotel.
It turns out Irons may have contracted Dengue Fever ( still to be confirmed via toxicology tests ) in Puerto Rico. Dengue Fever is a viral disease spread by mosquitoes with the most recent outbreak in Puerto Rico infecting 8381 people and killed 29.
He was scheduled to compete in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing at Oahu’s on Hawaii’s Nth Shore, which is scheduled to begin this week ( since delayed due to Andy’s death ). The Triple Crown, which has events at Haleiwa, Sunset Beach and Pipeline, is fiercely competitive. Irons won it four times, and also won its treasured jewel, the Pipeline Masters, four times..
Irons and his younger brother, Bruce, are perennial invitees to the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big-wave competition at hallowed Waimea Bay. Bruce is a past winner and the opening ceremony for the 2010-11 is later this month.
Surfings greatest Duel – Andy Irons vs Kelly Slater
At a time when excitement was beginning to peak in the pro surfing universe, a pall has been cast by the unexpected death of Andy Irons, a three-time world champion and one of the sport’s icons. Instead of preparing to celebrate Kelly Slater winning an unprecedented tenth ASP World Tour championship, competitors, industry executives and fans around the world are mourning the passing of one of Slater’s longtime rivals.
Andy will be remembered as Hawaii’s most accomplished surfer and for being part of the biggest rivalry in the history of surfing – the one that put the ”dream tour” on the map and prompted hundreds of thousands of viewers to watch online whenever he met Kelly Slater in competition.
Some of the heated duels between Slater and Irons, especially those in big waves at the fabled Banzai Pipeline, are legendary. The two surfers did not always like each other and Slater, 38, credits Irons for reigniting his competitive fire during those years when Irons was winning his titles.
Surfing has had some big rivalries over the years, from Midget Farrelly and Nat Young in the early days, to Rabbit and Mark Richards, and ”Occy” and Tom Curren, but none compares with the battle that ensued when the precocious Irons prodded Slater, who had walked away after winning six world crowns, back into competition.
To outsiders, they seemed a study in contrast, with Slater projecting boy-next-door values and Irons hailing from a gang that called itself the Wolf Pack and intimidated outsiders on Hawaii’s North Shore.
”Slater has a lithe, catlike physique and is the essence of self-composure; Irons is considerably bigger, with a hint of baby fat and the blank, open-mouthed stare of a healthy young animal,” American author Daniel Duane once wrote. ”Slater is the wily tactician, exploiting his opponent’s every weakness, while Irons is the oversize man-child simply too raw to be intimidated.”
Certainly, Irons did little to contradict the caricature, especially early on.
”He’s had six world titles – it’s my turn!” he declared in Jack McCoy’s movie Blue Horizon. ”My whole driving force right now is to take his little pretty picture and just crush it.” Some thought the remarks gauche and complained to McCoy. ”I said, ‘Have a look at Jimmy Connors, or John McEnroe, or Michael Schumacher – have a look at anybody who has got some personality and passion in their competitive nature,’ ” says McCoy, adding that Irons was a tremendous surfer who made Hawaii proud. ”It wasn’t personal. He was just focusing on what he believed he had to do as a competitor. And what people tended to forget was that Kelly didn’t win six world titles up until then by being a nice guy.”
Irons showdown with Slater at the Banzai Pipeline decided the 2003 world contest.
It was the beginning of an enduring friendship.
The contest was remarkable for the tactics both deployed to unsettle each other until Irons prevailed in an epic final, famously slapping Slater on the back after the contest and declaring: ”It’s on! See you next year.”
It took Slater another two years to end Irons’ run of three consecutive world crowns – and then only by the smallest of margins. Slater then took control, backing up in 2006 and 2008.
Irons’s success was all the more remarkable because he lost his way, and his spot on the tour, soon after turning pro in 1998 and becoming a victim of the party scene. He would later describe his return to form and the tour as the greatest accomplishment of his life.
Then, after six years of intense competition with Slater, he suffered a severe case of burn-out and walked away from the tour in 2009.
”Those years getting second to Kelly really took it out of me,” he said in a candid interview with Surfer magazine. ”In 2005, I lost the world title by 100 points, and it really burnt me out. I started caring less, I wasn’t focusing, and I was going out at night. I wasn’t sticking to my old program that had worked so well for so long.”
“I just put my heart into it, everything I had in myself to you know do whatever it took to beat him. There was a time there where I’d literally would go to sleep at night thinking of ways to punch him in the face…” – Irons
“hahahahahaha, that’s so good…” – Slater
When asked about the big rivalry between Kelly and himself, Andy responded — “Whatever. Sometimes it’s there, and sometimes it’s not. The media definitely makes the biggest deal out of our rivalry or whatever. The bottom line is we’re both really competitive people—really, really competitive.”
A Fly in the Champagne – Movie
Nobody was expecting this trip to happen. To get two seemingly mortal enemies to agree to sequester themselves on a tiny island with a half-dozen cameramen, a Hollywood interviewer capable of conjuring up tears during any interview, and an in-the-know magazine staff waiting with bated breath seemed like a ridiculous notion.
Despite hectic schedules, preconceived notions, and the most heated rivalry in modern surf history, somehow it all came together. The end result was a ten-day purge of feelings, emotional baggage, dispelling rumors, talking it out, and a burying of the hatchet once and for all. Oh, we nearly forgot to mention that the waves were insane! … ”
Kelly Slater released a statement shortly after learning of Andy’s death –
“Andy was an absolutely gifted individual. I’m lucky to have known him and had the times we had together. I feel blessed that we worked through the differences we had and I was able to learn what I’m made of because of Andy. We enjoyed many quiet times together with our girls in the last year and I got to know a happy, funny, innocent kid who was happy to live every second with the people he loved. I’m so sad. My thoughts are with Bruce and Lyndie and their parents and all of his many friends around the world. It’s a huge and far too premature loss for all of us. He was the most intense competitor I’ve ever known and one of the most sensitive people. He had so much life left in him and it hurts to think about. We look forward to his memory living on with our memories of him and his child on the way. There are a lot of uncles awaiting his arrival. I really miss Andy. He had a really good heart. With love, Kelly.”
1974 : Born 24 July in Oahu, Hawaii;
Andy was brought up in the small town of Hanalei on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
1996 : Aged 17. Against seasoned professional surfers, and riding waves that were hitting 25ft, Irons won the 1996 HIC Pipeline Pro competition on the neighbouring island of Oahu. He had to take the day off college to compete in the final.
1997 : The following year, he qualified for the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour.
1998 : Andy Joined the World Championship Tour;
1999 : Irons embraced the tour and, equally passionately, the lifestyle that went with it. “I don’t think I missed a party those first couple of years,” he admitted later. Inevitably, his performances suffered and, at 19, Irons had to qualify for the ASP tour all over again
2008: Inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntingdon Beach, California;
2009: Withdraws from the full ASP World Tour season for personal reasons, but takes part in a few events;
2010: He is granted a wildcard entry for the 2010 ASP World Tour; Wins the Billabong Pro in Tahiti;
ASP World Champion, 2002, 2003 and 2004;
Rip Curl Bells Beach Pro, 2002, 2003;
Quiksilver Pro France champion, 2003, 2004, 2005;
Rip Curl Pro Search title, 2006, 2007.
HIC PIpeline Pro 1996
Billabong Pro 2010 Teahapoo Tahiti
“All he wants to do is win. It’s why he exists. It’s all he thinks about. Winning heats, winning contests, surf, surf, surf, heat, heat, heat, win, win, win,” – Bruce Irons describing Andy at the height of his career.
Andy Irons, was a three-time world champion and the most competitive big-wave surfer of his generation. The “Irons Age” of surfing, as it has been called, lasted from 2002 until 2004.
He won three successive world championships (the first Hawaiian to win more than one) and his battle with Kelly Slater – the most dominant surfer in recent history – in the Pipeline Masters, the final event of the 2003 season, is considered one of the most memorable moments in the sport.
Success brought Irons considerable financial reward. He accumulated almost $1.5m in prize money and substantially more from his major sponsor, the sportswear company Billabong.
“I never even thought I could win one, let alone three [world titles],” Irons said. “I was thinking I’d go on tour, win a contest here and there – whenever the waves were good. It’s so hard to sustain that level for a whole year. It’s still surprising to me that I pulled it off.”
He had time to dwell on his achievements then for, at the beginning of the 2009 season, after 12 years on the circuit and 19 event victories (he was the only surfer to have won every tour event), he decided to take a year out.
“I just got burnt out,” he said. “It happens. I don’t want to be one of those guys who says they don’t care, just staying somewhere in the top 10 for a few more years. I want to win everything or I don’t even want to be there.”
He was granted a wild card for his return to the tour this summer and duly recorded his 20th victory at the Billabong Pro at Tahiti in August.
Footage focusing on Andy Irons, three time World Champion surfer, from the film ‘Still Filthy’
Interview October 14, 2008
Forget what you know about Andy Irons. Better yet, forget what you don’t know, but have been happy to believe.
Over the course of his competitive career, Irons has spent very little time lobbying for fan or media approval.
Instead, he’s been content to let his surfing speak for itself, while the outside world runs rampant with speculative theories on who AI “really” is. From a statistical perspective, Andy’s three consecutive world titles place him firmly in the company of our sport’s greatest champions: Mark Richards, Tom Curren, Kelly Slater.
Yet Andy has not basked in the same universal adoration that other surfing icons have enjoyed – instead, the public has faulted AI for his competitiveness; some have even resented that his titles came at the expense of Kelly Slater.
When I first met Andy Irons last year, I was just as guilty as the rest. I expected to encounter the hyper-focused, ruthless competitor portrayed in Blue Horizon. Instead, I was surprised to meet a gregarious, articulate athlete who seemed just as concerned about his friends’ heat wins as his own.
It struck me that most fans had no clue as to what Andy was really about. The issue only heightened over the last two years, as Irons’ good results became inexplicably sporadic. Andy’s frustrating competitive slide finally came to a head in September, when Irons failed to show up for his heat in France.
It was obvious to fans that something had gone wrong. But without information, the public was left to fill in the blanks on their own.
As is often the case, the real story is a bit more complicated than the rumors. After hearing one too many tall tales, Andy Irons decided it was time to answer some of the questions that have been on fans’ minds.
Q : Why did you no-show for your heat in France?
It was a decision I made after the first heat I paddled out in, the day before, and made a complete fool out of myself. I just wasn’t into it, and I felt like I was going to have a crazy meltdown if I stayed and tried to fake it any longer. It’s hard to explain, but it goes all the way back to J-Bay, where I was freezing cold, miserable, and I truly wanted to lose that heat to Granger [Larsen], and just get the hell out of there. I even gave him a wave hoping he would get the score. Ever since then, it’s like every time I put a jersey on I am slamming my head into a brick wall, and causing myself even more problems with my sponsors, fans, judges, and all these internet bloggers or whatever you call ’em. What people don’t understand is that I am just as confused as they are.
Q : Are you going to the next ASP event, in Brazil?
No Brazil for me! I am in California right now just trying to get my mind right, and taking a break from surfing all together. Been going out to dinner, movies, and I even started working with a trainer. I had a meeting with Billabong the other day, and they are being super cool about this whole deal.
They have seen me struggle, and knew from J-Bay that I have been close to jumping off a building at every event since then. They actually gave me the option to skip Europe all together, but I couldn’t wrap my head around skipping an event I have had so much success at ( Quiksilver Pro France ). So, I went, and was right back at LAX within like 4 or 5 days I think. Pretty heavy few days. Sorry Lyndie!
There’s been a ton of crazy rumors spreading through line-ups and websites about you in the last year. It seems like that would be a pretty tough thing to go through, on a personal level — hearing wild stories about yourself that aren’t true. Has that had an effect on you?
I know people have written a ton of shit about me over the past year. Blair Marlin [Andy’s Manager] has told me bits and pieces of what the word on the streets is, but the other day I picked up his computer and it was on the Fantasy Surfer website. So I got into it for my first time by myself. It’s f**kin radical how mean people are, and how they think they have all the answers. I read a couple things from supporters, but most of ’em just talked about how I was spoiled, or unappreciative, or just some drugged out loser. I tried not to get mad when I read that stuff, but yeah, it fired me up pretty good. How wouldn’t it? Talking about my wife and shit? What the f**k?
I am a professional athlete, which means it’s part of the deal for people to watch me and watch what I do in and out of the water, but I am not some bubbly f**king angel who is going to go out and try to be your best friend. I have my friends, and I surf because it’s what I have always loved doing.
No one really said shit when I was winning about how I acted. Now that I have a bad year, everyone is asking me to change, so let me tell you guys this: I have been on tour for the past 12 years. I have won 3 titles, and come runner-up who f**kin cares how many times. Do any of you people ever think about how draining it is to travel all year long, going to the exact same places, when the waves seem to almost always be shitty, trying to keep a winning attitude?
You don’t see anyone giving Bruce shit about going off tour or losing in France with a 2, but that’s ’cause he never acted like he cared. Figure that shit out… You are on tour to win, and anyone who is on tour that says they don’t want to win is just saying that to make themselves feel better about losing. Dane might be an exception, ’cause he’s a little weird like that, but aside from him everyone cares. Saying they don’t is just a disclaimer.
I don’t want to be one of those guys who says they don’t care, just staying somewhere in the top ten for a few more years. I want to win everything, or I don’t even want to be there. Right now. I am at a point where it doesn’t even matter what the waves are like. I just don’t want to be there, and I don’t want to put a jersey on. “I don’t want to be one of those guys who says they don’t care, just staying somewhere in the top ten for a few more years. I want to win everything, or I don’t even want to be there.”
Q : You’ve gone into the Hawaii leg of the WCT knowing someone else is winning the title before. Do you plan on surfing the Pipe Masters this year?
I wish I could tell you “yeah,” ’cause I love surfing Pipe, but I really don’t know. All I can say is that you won’t see me put on another contest jersey until I am 100% into it.
Q : Any plans yet for the 2009 ASP season?
I don’t know. Is there such thing as having a plan with no plans at all?
Q : Has your brother’s decision to retire from full-time ASP competition affected your perspective on the tour?
Everyone keeps asking me that. I started off saying no, but thinking about getting stuck somewhere like Bells while Bruce is getting perfect waves somewhere is going to drive me crazy. So I guess yeah… It has affected me.
A lot of fans were upset by your no-show in round two in France. A common complaint was “Would Kobe Bryant not show up to a game?” Do you feel like you have an obligation to your fans or the ASP to show up at events?
If Kobe were going to have a meltdown on live TV, I am pretty sure that the coaches would allow him some time off for “personal reasons” to avoid the obvious. Everyone is up my ass about it, so I would imagine Kobe would get all sorts of media heat and the paparazzi would be following him documenting and making their own stories up about what those “personal reasons” might be. Aside from photogs following Lyndie and I to the movies, I am going through the same shit media wise, but this is the first real interview I have done in probably 8 months because I never really knew what my deal was. I am doing this interview for the ASP, and for the fans, but I am doing it for myself too ’cause I am finally comfortable enough to do it. I want you guys to know what has been going through my head, and make you understand why I have been holing myself up in my hotel rooms at every event, only leaving the room to go surf a heat and then going right back under shelter to avoid the questions, or potential run-ins. Creepy, right? I don’t know why. I used to love freesurfing, and cruising with all the boys. It’s just not the same now.
Q : You started out 2008 with renewed focus. Did losing twice in a row to Kelly at the beginning of this season have any effect on your desire to compete?
I have always said, “I can’t get mad at losing if the guy I lost to wins the contest.” Not saying I always followed that rule, but f**k, it sounds good right? Nah, serious… Losing to him didn’t affect my desire to compete.
Q : Judging by body language, you seemed pretty frustrated during losses at Ulus and Trestles. Is that frustration carrying over to your life after heats, or are you leaving it at the beach?
I wish I could tell you that I am leaving it on the beach, but you all know that I am full-on at whatever I do. If I am pissed off leaving the beach after a bad heat, I’m probably not the guy who is going to help your grandma across the street later that afternoon. Depending on why I lost, you used to have to give me at least a day to cool the jets. This year it feels like I have been taking those bad moods all the way across oceans to the next event with me, and I can’t figure out why.
Q : During your reign as World Champ, your rivalry with Kelly Slater seemed to spur you on to great performances. Would you like to battle him for the title next season, or is that no longer a priority in your life?
If I get into it 100% again, yeah I know I can take him down. Right now though, I just want to get my head back on, and fall in love with surfing again for myself. I can leave it to you guys to talk up the rivalry, and world title stuff. Would I kill all of your guys’ dreams if I told you that Kelly and I are actually friends?
Q : If you don’t compete for the title next season, what would your priority be?
Living a happy life is my main priority. You guys may think I am selfish for “wasting my talent” by staying away from events for a bit, but I am finally at a comfortable place where I can honestly say, if you guys see me out on tour again it’s because I am there to win, and I’m going to go 100%. If you don’t see me on tour, it’s because I have found happiness away from winning, and that might be the biggest achievement I could ever accomplish.
Q : Can you envision a scenario when you’re not on tour, and what would that look like to you?
Getting the best waves around the world with guys like Bruce, Shane-O and Rasta would be sick. I have never dealt with an open calendar, and to think I could take off to places like Tahiti, and P-Pass on a days notice to get barreled sounds like a dream to me.
Q : You’ve always been pegged as the ultimate competitive animal. You’ve gotten older, won three titles – has that changed for you?
Yeah, it really has changed. Those titles were my life goal, but I’ve realized getting them is a type of temporary happiness. It would all reset as soon as you got to Snapper the following year. So I am not the guy who wants to eat you for breakfast anymore when we are in heats together. That shit will drive you crazy, if you stay in that mode for too long.
Take my word for it, or just keep making up your own theories.