Remembering Our Own World Champ

Andy Irons raises his world championship trophy (he defended his title) after winning
the Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters in December 2003. Applauding is Kelly Slater

By GARY KEWLEY

This is difficult. Sure, life’s supposed to be hard. Suffering is basic to our existence. I can accept that … but not a great champion dying young.

When I first got word at 10:30 a.m. on Election Tuesday, I didn’t, I could-n’t believe my e-mail inbox: “Andy Irons is dead.”

What? No way! Who says? Wrong!

In a state of wishful thinking, I rushed to find some monumental media error or stupid hoax. I learned the tragic truth. The news was real. Then I was on the phone and updating surfnewsnetwork.com for more than five hours straight, trying to keep up my work and strength. I called a few close friends … and cried.

I was, like the many who cried, just a fan and fellow surfer to Andy Irons. But, to most of us, Andy was much more. He was personal inspiration. He was raw talent with competitive fire and “Iron Will.”

And he was real. What you saw was what you got. Few can relate to Andy’s God-given surfing ability, but most can relate to his humanity. Andy got mad and let it show. Andy got stoked and claimed it. Andy fell down and got back up.

For this rare combination, Andy was liked and loved around the globe.

I recall that day when Andy won his first big event that hinted at his stellar future. It was the 1997 Xcel Pro at Sunset Beach.

He was just 19 … and just warming up. Watching him ride his last wave to the beach, I noticed the distinct stylish lines he drew – his speed and carve were perfect and mature.

Andy Irons at home on
Kaua‘i in January 2009

“Geez, what is this? Who is this?” I thought. We talked story for 10 minutes, his joy and adrenaline still pumping. I was as tall as he at the time (I think) and Andy was even a little pudgy. He was a friendly and real person with aloha. I should add another thing: Something in his eyes spoke of purpose and power. I watched in curious admiration as he walked off, alone.

Only five years later, AI was a world champion and would be for three consecutive years! For more than four years (2005 to ’09) I covered Hawaii’s greatest competitive surfer of all time for MidWeek Oahu. Along the way, AI nailed three straight world titles, four Triple Crowns and four Pipe Masters.

Oh, and in his career he won every single event on the ASP World Tour. No one has yet to match this record, including nine-time world champ Kelly Slater.

It should be noted that Slater said Andy was the “only surfer who ever scared me.” He was a raw, fierce competitor who beat Kelly when it counted most.

Andy amassed an amazing total of 20 world tour wins! The last one was this year in Tahiti’s death-defying barrels at Teahupoo. When waves had consequence, Irons had dominance.

Andy once humbly said that guys like Kelly come around every 1,000 years.

Well, AI, you gave him – and all of us – the biggest and best rivalry in surfing history. You, AI, took the Sport of Kings to new heights of performance, not to mention media power. It was an epic time, one for the millennium! You are forever surfing royalty. We are all forever blessed to have you in our lives.

In closing, here are some of my favorite Andy Irons quotes:

“It’s all about the feeling I get from riding that wave.”

“That first wave is the reason why I keep coming back … I remember the first wave I caught clear as day … and I thought this is the coolest thing in the world. To the day I die … that was one of the purest moments of my whole life and it always will be.”

“If you catch a good wave, you’re hooked right then and there.”

“I surf because I’m always a better person when I come in.”

Surfing is better because of Andy Irons, as are so many of us surfers.

Gary Kewley is CSO (Chief Surfing Officer) of the Surf News Network, www.surfnewsnetwork.com

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