The news of 3-times surfing world champ Andy Irons' untimely passing came up mid-day yesterday. I found out through a simple text from my brother, "Andy Irons dead." I didn't immediately believe it. I scoured the internet, but this was before reports had really been confirmed. A co-worker of his at Toddland had a contact within the surf industry, but I was still unbelieving. It seemed too odd. I never met Andy Irons. I never had a reason to feel anything more than respect for the man's phenomenal surfing ability. But when I saw on SurferMag.com and then on the ASP website that the rumors were in fact true, it hurt. For some reason, this season, I found myself rooting for AI. In the past, he'd always struck me as an arrogant asshole that took surf contests far too personally. In his heyday, he was Yang to Kelly Slater's Yin. Kelly the white knight, Andy the black knight. Or however you want to put it. But then he took a year off. He got married. And returned to the Dream Tour, seemingly a new man. I noticed it in his interviews during the Tahiti contest. Teahupoo was a place he'd had some success, but Teahupoo wasn't itself. Waves were small and the contest was hardly one meant for barrel-riding. But with each heat win, he'd do the post-heat chat for the webcam and he seemed so genuinely excited and was constantly sending love and good thoughts to his wife, Lyndie, who was back in Hawaii, pregnant with the couples first child.
Like I said, I never knew AI, so I can only make assumptions. But that year off changed him. Getting married changed him. Knowing he was going to be a father changed him. And for the first time, I hoped he could pull out a win. I realize how inconsequential this may be, considering people much closer to him must be in the worst kind of pain, but he struck me as someone who had finally gotten his priorities in order and was so happy and stoked on life. And then for this to happen, it just struck me as so very unfair. Unfair to his wife, his family, his friends, his unborn child and all of the people that supported him through the years. But in some twisted way, it was almost appropriate that it happened during this contest, when both the men and women were at the same spot -- and with Kelly Slater, his arch-rival for all those years, on the cusp of yet another world title. Coincidence, certainly.
One thing I've always respected about the surfing community is its sense of family. Paddle-outs are relatively common when a surfing legend or just some lifelong surfer dies, but they're always touching. They follow tradition and it's a way for people to come together in a way that celebrates that particular person in an environment that somewhat defined them. In a couple days time, the passing of Andy Irons will barely be on my mind, but for the past 24 hours and until that does happen, it makes me vastly aware of my own mortality. You never know how or when, just that it will happen. My heartfelt condolences to AI's loved ones.
Aloha and mahalo, AI.
Below are two videos that serve as celebrations of AI and his surfing life. The first was put together by Surfing Life Magazine about the memorial paddleout in Puerto Rico, the day after AI's death. A number of fellow Dream Tour competitors offer there thoughts about AI and what his passing means to them. The second is a video produced by Billabong as part of its "I surf because" campaign. From what I know, the video came out during the Tahiti contest, AI's last tour win. Enjoy.