Teahupoo, with Dorian dangling in the wall. Photo: Servais/A-Frame
Imperfect and beloved for it, Andy Irons’ fire burned white hot. Three years since his death, he’s transcended humanity and become the stuff of mythology. “He was the peoples’ champion,” says Kamalei Alexander, who grew up with Andy on Kauai. “He showed everybody that you can come from nothing and be a world champion.” With nerves forged in Hawaiian waters, nobody wanted it more than Andy. When he was at the height of his power in the early 2000s he was virtually unbeatable. He won at events at every location on tour, a feat that’s only been replicated by his arch nemesis Kelly Slater. Their rivalry has come to define all that is great about competitive surfing. “It’s like the white knight versus the black knight,” Andy would say. Seeing himself as the opposition to the surf establishment, when Kelly came back from retirement he only held six world titles, and Andy wasn’t about to give him another. “He has enough, it’s my turn,” said Andy. He’s still the only person to have really pushed Kelly to his limits year after year. “He brought out the best in me,” said Kelly after Andy’s untimely death in 2010. “We didn’t always get along, there were times we hated each other, but we always loved each other at the same time, I think.” So many of the intricacies of surfing swing around the issue of respect: respect at Pipeline, respect as a competitor, respect as a waterman. Andy’s life may have been cut short, but respect is timeless and he’ll always be plush with it.
In Portugal 2010, the last time AI was seen in public. Photo: Joli