Get a man down to his rawest form and he'll do anything to survive, said AI.
“I was handed the keys to the kingdom, multi-million dollar deals, endorsements. Everyone wanted a piece of my shit. Just a man with a mind for victory and an arm like a fucking cannon. But sometimes when you bring the thunder, you get lost in the storm.” Kenny Powers, Eastbound and Down.
Andy Irons brought the thunder. In 2003, he was a total outside shot for the world title coming into Hawaii, his second in a row. In the front seat was 31-year-old Kelly Slater at his peak, the best, and most successful, surfer in history. The dominos fell his way and Andy made Kelly Slater, who’d never tried and lost, cry in the process.
Andy won again the next year.
In 2005, he fell just 48 points short of his fourth consecutive world title, despite winning the Pipe Masters. In 2006, he was again runner-up to Kelly Slater.
Three titles in a row, followed by two runner-ups. Now, you tell me if Andy Irons isn’t the most awesome surfer to come out of Hawaii.
In November 2009, one year before his death in Texas, I made a four-day sortie to the North Shore with my friend Sam. We shacked up with Andy and his wife Lyndie at the Billabong-owned Off The Wall house. Stacks of the most perfectly foiled Merricks and Arakawas filled the kitchen.
Andy and Lyndie ran in the midday heat, pounded sit-ups in the front yard, ate from a well-stacked fridge, and watched episodes of Eastbound and Down at night.
This interview took place in the downstairs room of the OTW crib, our brief home. Andy wore a black long-sleeved Billabong t-shirt, low-rise black Kustom shoes teamed with white socks, and black shorts with the 33-inch waistband folded over so they didn’t slip off his suddenly narrow hips.
His skin had lost its albino pink and was a soft gold. His hair was long enough to sweep off his forehead and was smooth and an even yellow, like Barbie hair that’s been brushed to flaxen perfection.
Andy Iron might’ve got lost in a storm in 2008, but he was so back.
BEACHGRIT: Talk to me about you and Kelly coming in to Hawaii for the title in 2003.
ANDY: I went to Brazil, I was leading the ratings and Kelly needed to make semis or betters. I lost in the quarters to Taylor, literally lost my heat because I wanted to go home, because I was so homesick, and it was the worst mistake of my life. Kelly ended up winning, Taj got second, and Kelly took the lead by, like, 300 points. Back then, we had two events in Hawaii, Sunset and Pipe. I told Kelly I was coming for him. Jake and I went all the way to the final together at Sunset. I remember when Kelly lost I told him, I’m fucking coming for ya! You left the door open! Jake looked over and went, You’re crazy! And, I was, like. I’m not, but I’m coming for ya, Kelly! I was smoking! I was pumping!
BEACHGRIT: How was your mind in 2003 when it looked like KS was going to stomp you?
ANDY: I was over it. I was ready to quit. And the funniest thing is, Mick is the one who told me to stick with it. I was staying with Mick at the Red Bull house and I told Mick, second’s a good result, runner-up to Kelly. I’ve won one world title, I never thought I’d win one, I’m done, I don’t care. I just want to party, have fun and live my life. And Mick’s like, What are you talking about? There’s still Sunset and Pipe. And, it was a long shot. It literally worked out like a storybook. Word for word, how I’d dream for it work out, in my favour. Obviously, Kelly’s book might’ve ended a little different.
BEACHGRIT: Talk about the mental fritz of a sudden-death showdown.
ANDY: Kai (Garcia, Andy’s trainer and minder) wouldn’t let me surf Pipeline until the Pipe Masters in 2002, the first title I won. He didn’t want me to hurt myself. It got to the point where he literally kept me in the house so I wouldn’t hurt myself, falling down the stairs, or going to the movies and tripping down something. I got kept in a bubble.
BEACHGRIT: Do you need to hate your enemy? When you beat Kelly, you could’ve killed him.
ANDY: HA HA HA! I didn’t hate him! I mean, shit, I wanted to punch him in the face a couple of times, but yeah, whatever! It was a pride thing! I fucking wanted to win a world title myself just like everyone wants a world title, and I thought that he was being greedy. (Thinks about it for a while) Y’know, I think there is an essence of hate. Deep down, man is fucking weird, man has holy wars, man blows people up. Deep down, human emotion, raw emotion, is weird. Get a human down to his rawest form and he’ll do whatever it takes to survive. And, competition’s the essence of being a human. I mean, shit, you mightn’t want to kill that guy to make your life go on, but if you have to, you’ll do it.
BEACHGRIT: (Warning, dreadful sycophancy to follow) You clearly had to draw on the rawest emotions to beat Kelly at his peak. No one else has done it. You beat someone who was unbeatable for the previous 12 years. Only one person has done it!
ANDY: Who else did it?
BEACHGRIT: No one, you’re it!
ANDY: Just me, huh.
(Claps all round, maybe even a few tears from the interviewer.)
BEACHGRIT: You made Kelly cry, that’s how vicious and competitive you were.
ANDY: I make my brother cry so that’s a compliment. I only hurt the ones I love.
BEACHGRIT: You know what I wish? I wish I could just hang you all the time and just, like, do whatever you do and just, like, learn from your and aid you…
ANDY: Aid me?
BEACHGRIT: Yeah! You know, like a good friend that will be there for you… always.
ANDY: Like an assistant?
BEACHGRIT: Yeah…no…yeah or, like, like a (softly) best friend.
ANDY: Fuck, dude! An assistant! I mean, this could be just the fucking key. I’m trying to get back into the big leagues, man. It’s a huge task! I could use somebody like you. To do all my bullshit, my fucken running around.
BEACHGRIT: How about next year? Is Kenny Powers back?
ANDY: Fuck yeah! I’m going back to the tour! Money’s tight these days, I got mortgages to pay, I got a wife and some kids on the way…
BEACHGRIT: You got kids in the frier?
ANDY: Not yet, but we’ll see. Practising a lot.
BEACHGRIT: I heard your new crib is pretty sweeet.
ANDY: Mine? I got a mean house, but I can’t live it. I gotta pay it off.
BEACHGRIT: Vacation rentals are v good for beachfront houses. Eight gees a week sometimes.
ANDY: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but fuck that old saying, buy property! They tell you, buy it, it’s not going anywhere! Fuck that. Nothing beats cold hard cash in the bank. the best thing you can do. I just got back from town today, deposition, with a lawyer…
BEACHGRIT: Is it to do with the thief who ripped you and Bruce off and who then died in a ravine in Florida or somewhere?
ANDY: Oh, he died alright. Good for him. He got what he deserved. I didn’t have nothing to do with it, either. By the way, on the record, I did… not… send… anyone…
(Interviewer shrieks like a girl seeing her first lover undressing)
BEACHGRIT: Tell me how you felt in 2003 when you won the title…
ANDY: I wanted to savour it. I didn’t black out! HA HA HA! You can be amazed. I… did… not… black… out. I got a hotel room at the Turtle Bay with Lyndie. I went to my suite and savoured every single second. I savoured it to the next morning and to the next week.
BEACHGRIT: If two thousand and three was a glorious win, tell me about a bad loss.
ANDY: I lost a world title in Brazil. The three years I won were the awesomest. But, the next two years, my demise, were the hardest. Fuck yeah! When I lost in Brazil to Hedgey. If I’d made that heat against Hedgey I would’ve won the world title, I would’ve won four in a row. Yep. 05. I lost by 48 points. Billabong still gave me a bonus. Not a world title bonus, but they gave me 30 per cent of the world title bonus.
BEACHGRIT: The difference was 48 points, the second closest world title in history (the closest was 38 points, when Kelly beat Mick Campbell in 1998).
ANDY: I was one heat away! I was in the fucken quarter-finals. I had Hedgey! Fuck, Hedgey in Brazil, I got him, it’s on! I came out of the gates with an eight – they were scoring me high. I was, like, oh yeah, I’m on, I’ve got this. And then, he came back and got a nine-five. And, I got a seven and he got an eight. If I’d won that one heat and then won Pipe, which I did, I would’ve won four titles in a row. No one knows that I would’ve won the world title if I’d made that heat.
BEACHGRIT: How do you deal with it and not just melt into the carpet?
ANDY: You just deal with it, fuck! What if I didn’t win any world titles? What if? What if? What if the world ended yesterday, we would not be here! What if? I mean, fuck, I could drown all day in what-ifs. I’m not going to worry about tomorrow, because you don’t even know what’s going to happen right now.