His death is a black mark but his life was a bright light.
Today is Andy Irons’ birthday and there are a lot of happy birthday posts and stories and bits but the best belongs to Matt Biolos. He said, succinctly and beautifully:
We all miss this guy so much. For those who knew him, it was more than just his surfing. It was his character and vitality, his humility and his vulnerability…that when combined, made for a fascinating human, Even without the stellar surfing performances. With all the tributes today, I am going out on a limb and stating that his passing is a dark mark on our surf ” industry”, and should be looked at as a sad lesson to all who were close to Andy, and to those who know and love friends and family with problems. We can’t turn a blind eye to things, and should be more aggressive with helping others through difficult issues …not over look, avoid or ignore them. With all his powerful friends and sponsors, This death should have never happened. Long Live AI.
Here is a last ever interview. Enjoy…
The surfing magazine plays a dishonest hand. We gild the pro surfer’s life as the greatest aspiration but for so much it’s a life spent in pressurised aluminium tubes and at airports, feet folded under chairs, food served in foil-wrapped rectangles, headphones over ears, with backpacks as pillows.
Who talks of this loneliness? Who tells you when you’re 12 years old and ruling the beach all you want to be is an ASP professional? Who tells you that when you make it, in just nine months you’ll travel from Australia to Brazil to South Africa to Tahiti to California to Europe to Puerto Rico to Hawaii and home again just in time for Christmas?
Who tells you of the overnight layovers in anonymous airport hotels? Another check-in, another wake-up call, another mini-bar, another phone call to the woman you love. And, then, when you get to the other side of the world, you wait around in more hotel rooms for two weeks for a contest to run.
Dream Tour? Yeah, it is. But it ain’t always dreamy.
Four years ago today, Andy Irons died in a Texas hotel room, bed sheets pulled to his neck, an empty Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup on the floor beside him, six thousand clicks from a wife pregnant with his son Axel and a home gilded by the rays of a Hanalei sun.
I spoke to AI before he flew to Puerto Rico about his fears, his loves, about recurring dreams and about a comeback year punctuated by the exclamation mark of a surprise win at Teahupoo. Surprising because after a year-and-a-half on the sidelines, the Champ was a long way off his peak. In a cartoon I wrote shortly before his death, Kelly Slater and Andy Irons muse on the loneliness of competition.
The week before I spoke to Andy, I’d been in the Canary Islands with his little brother, Bruce, and we’d recorded an unusually thoughtful late-night conversation.
In both interviews both men said the same thing.
Andy: “If I ever lost my brother, I don’t know what I’d do. I couldn’t live without him.”
Bruce: “Andy’s my brother and I don’t know what I’d do if he weren’t around.”
Andy Irons was full of hope, he was frank, he was friendly and his gift for surfing was innate. And now? Now? The party’s over, the chairs are upside down on tables and the lights are off. The fat lady has, to quote AI, honked her horn.
DR: Is that the Champ?
AI: Is that Rielly? I know that voice…
Hey, I’m talking to the fucken Champ!
The people’s champ! That’s me! Fuck yeah! (Laughing) Fuck yeah, how y’doin, brah?
I’m good, if y’count owning balls like peanuts good. I know you’re good. After Tahiti, you’ve got your comeback locked down tight like a little girls tuna (Editor’s note. This is a quote from AI’s favourite show, Eastbound and Down, series two. It ain’t me being a weirdo.)
Yeah, yeah! Kenny Powers, bro.
Kenny fucken Powers. Andy fucken Irons.
Kenny fucken Powers! You know that! Hey, so what are we doing? What…what… what’s this whole deal (interview) about, D? Is this for the (Stab hardcover) book?
Yeah. Y’know how it is. It ain’t a book without The Champ inside. Last year we shot you for an interview about your awesome style…
You should see me right now. First time in three years, bro, that I’m down to my gold comp weight, 176. This winter it…is…fucken…on, brah. Fucken major Kenny Powers way.
You’re so fucken back.
My results don’t speak for themselves (apart from Tahiti), but I fucken haven’t surfed so much in ages, brah. I’ve been surfing two times a day with Freddie P and Dusty Payne. Dusty Payne. That kid fucken pumps me up! He’s my new Cory Lopez. I lost Lopey (from the tour) and I’ve frickin’ finally got some sparring partners. Dusty’s the coolest, gnarliest little kid. Full Maui style, brah. Those guys, they’re a different breed, brah. Dusty is awesome.
Dusty’s gold, almost as gold as his reddish-gold hair.
He’s fucken classic as shit.
I just came back from the Canaries with your brother. He’s supersonic, too.
How’s this? I was in Madrid on the way to Portugal and I’m going, this guy looks like my brother and he goes, “It is your fucken brother.” He comes up on me… (laughs)… all creepy and sweaty, introduced Evan Geiselman to me as Evan…(laughs) Geiselfuck! And, then he showed me footage of this wave-pool thing. It was fucken sick, but, wave-pool’s are so hard to surf. Y’gotta read those things like the fucken Matrix!
Did Bruce tell you about all the poor bastards in wheelchairs in Tenerife?
The Canary Islands? Wheelchairville?
Yup, go to a hotel and instead of hire car booths in the lobby, there’s a rack of motorised wheelchairs…
Hey, how good is this! We went to a party with some locals at the beach and all our shit got ripped off!
(Laughs) Holy shit (laughs)… hey, so, let’s do this interview or have we been doing it? (Laughs)
Got a few lil gems. But, tell me, whenever I spoke to Bruce I always referred to him as The Champ’s Brother. I’d knock on his door and yell, “That the Champ’s Brother?”
I love it!
Does Bruce call you The Champ at home?
Fuck, I am the people’s champ, brah. You know, Slater’s taking 10 this year and it’s making my three look all the more… I told him, “Get that 10 and make my three look that much cooler, brah, cause I’m the only one who took you out.” And he laughed and I said, “No, I’m serious.”
Late at night, in bed, what keeps you awake, what are you fears?
I’m an insomniac. I’m awake all the time, anyway, but my fears are fucken failure, letting down my family, my wife and I’m, fuck, I’m scared to be a quadriplegic, I’ll tell you that right now. A friend of mine’s in a wheelchair now from surfing and that sometimes pops into my mind at night and shit what with the waves we surf. I don’t think I could ever handle it. I’m a wild animal but that would really crash my spirit.
When you need to put your mind in a good place, what beautiful memories do you revive?
I still go back to my first surf at the pier, aged seven. Riding this wave that didn’t really break and it was the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life. I went left, right, left and the wave didn’t really break and I was on the glide. I remember my dad being so proud that I stood up and rode the wave for as long as I did.
What childhood dreams have stuck with you?
It’s usually, I’m on top of a mountain and I’m trying to stand on the pinnacle without falling off. The wind gets really strong and it turns into this radical Wizard of Oz trip with the wind coming up and with lightning bolts appearing around. It starts to rain and the mountain starts getting real slippery. What does it mean? Probably, that I’m trying to hold on.
Have you ever truly believed you were about to die?
Fuck, yeah! I’ve had some moments, even turbulence in an airplane, where I felt f’sure the plane might crash. I’ve even had planes crashing in my dreams and woken up on a plane. The other nightmare I have is, I’m on a plane and the bottom’s made of glass and it starts cracking. But, fuck, that wave in Tahiti where I got stuck in the lip and froze with fear and just made it? I really felt like I might be physically hurt then. That wave was, literally, a major moment in my life. I remember telling Mark Healy that I’d pulled back on a wave, that I’d fagged out, and he said, “The next one, just put your head down and go”. Bruce was actually trying to get that wave and he said, “Y’better go, FAG!” and the next thing you know I was in the lip and held up and…fucken… I was about to jump, I couldn’t move, I was petrified with fear, literally frozen with fear. I made the wave frozen with fear. I couldn’t move my arm or anything. Somehow it worked out and I didn’t land on my head and get my neck broken. But, it was the wave of my life. I think about that wave all the time.
Talk to me about failure.
To me, failure is not living up to my potential. The whole world title thing was my major drive. I didn’t want to have that Taj Burrow thing where you surf so good but you don’t have a world title. I didn’t want to have that burden. That’s what drove me to take on Kelly. I couldn’t handle being 40 years old and living on Kauai and people telling me, “Oh you should’ve won the world title but you didn’t quite put it together.”
What’s your greatest achievement?
It’s going to be in December. It’s coming. Little Axel Jason Irons is on his way. The name Jason is my cousin’s name. Jason’s my hero. It’s my dad’s brother’s kid. My dad tried to get me surfing, but it scared the shit out of me and it turned me off. And, Jason, who I looked up to my whole life, is a Shane Dorian-kinda guy, a genuine good person. He surfs like Tom Carroll mixed with Occy. He rides for Billabong and it’s a major reason why I ride with Billabong now. He’s my fucken hero. He’s a stud. Always been the nicest, coolest badass, but in the best way. No showboating and when it comes down to it, just everything I’d like to be like. He’s seven years older than me and I’ve always tried to tag along with him. I tried to comb my hair like him, fucken, you name it, whatever he had or did, I had to get or do. When he got into BMX, we (AI and Bruce) got into BMX. He showed me Pump and Surf Into Summer (iconic Billabong surf films), he got me into surf magazines, everything about surfing I’m doing today, is because of him.
What would you change about your life?
Not a thing. Everything’s a learning curve. There’s a couple of things (laughs) I’d like to take back, but fuck, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today. You gotta go in the mud sometimes to figure out who you are. I’ve had my fair share of hills and valleys, but life’s been radical and exciting. Stuff that kings would die to do. Straight-up, fuckin A. The lifestyle we’ve got and the lifestyle I’ve led since I was 17, I couldn’t even tell my friends. I try and tell stories and they think I’m making it up or I saw it in a fucken movie. Straight up. It’s the life I wanted since I caught my first wave.
Do you have a fear of being broke?
Fuck no! I come from humble beginnings. As long as I have a surfboard, a pair of trunks and a roof over my head and, if I don’t a have a roof a tent, I mean, I’ll be happy and a hippy living on bananas. Me and my bother have lived with my mum in a fricken place with no kitchen. What I have now is beautiful and all but I could go back the other way and live like that if I had to. But, I’m not gonna.
Do you have a fear of prison?
Shit yeah. That would break me. I’ve had friends that’ve gone in wild animals and come out numb.
What do you like most about your body?
My feet. They’re not too jacked up. Everything else is pretty blown out and scarred up. My feet handle it.
Who or what is your greatest love?
My wife, right now, she’s fricken… ah, wait… you know what, I’m sorry, but surfing. Surfing’s the only thing that’s always been there day in, day out, fucken girlfriend breakups, fucken report card fails, surfing always makes you feel better. No matter what, when I’m in the water, even if I don’t catch a wave and just swim in the ocean, I always come out a better person.
Do you fear losing the love of your life?
If I ever lost Lyndie or my parents or my brother, I don’t know what I’d do. I couldn’t live without them.
If you weren’t The Champ, who would you like to be and why?
I admire a lot of people for different reasons, for their different traits and for the different values they have. But, I don’t know man, everyone has their own problems. Everyone’s got ‘em. It doesn’t matter who you are, there’s always something wrong with ‘em. I’m happy with myself.
Enough of the fruity shit. How’s that pussy palace of yours?
The home at Hanalei? I call it the Hanalei Bomber. It’s radical, it’s my dream. I grew up across the street in my dad’s toolshed that we turned into a bedroom and it’s four houses across from the water. It’s everything I thought I wouldn’t or couldn’t have. It’s more than I could possibly fathom. No one handed it to me. I had to fucken go and do it myself. And, it’s my proudest accomplishment.
Anything y’wanna tell the world, now that AI is back?
People have actually been so… fucken … cool with wanting me to come back. People that didn’t even like me, who thought I wan an arrogant little fucker, are now coming outta the woodwork and being stoked. Richie Collins (radical Californian pro surfer of the eighties) sent Lyndie an email today telling me to stick with it and how stoked he was that I was back on the world tour and how much he likes to watch me and that he only tunes in (on the webcast) to see if I’m there. To me, that’s the ultra fucken compliment.
We all missed The Champ.
I swear, I don’t know what it was, but, yeah, I mean, shit, it’s been a trip. In Portugal, after my heats, people were coming up to me and all kinds of cool shit. Back in the day, it was sour apples and a couple of threats but I haven’t had that in a long time. It’s getting me really motivated to try and do good, you know, put my better foot forward.
Is it a good time to bet on the champ?
Ha! I don’t want the pressure of fucken losing someone else’s money. But, I’m not going to pull that spoiled brat tantrum shit anymore. That was old Andy. The new Andy is still real passionate, but fricken, I’m gonna try my fucken hardest until the fat lady horns.