He’s won three World Titles and four Triple Crowns, and that’s reason enough to qualify Andy Irons for any list of greatest surfers of all time, no question about it. But lets forget that. Let’s put the crowns and the titles aside for a second, because if you know Andy and you’ve seen him surf when he’s on his game, when he’s unconscious and in the realm—up there in the rare air of the gifted— then you know the victories and accolades are just the chocolates at the end of the meal. A sweet reminder of the experience.
Andy’s one of a handful of surfers—and there are only a few of them—whose talent stretches beyond usual definitions of “good” or “great” or “excellent.” These are guys who can do things on waves most people can’t fathom, things that have no basis in logic because to normal surfers, even to good surfers, they’re impossible.
I saw it when Andy was in high school and about to turn pro. I went to Kauai for a few days to surf with him, and get to know him a little. The first day I paddled out and watched him absolutely obliterate this 4-foot wave. He saw me paddling, as the wave was about to end, and must have thought, “Shit, I better do something good here,” because he popped this 360-air and lands it as if to say, “Here’s my resume.” I knew right then I had to sponsor him and that he was going all the way.
A few years later, we went for a surf at Sunset. It was 8- to 10-foot—big enough for me to ride an 8’10” and still be nervous. Andy was riding a 6’6”, saying it looks “fun.” I saw him take off late on a set wave, do a few pumps, then turn mid-face, go up on the roof of it, and do a floater. A friggin’ floater at Sunset Beach! Like it’s Pinetrees on a Friday afternoon after school, weekend on the way, no cares, no worries.
Andy is pure. As pure a surfer as you’ll ever meet. He’s Hawaiian, and all he’s done his whole life is surf. His fame, his fortune, and everything that has come with it are not natural for him, and he doesn’t manage them well. I remember before his first World Title, he was having trouble keeping his focus and I told him that if he wanted to be World Champion he could, but if it didn’t happen, no big deal.
He said, “You really think I can win it?”
I said, “For sure.”
He said, “Wow, that’s heavy…”
As if I had just told him about a tsunami in Florida, or a fire in downtown Honolulu.—Michael Tomson