If there was anybody that came into the 2008 season under the microscope more than Mick Fanning it very well could have been Andy Irons. Yes, he won an event in Chile last year, and also finished sixth in the world, which would constitute a brilliant, career-best go at it for every other human, but we're talking about a guy renown for his nerves—a guy who's won at almost every venue in the world—except the Gold Coast, which makes things even more interesting. And while Taj, Parko and Kelly appeared to be in the mix all season long, come the end of '07, in form uncharacteristic to the three-time world champ, Andy fell out of contention early.
The good news—the heart-of-a-champion shit—is that he's spent the down months refocusing, reevaluating, and ultimately reinventing himself. And if his performance in Australia thus far is any indication of things to come, to steal a bad clich, fools better recognize.
Keeping a low profile in the quiet sanctum of Hanalei, he methodically put the work in this winter. "Andy's going to be a force, I don't know if I've ever seen him this focused," told Ian Walsh after bearing witness to an especially demonstrative performance.
And by the time he hit Aussie waters, reinvigorated and sporting a snappy high-and-tight hairdo, he clearly arrived a new man. The warning shot across the bow came on a particularly hollow, particularly heavy day at Straddie a week or so ago, where he showed why he's credited as one of the best tube riders on the planet. In a lineup studded with ASP stars, he had the shine.
A day or two later he hit a bit of a speed bump after getting a thorough flogging on the rocks at a spot just around the bend from Snapper. With feet torn to shreds his performance in Round One was debatable. Ah, but proving it was just a flesh wound, he vaulted back into the saddle with an authoritative trouncing of trials winner, 15-year-old Tamaroa McComb. To be honest, he practically had the heat won before paddling out. Tamaroa was visibly rattled, taking most of the heat just to get a halfway decent score.
Then there was the free surf session at D-Bah later in the morning. With Mick, Parko, brother Bruce and a host of others out, Andy once again stole the spotlight. Pulling into an impossible right-hand tube, he transcended multiple sections before literally flying out at the end. Again, he captured the session.
So yeah, it may be safe to say that Andy's back. It may also be safe to say the bloody Aussies aren't going to be holding onto the world title trophy for too long. True, we're only two rounds into a very long, very demanding season—a season in which he'll be tested by more great surfers than ever before—but hey, he's done it before. Why couldn't he do it again?
Oh yeah, and the contest. Others surfed today as well. Wildcard Julian Wilson, for the second year in a row, demonstrated that he's much more than just a "Young Gun," that he's quite capable of performing at a world-class level. Smoothing out his lines since last year, and going for broke only when the opportunity truly presented itself, he eliminated the heavy-footed Pancho Sullivan. And of course—no update would be complete without it—Dane Reynolds won his heat in predictably spectacular fashion, as did Jordy Smith.
So the contest marches on. There's a big low-pressure system expected to hit the Gold Coast at the end of the week, which means plenty of rain. It also means plenty of swell. The word on the street is that it could easily be 8-foot, and contest organizers are considering moving down to Kirra, which is holding an especially clean sand bank at the moment. Stay tuned, because it's only going to get better from here on out.