At 28 years of age,, AI is bigger and sharper looking than the young lion who assaulted the world tour in 1998, who self-destructed and then bounced back to win the world title in 2002. The long, blond locks of early 2006 are gone, no doubt much to the dismay of many female fans, but as he says: "I wanna be cleaner now. The '80s are over and I'm in with the new millennium."

He's also warier about everything, including the press. Getting AI to sit still for more than the obligatory two-minute post-heat sound bite these days is no piece of cake. "I dodge the interviews pretty good," he admits. Unfortunately for him, the house is right next door to SURFING's North Shore HQ. Andy's surrounded. He surrenders with a slight grin. Here's a snapshot of AI, half-shaven and fired up about the Pipe contest, right before he turns a frustrating year around with a career best heat score and a win over his great competitive rival.

Describe for me the competitive impulses in you. How it feels for you.

ANDY IRONS: I use it when it's there. I don't really control it. It's something, I don't know what, it's deep down, it's DNA, in my structure, my being, the way I am. It's almost a fury, like a rage, and I think that's one of the deepest emotions you can have. It definitely pushes everything about me. When I need it, and when I don't need it sometimes.

What do you do when it pops up and you don’t want it around?

Oh, f–k, that's the problem. That's usually when I get in trouble. That's when I say something I end up regretting or break a board or do something stupid.

You’re part of a really elite group of surfers, world champions, who all seem to have something that connects them together. Do you feel a part of this?

Definitely. It's cool. It's almost like you're part of this secret society or something. You've got this unspoken knowledge of what they've gone through and they know what you've gone through, because a world title can change your whole life. It can change your whole deal. It's weird -- different eras, different times, but it's still the same dream. All the guys in that group seem to have a certain fire that's gotten them where they are today.

In January 2006, on SURFING's Champs trip,Andy surfed P-Pass with such impossible athleticism and skill that to imagine him NOT being world champion this year seemed kinda ridiculous. Then 2006 happened, and with it dispiriting losses. In Teahupo'o he shotgun-claimed a fourth round heat on the last ride against Dean Morrison…and lost instead by a hundredth of a point. In Mexico he smashed everyone, then lost it all with a 33rd to Roy Powers in the very next event. Before the Pipe final, he'd dropped back to fifth on the rankings, his biggest backward step since the spectacular collapse of 1999. Andy's mouth twitches sourly at the question -- he knew it was coming, but he didn't like it all the same.

For the full interview, Check out SURFING’s April 2007 issue.

Check out SURFING’s new April `07 Hawaii Issue with the 2007 Swim Suit issue. The newest issue includes:

Electric wetsuits in the Artic Circle. By Jake Patterson

Wake of the flood on the North Shore.

The three-time world champ takes you inside the heat of the year. By Nick Carroll and Evan Slater

Surf {{{Rocky}}} Point with Mikala Jones, Use lineups with Makua and rescue a drowner.

-Take a look now