“Snapshots of Andy”
It’s been seven years since I was sitting in a cheap hotel room in Puerto Rico and received the news that Andy Irons was gone. We’d been unable to connect at Rip Curl Search contest site. His cousin, Rick, was there and had asked if I’d seen him. We compared notes, inquired with a few friends and found out he’d been sick, withdrawn from the contest and decided to head home to be with Lyndie. The plan was to recover in time for the Triple Crown and comfort her in the late stages of her pregnancy. Like Lyndie and all of his friends and family, I never got a chance to say goodbye. Seven years down the track, sometimes it’s still hard to believe he’s not around.
I still see him hoisting the 2007 Pipe Masters trophy after narrowly edging out Kelly Slater in what could have been the single greatest heat ever surfed. Emotions are raw and exposed. He’s shaking with uncontrolled excitement. Rabid. Frothing. The thrill of victory—or the kill—has him amping. Before he can extend his arms above his head his wet hands slip. He drops the big, bronze sculpture on this face. Blood runs down the bridge of his nose. He doesn’t even blink. Doesn’t even notice. Soon the awards ceremony is over and he’s ushered into the Volcom house for a party that will only start to slow down 48 hours later.
It seems like it was just yesterday we walked into a smoothie shop in Hanalei. A long-haired 20-something Hawaiian approaches Andy. Nicknamed “Shaka,” as a result of getting the three middle fingers of his right hand stuck in a poi grinder rendering him in a permanent state of aloha, he sizes up the champ and exclaims, “Ho bra, how you been? I hardly even reca-notice you.” Andy’s razor-sharp wit pounces on the term “reca-notice” (an efficient island-style combination of the words “recognize” and “notice”) It’s immediately uploaded into his lexicon and sited often thereafter.
There was the discreet harbor-front bar in Mundaka. After dismissing himself from Giuseppe’s, where Bruce, Occy, and Fred are marinating and celebrating video bro Jeff Doner’s birthday, Andy wanted to enjoy a drink somewhere quiet. He finds a dark, dank watering hole and is immediately lost in conversation with a 70-year-old Basque fisherman. The language barrier is thick. Somehow, they end up trading shoes. And somehow an hour later Andy is still rocking the cracked pair of Spanish leather kicks while his new friend sits comfortably in a spacious pair of Nikes that are two sizes too big. Laughter and miscommunication are pervasive. Two hours later, Andy finally gets his shoes back.
On Reunion Island for the first Search comp, across the bay is a mysto slab. It’s heavy. There’s nobody else out. Nobody’s ever out there. It’s not really a surf spot. Bruce and Fred (Patacchia) watch from the car. Andy bounces up and down with excitement. It looks deathly shallow. A local passerby points out it’s a turtle breeding ground. A half of a mile up the coast St. Leu is peeling perfection, but this has risk. Andy, Bruce and Fred paddle out. Fred snaps his board almost immediately. Bruce doesn’t make a wave. Andy rules the day, threading barrels, toying with the stupidly dangerous wave.
Playing poker on a Fiji boat trip, Andy’s new to the game. He’s losing his shirt to a savvy school of card sharks. Broke and dejected, he heads back to his cabin to see Lyndie. Unable to shake off the losing feeling, he pounces on their new laptop and chucks it overboard. To the bottom of the sea it goes…with the “Anchorman” DVD still in it. I don’t think I ever saw him play poker again after that.
The last trip we took together was a quick sprint down to Cabo for a Red Bull project. Bruce was supposed to join but ended up flaking at the last minute. Ian Walsh and a young Kolohe Andino filled the void while Chris Burkard worked his 300mm magic. Looking for something to ease some intestinal issues in Cabo. Two days into a trip up the East Cape and the Mexican microbes have had their way with him. I have some Imodium in my toiletry bag. Instead of one he takes a handful. Three days later, in the international terminal of LAX his colon is locked up like traffic on the 405. Struggling through customs, the urge finally hits him like an atomic bomb. He literally gives away all his surf gear at the baggage carousel and bee-lines it for the closest men’s room.
“As a surfer, he had that mad dog in him. He wasn’t afraid of anything, and wore his heart on both his sleeves…but you know what I liked about Andy?” recalled Joel Parkinson shortly after Andy’s passing. “He remembered everyone. He had this ability to remember faces and names and people in places he hadn’t been to in a decade. People meant everything to him, and he made everyone feel special. You didn’t need to be a professional surfer. He’d met so many people over the years in all the places he’d been, but he’d remember their names and he had time for all of them. He had that quality. He got involved in people’s lives and took an interest in people’s lives. It didn’t matter who you were. And I know he died young, but he lived his life to the fullest, and what he did in 32 years would take most people 132 years.”
Amen to that. Miss you, buddy.
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