Stab Magazine | Andy Irons still has the skill and desire to dominate the tour
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Andy Irons still has the skill and desire to dominate the tour

Despite his weak performances this year, Andy is as competitive as ever. Over the last weekend of September, Stab canvassed his closest friends for insights into where he’s at, and what it would take to put it all together. And Adam Blakey recalled a hazy chat with Andy from last year. Blair Marlin: manager, confidante, adviser […]

style // Feb 22, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 11 minutes

Despite his weak performances this year, Andy is as competitive as ever. Over the last weekend of September, Stab canvassed his closest friends for insights into where he’s at, and what it would take to put it all together. And Adam Blakey recalled a hazy chat with Andy from last year.

Blair Marlin: manager, confidante, adviser

Andy started the year losing twice to Kelly. Does he hate losing to Kelly more than anyone?
Wildcard losses are much more of a shock to the system than losing to Kelly. The guy wears his heart on his sleeve. Always has, in and out of the water. Would you rather confront Andy for a sit-down interview after his loss to Kelly on the Gold Coast this year, or after his second-round loss to Yadin at Lowers?

How difficult is it signing a contract at the later stage of a career, compared to the start?
As you can see after all the Jordy Smith industry madness this past year, companies are always in search of the next best thing. It’s a huge risk to commit a large amount of budget to the “unproven” on the top level. Whether he will fit in with the brand is always a question, and longevity is never a guarantee. Andy Irons has proven his worth, fits the brand perfectly, and Billabong knows him inside and out. They have grown together, been through a lot, and therefore this particular contract should be pretty straightforward given that Andy has made a decision of what his plans for his surfing are to be over the next 5-10 years.

Has Andy shown any indication that he’s over the tour? 
Andy is over the tour right now. Not to say he won’t surf on tour again, but just as you will probably hear from Taj, Parko, or Dane at this point of the year. What’s the point? They have all accepted that Kelly has done it again, and focus has already been shifted to next year.

If so, what is the alternative for him? 
An alternative is always going to be enjoying the sport of surfing for what it is – without a jersey on, in the best surf around the world, in front of the video and still-camera lenses.

Andy is just as valuable free-surfing off the tour as he is on the tour. Discuss. 
OK. Good topic. Andy IS just as valuable free surfing off tour, but there are those people who think he would be wasting his talent if he were to choose that route. There are only a very select few who have the talent and focus to get through an entire tour season and win a world title. Andy has proven to be one of those guys, but is he happy doing it still? With Kelly being such a freak, it’s hard to explain that Andy may just be mentally exhausted. I’m not sure the surf world can really comprehend how draining an entire season can be on a top competitor. On the other side, you have the kids. They appreciate what Andy has done on tour (kind of), but in reality, I don’t think they would really care if Andy were to never put on a jersey again, as long as he keeps coming out with video parts like his closing section in Campaign 2, and getting 10-page magazine articles and covers on strike mission surf trips to catch the best swells of the year. I think it’s the kids who are the best judges.

As a manager, would you ever advise sponsors that three world titles and two runner-ups is enough? What more does he need to prove?
Andy should be allowed to do whatever he thinks will be best for him at this point of his career, as long as it still benefits both parties. He doesn’t need to prove anything to his sponsors, but he may have some other things to prove to himself in the sport.

Who does Andy turn to when he’s down or rattled? 
Aside from his wife, Andy’s two biggest soundboards would probably be Kai Garcia, and I.
Is he wary about making that transition from the tour to a more normal life? 
He will be just fine. Eventually he and Lyndie will start a family, pushing him right into this “normal life” you speak of.

Phil Irons: dad, supporter, realist

Any insight into what’s going on?
I haven’t had much contact with Andy in a while, but it’s like he just needs a major break. It’s one of those things where you don’t know what you’ve got it till it’s not there.

Like the tour you mean?
Yeah, but I think it also has something to do with how lopsided the ratings are now and where Slater stands. This year’s sewn up, and he just needs to clear his head.

Do you reckon Andy’s gonna miss Bruce on tour next year?
The guys are really tight competitively with whatever each of them are doing. It’s an even battle. Bruce had to get on the tour because Andy had his titles and Bruce went and did it. Then after he did it for four years or five or whatever, he said, “this ain’t my dream”. And the way he backed out was genius. He did it right by a magazine, and then did it by winning Indonesia. Now he’s gonna say, “thank you but no thank you, seeya.”

How do you fit in these days?
I’m just being his dad and giving him support when he needs positive reinforcement. Billabong is standing right behind him all the way with whatever he chooses. I do know Andy needs support outside of just his family, so if putting it in the public eye is a way of giving it, and you guys are gonna help, I’d be stoked.

Rabbit Bartholomew: ASP president, analyst, pragmatist

Any idea what’s going on in Andy’s head?
Andy is so used to contending for the world title, he is so used to being mathematically in contention, that that’s all that keeps him interested. I can relate to this because I was the same. I spent eight years in the top four or five. And as soon as I was out of that, I lost complete interest. Suddenly the events were getting in the way of my weekends. I had no interest in just making up the numbers.

So you can empathise?
Yeah. His body English is terrible. He’s not fighting back in his heats, as soon as he’s way behind in a heat he starts flicking his board out. It’s terrible. This is what happened to me. That’s where my head was at the time – I didn’t even want to turn up.

He had an amazing run from 2002 to 2006. Do you think he should have given it away after that?
I would say no. I think he’s still got all the gifts and the ability and experience to be a contender. He won three in a row when Kelly was on tour. He completely dominated. In 2006, Kelly had a fantastic run but at the end of the year there was only 100 points in it. Which means that if Andy had had one more result somewhere, he would have won the world title. He would have won four straight world titles. He would have been stamping his dominance on Kelly Slater. That could have put a completely different spin on how things developed after that. It took Kelly four years to work himself into that zone. He didn’t just come back and take the mantle of the number-one surfer. Then he got back in the winning zone and has barely left it since, except for that one year when Mick put it all together.

What would be your advice to Andy right now?
Take the rest of the year off. Not literally. Just have a bit of a breather, have a good dig at Pipe, get the batteries charged and have a dig next year. Have a rest mentally. Don’t put much into this year. Don’t approach it with intensity. And use it as sort of down time. Then he’s got till the end of next February to have another crack.

Is he unstable?
Definitely he’s got some issues. I’m surprised at a couple of things I see in his game. I’d never seen him give up in a heat, but what has surprised me is how quickly Andy has given up in heats this year and last year. And for that I think there is some underlying reason. I do think he’s lost interest. He doesn’t want to be there. I think he’s fulfilling sponsorship obligations and turning up cos he has to. He’s got two contractual obligations – one to his sponsors and one to us. With us, he can take three events off. You have to notify us, but it’s a non-compulsory tour.

So he could take the last three events off?
That’s correct. You’re allowed to not turn up at three events before you’ve got issues with the ASP.

So he could take the rest of the year off?
I suppose he could.

That puts you in a difficult position because you want to see him back in contention next year, but you don’t want to be recommending he simply doesn’t turn up this year.
Yeah, you want to see him at his best. You don’t want to see him completely slide off. It is like a racehorse. You do want to tell him to go out to the paddock and freshen up. But he’s going to surf Pipe, for sure. He’ll try and win Pipe.

Chasing a world title can mess with your head, huh?
It’s a really exciting space to be in in your own mind. You’re trying to get to number one in the world. As soon as you can’t get to number one, there’s a bit of self-loathing that starts. You’ve got to have a pretty big ego to want to be number one in the world. It’s very difficult to then adjust and say, “OK, I’m happy to be number 12.” That doesn’t work for someone like Andy Irons. It’s one of the big voids when you’re a professional sportsman. You don’t know where to go to next. You’ve been winning contests since you were 11. You’re used to winning trophies. You feel a bit special. You’re heading towards a world title. Then suddenly you’re not there, and you go, “I don’t like this, I don’t even like myself right now.”

So Andy’s at the start of that period of transition?
He might be.

Andy needs a mentor now, doesn’t he.
Yeah, he so needs a mentor.

Who would fill those boots?
I think someone like Sunny Garcia could really help Andy right now. He’s a strong guy. And Sunny’s had his ups and downs. Then he decided to come back. I admire that about Sunny. It takes incredible mental fortitude to do that to yourself. And that’s the sort of mental strength that Andy needs now. So I reckon Sunny should take him under his wing and help the guy out.

Jake Paterson: commentator, pundit, straight talker

What’s up with Andy?
He’s only interested in world titles. Kelly’s had such a good start and Andy’s just lost interest. He won three titles in a row. Where do you go from there? He’s not interested in second or third or fourth or fifth. He’s proved he can do it, and if he’s not in contention he’s no interested. Simple as that.

Has he still got it?
For sure. He’s a freak. You can just tell from his surfing that he’s striving to win a title.

How do him and Bruce get on these days?
Really good. It’s brotherly love. He goes down and watches his heats and cheers for him and stuff. If they’re on the piss together and they have a punch-up, it’s a brotherly thing. When Bruce won the Search event, Andy was so stoked.

Do you think Andy is rattled about not having Bruce on tour next year?
Nah, I don’t think so. I think he realises Bruce was a square trying to fit into a round hole.

How intense was Andy during his good run? Has he changed since then?
He was like that at the start of this year, he was all focused and competitive. Kelly beat him a couple of times – he beat him at Bells and on the Goldie, and if Andy had beaten Kelly it could have been Andy winning those two events and that would have changed everything.

What was the talk like on tour when Andy bailed from Hossegor?
Dunno. I was commentating.

Were you surprised?
Not really. I saw his first heat, and he wasn’t interested at all. He got three waves in his first heat, and that was it. He was just so over being here. And he just went, why am I here? And left.

What would your advice to him be?
Take a bit of a break. He’s been trying to catch up after winning his three world titles and trying to regain it again, and it’s a burden. I’d be having a little break, surf Pipe, and then look forward to 2009.

So he should do the tour next year?
For sure.

Joel Parkinson, admirer, sympathiser, supporter

What’s going on in Andy’s head?
Whoa, I dunno about this – this is heavy.

Ah, we just want to get an insight into where he’s at.
I’ll just say one thing: he’s fucked. He’s got three world titles. He worked so hard. Two runner-ups. Four Triple Crowns. The guy’s a freak. He’s done everything. What else does he have to do? Just because he doesn’t win a world title, everyone’s…

We’re not having a go at him. We just want to know how much he’s freaking out and whether he should come back next year, whether he’s better off free-surfing.
I hope he comes back with flying colours. But, fuck, he’s been doing it for 13 years. It’s a fucking gruelling tour. He should do what Kelly did. Kelly took three years off, came backed and smoked ’em. Andy with two years off, he could come back if he wanted and… it’s not like his surfing talent’s going anywhere. It’s only the planes, trains and automobiles killing him on the road. Thirteen years of it.

How did he respond when Kelly beat him twice at the start of the year?
Dunno. I don’t wanna get too deep on it. I’ve heard him say over and over that he’s been doing it for 13 years, put his mind into it and selfishness. He doesn’t have to be the prick winning world titles.

How gruelling is it? How much does it fuck with your head, chasing a world title?
You live it, breathe it, it takes its toll. It’s like anything, you do it full-tilt for a while, it’s going to take its toll.

How many years should he take off?
He’s gonna know when he’s ready. Those 13 years on tour have taken five years off his life – non-stop jetlag and non-stop planes and trains.

What was the talk when he bailed from Hossegor?
No one really cared. He was like, “I’m over it”. I’m not really the most excited man to go down the coast to Mundaka either. But it’s my job. I gotta do it, so I’m going down there. I’ve already pulled out of Brazil. Mick went home. He’s going home on Monday. He hurt himself, though.

Spain and Brazil are a drag when there’s no contest for the title, huh?
They can be. I shouldn’t say it but yeah, that’s the reality part of the Dream Tour, them two. Pipe’s unreal, though. The Triple Crown’s sick.

Taj Burrow, friend, colleague, competitor

How stressful is it signing these contracts?
This contract that he’s looking to sign and the one I just signed, they’re big contracts, to see out our careers, basically. It’s definitely a stressful time. You want to get it all right.
How many years did you sign for?
Five.

How many is Andy signing for?
I have no idea.

Is the industry tightening the screws?
It’s always pretty tough. There’s lots of good young guys. Being in that position, everything went good for me, I’m doing well on tour, I’m trying to do everything right by Billbong. I love working with them, and I just wanted to show them that I do like them so we could work together into the future. I assume Andy would want to play the golden child and really team up with Billabong and seal the deal.

Why did your negotiations go for six months?
They all do. When you’re talking a big five-year contract, it’s going to take a long time. Sometimes other companies are interested. There’s so many details. It’s got to go to my lawyers, then go back to theirs. There’s a lot of fine print. Mine took even more than six months. It’s a gruelling process. You just wanna get the ink on the paper and just get it done.

What do you think Andy’s going through?
I just think he’s not as excited about competing as he was. It doesn’t look like he’s surfing as good as he has in the past. I can just tell it’s frustrating cos it wasn’t that long ago when he could thrash everyone with his eyes closed, and now he’s not surfing as well, and he’s losing heats he shouldn’t. It’s frustrating him. I can see the frustration continue in his heats. I feel sorry for him. I know how it feels. It’s horrible. I guess he’s just not that motivated to compete. But who knows, he can easily get the fire back.

Do you talk to him much?
Yeah, we’re at events all the time, I did a Billabong trip with him recently to the Mentawais, we hang out plenty.

How has his head changed over the past year or so?
He doesn’t let on that anything’s changed, really. He’s just as hungry to smash everyone, but when it comes to the contests he kinda seems like he just wants to go home and cruise, he doesn’t have the same fire.

What about away from contests, is he happier?
I can’t tell. He’s still got that competitiveness. We surf together and we’re still trying to outdo each other.

It’s not nice to watch him unravel, though.
I agree. I can see his frustration. It’s sad to see, for sure.

Will bailing from France affect his contract negotiation?
I have no idea. I honestly don’t know what he’s thinking. I don’t know if he wants to stop competing or what. But no matter what he decides to do I’m sure Billabong will support him. It’s just up to him. He can do whatever he likes. I’m sure Billabong want him at the top of his game and winning world titles, but he’s already done that three times, it’s pretty amazing. I don’t blame him if he wants to kick back on Kauai sipping Coronas.

Have you seen glimpses of him surfing his best this year?
Not at his best. To me he was surfing his best in previous years. He looks frustrated at the moment.

Even free surfing?
I’ve seen  a few video sections of him, and they still come out amazing,  in Taylor Steele’s videos, and Billabong’s Trilogy and stuff like that. I don’t think you can lose it when you’re at that level. He’s fine. He just wants to do something else

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