Andy Irons put a stamp on Pipeline like few others in the history of the sport. Of course AI did a lot of things like few others but we are talking about Pipeline here so we will stick to the subject.
Irons had honed his skill on the hollow vertical reefs of Kauai from the time he was in grade school and had learned a fearless, facile confidence in big hollow tubes. Few surfers had ever been so prepared so early for this challenge. Pipeline was a natural.
Not surprisingly, no one really noticed AI’s early prowess; he was deep in the outer Islands and easily overlooked. Until the 1996 HIC Pipeline Pro: Just 17, Andy charged macking 12’ Pipeline and when the foam had settled, he had taken out both reigning Pipe Master Derek Ho and a host of touted New Schoolers who were gunning for the crown. Six years later Irons would claim his first World Championship.
No way around it, the passing of four-time Pipeline Master, three-time world champion, will be a huge unspoken void on the scene at the Pipe Masters this December. Pipeline was King Andy’s court, and it can be argued that no one ever rode it better.
The catlike grace and raw talent, the sheer physicality of Andy’s take-no-prisoners approach were a marvel to behold when watching someone take on one of the heaviest waves on the globe – and one of the heaviest competitors on the planet. The Andy/Kelly duels were what surfing was all about from 2003-2005. It was the greatest rivalry surfing has ever seen.
In the final heat of the final event in 2003 at the now legendary 2003 Pipe Masters (in what was arguably the best performance ever seen in the history of the event), Andy came from behind, made impossible moves, and snatched a critical victory over long-time rival Kelly Slater.
That duel with Slater, the first of many, would become the most celebrated battle of wills in the sports history. With that signature win, Irons claimed his second of three consecutive world titles, cemented his reputation as one of the sport’s greatest surfers and shattered Slater’s aura of invincibility.
In what has now become known as the “Iron Age” (the half-dozen years from 2001 to 2006) Andy won the Pipe Masters 4 times and his brother one more. In the first decade of the 21st century the Irons name stood for charging headlong into the fury that is Pipe and Backdoor. Unrestrained, full-on, over-the-edge surfing defines his contribution to the evolution of the Pipe surfer.
Andy’s absence leaves a hole as big as a 3rd reef barrel, but his legendary presence will continue to be felt at the spot he loved so well.