Thousands of spectators lined the sand and Huntington Beach’s pier for a view of the mushy, sectioned three-foot waves on hand for the final heat of the ’98 Op Pro. What they couldn’t see, under the canopy of tents and bleachers, were Andy Irons and Mick Campbell getting ready for their clash. Mick was in a corner, shadow boxing, kicking up sand during a very physical psyche-up for what he hoped would be his second WCT career victory. Andy waxed his board, staring out at the surf through an open flap of the tent. Organizer/WCT President/bulldog Ian Cairns was busy busting Steve Sherman and Nick Carroll’s chops for sneaking into the competitors’ tent. (Sherm argued, “This is what I shoot.” The ever-reasonable Carroll reasoned. “People should see this, it’s good for pro surfing.”) Cairns eventually acquiesced, and Sherm popped off this shot: Mick setting his watch for his 30 minutes in the ring, Andy mentally rehearsing his plan of attack.[IMAGE 1]
Andy won the contest. Narrowly. It was only the Kauai Kid’s first year on tour, Mick’s third. Andy was fresh from a win at the World Junior Championships and a big WQS victory just a few weeks before. By all accounts, even his own, Andy had some attitude at the time, and it wasn’t hard to see him as a punk kid with incredible raw talent. This combo could get under anyone’s skin—in this case it just so happened to be the fair, freckled skin of Australian country boy Mick Campbell.[IMAGE 2]
While professional surfing’s World Championship Tour may appear to the outside like a happy-go-lucky fraternity engaged in a continual toga party, it’s not always shakas and “Right on, bro”s. Occasionally, the mix of competitive battle and fierce tempers brings out a bit of the Old West in our wave-riding idols. As most who follow the WCT are well aware—thanks to the combined wonders of digicams and the Internet—two years later Irons and Campbell went to fisticuffs after their third-round heat of the Hossegor Rip Curl Pro in August of 2000. It was noted as “the worst public display of aggression in WCT history.” (Even so, unlike what the media-hype purported, it wasn’t much of a brawl: Mick whisked a quick right hook, and Andy responded with a bit of tri-fin kung fu. The physical part lasted less than ten seconds, and there was no real injury to either party.) What most people didn’t have a clue about was what had led to the eruption. Most likely, the moment you see here is where it all began.
To finish the story, just like a good after-school special, the two put it all behind them and are now not just rivals, but friends. —Scooter Leonard