Andy is sitting shotgun in my rental car as we make our way to an unknown location just outside of Hale‘iwa on O‘ahu’s North Shore. Four days earlier, he’d earned the highest acclaim in the surfing world by winning the ASP World Title. He is, at this point, a wanted man. Wanted by the media, sponsors, groupies, fans, and friends. The last week in his life has been as hectic as a trauma surgeon in the emergency room on a Friday night in South Central. I feel bad bugging Andy for another interview, as he’s done about 50 in the past two hours, but it’s my job, and Andy doesn’t seem to mind a change of scenery. Andy has been under self-imposed house arrest–only going out for a surf once a day and the occasional dinner and drinks. The pressure of being the most sought-after world champ in years is nagging, but not overwhelming him–he just likes to cruise.[IMAGE 1]
The scene a week before was much different, as Andy came in from a heat at the Sunset contest. He was pissed after making a simple error that, in turn, dealt him a second-round loss in the very contest that would decide his fate in the ratings race, which has gripped the surfing world. A subtle paddling interference caused Andy’s elimination. Andy quickly jogged to a truck in the Sunset parking lot as nervous fans, photographers, and competitors watched in awe as the stand-out favorite for the world title disappears into the cab of a truck to sit and watch as his fate unfolds in front of him. In the next heat, his only competition for the title, Luke Egan, paddled into massive sunset with Shane Dorian, Luke Hitchings, and Taylor Knox. If Luke loses, Andy is world champ. If Luke wins, there’s no telling what could happen.
Andy watched silently as Luke failed to get the wave he needed with a little “help” from Shane. As Luke’s loss was announced, Andy jumped from the truck, he’s hoisted atop the shoulders of giants, and they carried him to the scaffolding.
After an insanely hectic couple of days, Andy ducked out of the media spotlight and slipped back to Kaua‘i for a three-day celebration with friends and family. The vacation from the limelight proves to be just what Andy needed to relax. He returned to the North Shore calm and collected. Winning the world title seems to have brought Andy a newfound maturity and confidence. This is a completely different Andy Irons from the one who a few years earlier had fallen off the World Tour and into a lifestyle of booze-filled late-nights away from the beach. Andy poured his entire heart and soul into his surf career, and it’s paid off with the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
Back in the rental car, I set my recorder down on the dashboard in front of Andy. He sits up straight and gets his interview face on, which is a lot like the face he has on before paddling out into a heat–composed and confident.[IMAGE 2]
This is interview number … ?
Five-thousand this week.
It must be getting a bit overwhelming at this point.
It’s all right–just part of the job. I can handle it. Are we going to the pineapple fields? (Andy asks this as we drive toward a huge valley filled with endless rows of pineapples.)
I don’t know where we’re going, to be honest.
Pineapple-field photo shoot (Andy laughs).
Are there tarantulas out there? (Chris points to the fields.)
Yeah, a couple cobras.
Dustin Humphrey is in the truck ahead of us, and he stops on the side of the road in the middle of the pineapple fields.
Andy: Are we ready?
I think it’s gonna take him (Dustin) a minute to get ready. Give me a brief breakdown of the past week.
Whirlwind hurricane. All good, though. A good hurricane, not a destructive one. It’s been cool.
Crazy cameras in your fa, tape recorders?
The whole nine yards.
A lot of hovering. A lot of hovering.
Someone I was talking to had said that you’d been doing really well speaking (to the press) and doing all your acceptance speeches.
(Laughs) Just practice, I guess.
In the mirror?
No, (laughs) just do it enough, and you kind of figure out what they’re going to be asking you, you know? You get used to the questions they’re going to ask you. You pretty much have the same questions and answers over and over and over. It gets repetitive.
Like what I asked earlier. What has the last week been like?
I’ve probably gotten that same question like 7,000 times in the last three days.
What do you think people would want to even know about you and this quest? I mean, this has been your whole life right here, right?
Pretty much. I don’t really know what people want to hear about. I know I want to keep my privacy as much as I can. What people want to know may be something that I don’t want to tell them. That’s a tough question. They probably want to hear about the road I took to get here, all the way through. Hold on …[IMAGE 3]
Andy’s cell phone starts ringing. He picks it up–it’s the Volcom house calling. Barbecue around sunset. The guy from Coors Light just dropped off twenty cases of beer.
Has anyone come at you with any crazy questions lately to where you’re like, what the f–k are you talking about?
I’ve had some crazy, crazy questions asked. Somebody asked me, how I can affect the war on terrorism and what can I contribute to it. That was the most off-the-wall question I’ve ever heard, because all I do is surf, you know. I go surfing, that’s what I do. I don’t really have a say in what’s going on in politics and war and all that kind of shit. So, that was pretty weird.
How is getting barreled tomorrow gonna help stop Osama Bin Laden?
I don’t know. Maybe I can hold the nukes down–just hold back in the pit long enough so when the spit comes out each nuke will explode with each drop of water (laughs).
With all that’s happened to you in the past week–with people following you around trying to figure out where you’re going to surf today or where you’re going to eat lunch, is the pressure on or off?
A little bit of both. For me, it’s over, the title is sealed, so I’m just relaxing now and just taking it all in, and having fun with it. It seems like everybody wants a piece of me now. It’s kind of radical, you know, I gotta make time for myself so I don’t get too burned out on the whole deal. I definitely have to draw the line more now than before. There used to be time for everything, but now it’s like everybody wants a piece of me for this or that. I know they have to do their job, just like I have to do mine. It kind of wears and tears on you. Getting pulled in every direction’s not that fun, but it’s part of the job.
Do you ever feel like there’re people who are trying to exploit whatever relationship they have with you? I mean–how do I say it–I was sent here to get an Andy Irons interview and felt like I didn’t want to bother you ’cause I know there’ve been ten-million people asking you for interviews. Have there been any interview requests that you just had to turn down?
Well, if some Joe Shmoe asks me for an interview, rather than someone I know previously, have a relationship with, or is one of my friends, then it’s a no-brainer. I’m gonna go and have an interview with the person I know a lot better. It’s a lot easier to do an interview with a friend than someone I have no background with or have no clue what they’re about. People have definitely been able to use that, but it’s cool with me. If I’m able to help one of my friends with their job, then it’s all the better.[IMAGE 4]
Have you done anything lately with any of the mainstream media?
I just did a thing with Sports Illustrated. That was pretty bizarre. A Sports Illustrated guy named Kostya Kennedy flew over from New York. He doesn’t even really deal with the ocean and surfing–he’s usually with Wayne Gretzky and people like that. He came out to hang with me and my brother for a couple of days, and (he) did a story on us. That was pretty major.
People like Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant are multimillionaire, world-famous athletes. Do you think surfing will ever get to that point?
Well, if they were paying me millions, then I’d be fine doing all these interviews and stuff. I mean, I’m getting peanuts compared to what they get. I’ll give them whatever I’m getting paid, which is a good chunk, I mean I’m happy with what I’m getting, but it ain’t no Tiger Woods pay, that’s for sure.
How has it been, financially speaking?
Oh, the bonuses are beautiful! It’s great. I wish I had these every year. But it takes a lot of work to win a world title, so actually all the pain and sorrow along the way makes it even out. You’re getting paid, for what you had to go through. It’s definitely worth the ride, and that’s what I’m here for. Well I’m gonna go finish this little piece of business, and we’ll be on to the next part…
At this point, Andy jumps out of the car to shoot the portraits for this interview. He leaves his phone in the car next to me, and as soon as he steps out the door, the thing starts ringing off the hook as I’m sure it has been for the last two weeks.
Four days after this interview, Andy showed his utter dominance of the surfing world by winning the Pipe Masters and taking the Triple Crown title; An amazing feat, achieved only once before by the six-time World Champ Kelly Slater.
Who knows how many world titles lie in Andy’s future? He’s already stepped up the performance level for all tours to come. He has brought his crazy technical ability, power, and flow to the top of the heap–leaving many to wonder what could possibly come next.
After so many years of searching for the next Kelly Slater, the next guy to dominate the tour, win multiple titles, and bring surfing to the next level–there’s a big chance that we’ve found him. His name is Andy Irons.[IMAGE 5]