The Dynasty: Winning back-to-back world titles would satisfy some, but it just makes Andy Irons hungrier.

By Joel Patterson

When Andy Irons, Joel Parkinson, Phil MacDonald, and Kelly Slater paddled out for the final of the 2003 Pipeline Masters, a lot of questions dangled in the air. Would Kelly reestablish his dominance over the WCT? Could Andy handle the pressure? Could Kelly complete his comeback? Would Andy be a one-term World Champ, or could he command a dynasty? A thousand questions remained, but ten minutes into that final–which happened to be the first time Andy and Kelly had surfed against each other all year–any questions that may have been dangling out there were bluntly and summarily answered. Andy so dominated the heat, Slater seemed to almost disappear, as did any question of whether or not Andy could himself dominate the World Championship Tour like Kelly had in the 1990s.

It’s now April–four months after Andy was carried up the beach on the shoulders of his friends, four months after the celebration, four months after pressure was suddenly relieved–and like the 44 others who spend their year competing around the world (including recent World Tour addition Bruce Irons), he finds himself back in the hunt. Andy is in his prime–his surfing is stronger than it’s ever been, he’s finally feeling confident in his understanding of life on tour, and he’s surrounded himself with a support system that’s helping him understand his strengths and weaknesses and how to parlay them into success. But like anyone the spotlight constantly shines on, Andy occasionally grows weary of the limelight. A surf media intent on creating a rivalry between him and Kelly, friends whose job is to knock you off your pedestal, a strange heat at Newcastle against Women’s World Champion Layne Beachley–these are the burdens of being number one, and the one question that has cropped up in place of all the others is how Andy will deal with the downsides of a dynasty.–J.P.

How has surfing for a living affected how you feel about it?

Surfing for a living is the one thing I knew could keep me surfing. Even if I wasn’t a pro surfer, I was always going to be surfing–even if I was working a job, I’d make sure it was around surfing. Getting paid to go surfing is just icing on the cake.

Do you feel like you need a break from it sometimes?

When the waves are good and you surf a lot–like yesterday we surfed for probably nine hours, and my body’s pretty sore–after a while you get so thrashed you almost wish the waves would get junk for a couple days to let your body recover.

If you have a day off, what do you like to do besides surfing?

It depends where I am. Like over here (Australia) when we had a break during the first contest, we went to Dreamworld, which is like Universal Studios. We’ll go do some cool stuff and check out the place we’re at. We went to the zoo and saw all the kangaroos, and I hung out with my girlfriend. We just cruise and have fun and find stuff to do while you’re in a different country that will be memorable.

When something that’s your passion becomes your job, there’re times when you realize that along with the job come frustrating elements of it. Have you experienced that, and do you ever wish you could escape that stuff?

For sure. All year there come times when I wish I didn’t have to deal with the B.S. that comes along with surfing as your job. There’re politics and all kinds of weird things you have to deal with. It isn’t just like going surfing, or going to the beach and hanging out with friends, and that’s it. There’s a lot of stuff that comes with the territory. You’ve got to do promos, you’ve gotta do wetsuit shoots, and you’ve gotta do stuff that’s not as glamorous as everyone thinks, but it’s just part of the deal. There areefinitely times of the year when you’re just over it, but you take the good with the bad and look forward to your next good surf trip, when you don’t have to worry about all that stuff.

Is there some part of the B.S. that you find the most frustrating?

There’re a few things, but I don’t really want to talk about ’em.

Who do you consider the toughest opposition on tour this year?

There’re a lot of good guys. The last couple years Parko’s finished really high, so he’s always going to be a contender. Once he pulls a whole year together, he’s gonna win a few world titles. Taj has always been right there. Kelly, of course … but we’re not talking about him anymore. My brother could come out of nowhere. He’s got the talent, it’s just a matter of him putting a whole year together. His first contest of the year he had to figure it out the hard way. It’s almost a good thing that he got a thirty-third, because it kind of put him in his place, and he knows now he’s gonna have to work really hard to make it through heats.

What’s it like having Bruce on the Tour?

Having Bruce on tour is awesome, because having a piece of the family on tour is killer. When I first started the tour, the one thing I missed was hanging out with my friends and even hanging out with my brother. When he was around all the time I was over him, but when I didn’t see him every day I kinda missed hanging out with the kid.

Is there any added pressure because Bruce is there?

No. If anything there’s less pressure. Maybe more pressure for him because it’s his first year and everyone’s looking at him to see how he’s going to do, so it’s gonna be interesting to see how he handles it. But I’ll be trying to help him as much as I can.

Do you guys actually travel together?

Here and there. We’re gonna be going to Tahiti together–we stay at different places, but we hang out every day. If we’re going surfing, we go surf together. But it’s kinda hard to stay together; we’re really short-fused with each other if we start hanging out too much. We don’t like hanging out with each other all day, every day, but we like going surfing with each other.

Is he a good traveler? Do you like traveling with him?

Traveling’s pretty cool. He can be kind of hard sometimes, though. He’s got a really sarcastic, weird sense of humor. He likes to mess with a lot of people–keeps it so there’s never a dull moment. But after a while if he rides you for long enough, it gets old real quick.

How many days this year will you actually spend at home?

Not that many. Between now (early April) and January (2005), maybe a month, at the most. Five days here, a few more there.

How does a schedule like that impact on your personal life?

It’s mellow, because I bring my girlfriend Lindie with me everywhere. It’s so hard to have a relationship on tour. But I have a killer sponsor, Boost, that lets me call home every day for free. I used to have radical phone bills from calling home all the time. I’ve always got to talk to my dad to find out what’s going on, what I need to do. I talk to either my mom or dad every single day, pretty much. It (traveling) can definitely be hard on relationships with friends, family, loved ones.

Are there times when you and Lindie have to do the long-distance thing?

I went to Brazil last year and she wasn’t there–that sucked. It’s just a lot of time on the phone, calling every day and seeing how things are going. Time seems to drag on a lot longer when they (loved ones) aren’t there. But it just comes with it, and it’s something you have to deal with.

In sports like basketball and football–mainstream sports, or whatever–they always say it’s hard to be a returning champion because everyone wants to have their best game against you. Do you think that applies in surfing?

Oh, totally! I had a lot of wild cards in my first-round heats last year, and I lost to so many of them, because they’ll come out and have the heat of their life against me. Everything will go right for them. And the guys on tour who I travel with all year, they just seem to try that much harder. I remember when I used to surf against the top seed guys when I first got on tour, and if you win, you get bragging rights until the next contest that you take ’em out. It can get you pretty pumped up. They definitely get really fired up and good waves will come to them. Once you get on top, everybody wants to knock you down.

Can you think of any specific examples of wild cards gone wrong? Isn’t there a guy in South Africa you have a hard time with?

Yeah, Jeffrey’s Bay, this guy Sean Holmes–he’s pretty heavy. He beat me the last two years there. It’s pretty heavy when you go out there, and the South Africans are really patriotic everywhere we go, they’re really behind their surfers. Sean is a really cool guy, he’s nice, and I’ve known him before those contests. But he got all the good waves, and he surfs the spot really good anyway–he’s surfed it his whole life–and the whole crowd and everyone wants you to lose, because the other guys want to pass you on the ratings. And the locals want you to lose because there are local kids in the contest. It just seems like everyone’s against you, and it can get you down really fast. I get really frustrated, and I have a bad temper, and I’ll start thinking that everyone’s against me. They kind of are, in a way, but that just comes with the territory, too. It’s just another thing you’ve got to deal with, and it’s really been a hard part for me to deal with–everyone wanting me to lose.

How do you deal with that?

I just try to block it out as much as possible. It pisses me off.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned on tour in 2003?

Never counting myself out. The year started off so good, and then I got in a slump, and I caught myself wondering if I deserved to be where I was at. Holding the number-one seed was just a big weight to carry around on my shoulders. It felt really heavy. Then toward the end of the year I just kinda got over it, and I adopted a “whatever happens happens” kind of an attitude, instead of dwelling on every single moment of everything. Just letting everything flow, and not getting all worked up about little things.

Do you have someone who helps keep you in check with things like that?

Yeah, my Lindie’s really good at that. She puts a lot of things in perspective. If I start getting freaked out about stuff, she just kind of mellows me out. I get really worked up about a lot of things, and it’s usually just in my head, and she’s usually the one with the right outlook on what’s going on. Mine’s sometimes a bit over the top and distorted.

What spots on tour have given you the most trouble?

J-Bay for sure. It’s a perfect pointbreak right, and I’ve never made it past the ninth round … and that was like four or five years ago. I don’t put enough time in or something. It’s a really good pointbreak, I’m a regular-foot–I should do good there. It’s probably the only place I’ve never done good at.

How can you improve there? Do you actively try to work on that?

I try to. This one year I went there really early, and that didn’t work. The next year I went there the day before the contest, and that didn’t work. Of course the best thing to dl and football–mainstream sports, or whatever–they always say it’s hard to be a returning champion because everyone wants to have their best game against you. Do you think that applies in surfing?

Oh, totally! I had a lot of wild cards in my first-round heats last year, and I lost to so many of them, because they’ll come out and have the heat of their life against me. Everything will go right for them. And the guys on tour who I travel with all year, they just seem to try that much harder. I remember when I used to surf against the top seed guys when I first got on tour, and if you win, you get bragging rights until the next contest that you take ’em out. It can get you pretty pumped up. They definitely get really fired up and good waves will come to them. Once you get on top, everybody wants to knock you down.

Can you think of any specific examples of wild cards gone wrong? Isn’t there a guy in South Africa you have a hard time with?

Yeah, Jeffrey’s Bay, this guy Sean Holmes–he’s pretty heavy. He beat me the last two years there. It’s pretty heavy when you go out there, and the South Africans are really patriotic everywhere we go, they’re really behind their surfers. Sean is a really cool guy, he’s nice, and I’ve known him before those contests. But he got all the good waves, and he surfs the spot really good anyway–he’s surfed it his whole life–and the whole crowd and everyone wants you to lose, because the other guys want to pass you on the ratings. And the locals want you to lose because there are local kids in the contest. It just seems like everyone’s against you, and it can get you down really fast. I get really frustrated, and I have a bad temper, and I’ll start thinking that everyone’s against me. They kind of are, in a way, but that just comes with the territory, too. It’s just another thing you’ve got to deal with, and it’s really been a hard part for me to deal with–everyone wanting me to lose.

How do you deal with that?

I just try to block it out as much as possible. It pisses me off.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned on tour in 2003?

Never counting myself out. The year started off so good, and then I got in a slump, and I caught myself wondering if I deserved to be where I was at. Holding the number-one seed was just a big weight to carry around on my shoulders. It felt really heavy. Then toward the end of the year I just kinda got over it, and I adopted a “whatever happens happens” kind of an attitude, instead of dwelling on every single moment of everything. Just letting everything flow, and not getting all worked up about little things.

Do you have someone who helps keep you in check with things like that?

Yeah, my Lindie’s really good at that. She puts a lot of things in perspective. If I start getting freaked out about stuff, she just kind of mellows me out. I get really worked up about a lot of things, and it’s usually just in my head, and she’s usually the one with the right outlook on what’s going on. Mine’s sometimes a bit over the top and distorted.

What spots on tour have given you the most trouble?

J-Bay for sure. It’s a perfect pointbreak right, and I’ve never made it past the ninth round … and that was like four or five years ago. I don’t put enough time in or something. It’s a really good pointbreak, I’m a regular-foot–I should do good there. It’s probably the only place I’ve never done good at.

How can you improve there? Do you actively try to work on that?

I try to. This one year I went there really early, and that didn’t work. The next year I went there the day before the contest, and that didn’t work. Of course the best thing to do would be to just spend a lot more time there, but it’s right in the middle of tour, so you can’t really get there too early. I’ve lost in small days, in big wild days … I’ve even had nines in my heat and still lost. I think I’m really overdue at that spot, and hopefully this is the year. J-Bay is one place I’d really like to win at.

I just read an interview with Kala Alexander in Stab magazine, and in it he hints that guys from Kaua‘i are hungrier than guys from O‘ahu. Do you agree with that?

I think so, yeah. I think a lot of Outer Island guys are that way. There hasn’t been a new face on the tour from O‘ahu since Kalani (Robb), and that’s ten years now.

Why do you think that is?

I don’t know. The kids are ripping over there. I think Kekoa Becalso is gonna be the next kid on tour, but it’s easy to just hang out, do surf trips, just cruise on the North Shore, and get paid really good money. Jamie O’Brien has been surfing really good, and I can see him doing something. But the guys on the outer islands are really hungry, because they don’t have the same backing as they would on O‘ahu. I was really lucky because my parents helped me out and made me feel like I could go do it, but a lot of other guys don’t have the backing and the sponsors to help them travel and get out of the islands to do other things. I think the next batch of kids to come out of Kauai are going to be really good. There’re two kids in particular who’re going to be awesome–Tyler Newton, he’s already won the Nationals, and this other kid Alex. I surf with them every day at home, and they’re just going richter–busting airs, carving, and charging big waves already at fourteen. Actually, they might not even be fourteen yet.

A few days ago you surfed against Layne Beachley (six-time women’s world champ who was given a wild card to surf in a four-star WQS event) at Newcastle.

(Andy laughs.) Oh, f–k yeah. That was weird.

How was that?

Nightmare. From where I’m at right now, that was one of the lamest things I’ve had to do. And the media over here (in Australia) is so hyped up on it, and they made me look like such the jerk.

Really?

Yeah, full media entrapment bullshit. I was doing this press conference for them, and there was this female reporter asking me why do I think men get paid more money, and why are the men so much more marketable than the women. So I just answered the questions the best I could, and they put it on the front page of the newspapers–”Sexist”–and they made me look like a full dick. It was so lame. Down on the beach, some people were just trippin’ on me. They made me look really bad, and it made me never want to do an interview again.

The media’s a nightmare, huh?

Oh, it can be f–kin’ downright disgusting. Sometimes I get really, really over it. Now when they ask me a question like that, I’m gonna go, “Over it, next question.” I’ve gotta be like the basketball players or football players, who if they don’t like some stupid question, they just go, “Next question.”

I read the transcripts of the interview you did with that woman, and you made a really good point, which was that by accepting a spot in the contest she (Layne) took a spot from some guy who’s trying to build WQS points and qualify for the tour.

Yeah, that was my big point. And there was a local kid named (Michael) Spencer–the kid went through ten rounds, from Round One all the way through the quarters, and there wasn’t one write-up on the kid, because Layne had taken so much of the publicity from the contest. It’s was all about “Layne this” and “Layne that,” and that kid could have been in her seed. And even though he wasn’t a seed and he did so well, there wasn’t even one paragraph in the newspaper or anything on the news about him being the only local kid in the contest who was still going. She’s just … it’s just selfish. It’s pretty disrespectful. Toward the end of the heat (it was a four-man heat–Andy got third, Layne got fourth) the kids were sitting on me, especially this Brazilian kid who was really sitting on me, and I got kind of pissed. But then I took a deep breath and thought about it–this kid’s going for points, and he wants to get his ratings up and all that, and I’m just there because Mark Richards asked me to come down and do it. There was some money to be made, but I had nothing to prove there and nothing to gain from making the final.

What do you think about the media trying hard to build a rivalry between you and Kelly? Is that real, or is it just being manufactured?

I see a lot of stuff about Kelly here, there, everywhere, all around the world. He’s been on tour for the last two years, and there’s been all this hype about him doing well this last year, but he was