At 10:15 a.m. Hawai'i standard time, Andy Irons is carried on the shoulders of his friends from the truck where he watched Luke Egan fail to advance to the semifinals to a stage 100 yards away. He is surrounded by a sea of photographers and journalists, frantically jostling for good positioning. He has just won the 2002 ASP World Title.
His victory came when Luke Egan placed third in his quarterfinal heat with Taylor Knox, Shane Dorian, and Luke Hitchings. Luke's elimination for the contest put Andy out of reach of any other WCT competitor with Pipeline still left on the CT's schedule. When Taj Burrow was eliminated in Round Two the previous day (interestingly, Taj was beaten by Andy's brother Bruce) that left only Luke Egan still mathematically viable for a challenge for the world title.
And Luke made it interesting until the final moments of his heat, catching a wave with just ten seconds remaining. Luke needed a 7.07 to continue his challenge for the title, but he fell just short, scoring a 6.3, sending the crowd of friends, family, and miscellaneous hangers-on surrounding Andy into a frenzy.
An interference call had eliminated Andy from semifinal number two just half an hour earlier, so he watched Luke's heat from the passenger seat of a white Ford Ranger just up the beach. The minute between Luke's final wave and the announcement of his losing score must have felt like a week. When it was announced that Andy had become the new World Champ, he got up on the hood of the truck and screamed, “Yes!”
Hats were immediately distributed, reading “Kauai World Champ.”
On the podium, the emotion of the moment got to Andy–you could tell he was taking deep breaths to keep himself focused. Focus has been the buzzword surrounding him this year. He's been the odds-on favorite since the tour began in January, but at the age of 24, many don't have the type of concentration required to win a world title. It involves a tremendous amount of traveling, patience, and strength, and more than just a bit of luck. But he survived to bask in the win, just after the clouds broke to let the warm early morning Hawai'ian sun in.
In a press conference a half hour after his victory was announced, Andy calmly told a reporter, “If the world ended tomorrow, I'd die happy … for sure.”–Joel