Like most young surfers competing on the junior series I was also sponsored by Billabong. A Winter/Summer pack at my doorstep, Bong sticker slapped on the nose, travelling domestically from team house to team house and then the big trip once a year to Hawaii, crammed into a house at Sunset Beach full of eager spouters all trying to make their mark on the North Shore.
Pissing off the wrong local was always on my mind. Every street, every surf check, every party was infested with eggshells. Treading lightly and methodically splitting into groups before every session to distract the instant crowd we were creating. The island was rife with paranoia.
We were all then given our very own A.I. x3 tee. I felt privileged wearing the champs tee and it gave me a sense of belonging as I was now apart of his support crew. I was representing my idol. We were on the team.
He was the surfing star for my generation. Slater will always be the greatest but Andy gave me a reason to be a Slater hater. Kelly seemed miles away from the surf world, only showing his face at the most important of times and shooting away into neverland shortly after whereas Andy was on the frontline, fighting with everyone else, a hands on hero, the peoples champ.
There was no better a time to be an Andy fan than his emphatic victory over Slater in the 2004 Pipe Masters final, and to have the year documented by Jack McCoy was an added bonus. I will watch that movie repeatedly for the rest of my life, never getting tired of Andy taking it to the untouchable and coming out on top.
My room has been a pigsty for years. Clothes and junk all over the place. Since I was given the A.I. shirt, several garbage bags of sponsor’s clothes have been chucked in the Vinnies bin. But when I went on the search for the shirt in question, I found it neatly folded on the top shelf. It’s something that I will no doubt frame in the near future. A reminder of a lost hero, a connection to an idol gone to soon.
I never spent much time with Andy personally, a lot of us haven’t, but we all have a connection at some degree to our heroes and I still remember the day I shook his hand at the Billabong off the wall house. It was a quick introduction with a few words about the waves that day, but it will stay with me to the day I die. Everyone will have some sort of connection to Andy and it feels like something is missing in the surfing world, and even in my own surfing, now that he has passed.
To steal from Kelly’s heartfelt and emotional world title speech, I wouldn’t be surfing the way I am today and I wouldn’t have the same love for surfing that I do today without Andy. He will be missed, and always remembered.
Rest In Peace Andy Irons.