Andy Irons, the legendary surfer from Hanalei, Kauai died Tuesday morning in a Dallas, Texas hotel room as he was traveling back to Kaua‘i from Puerto Rico. Irons, 32, had been scheduled to compete at the Association of Surfing Professionals 2010 Rip Curl Pro Search, but pulled out of the event this weekend while suffering from Dengue fever, which he had reportedly contracted at an event in Portugal.
Jodi Wilmott, a spokesperson for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, said that a representative from the Irons family told her Andy “was very ill on the plane, booked himself into a hotel and didn’t wake up.” Andy’s wife, Lyndie, is pregnant with the couple’s first child and is expected to give birth to their son in December. The couple was married in 2007 in Princeville.
He is the older brother of Bruce Irons, 30, as the duo became two of the most well-known faces in competitive surfing. The Irons family in a statement thanked the surfer’s friends and fans and requested privacy “so their focus can remain on one another during this time of profound loss.”
Growing up in Hanalei and keeping the North Shore of Kauai as his home, Andy became a three-time ASP world champion (2002-2004). The impact of his death was felt throughout the North Shore, as word spread quickly Tuesday.
“He’s just a really good friend,” said Gordon Phillips of Hanalei Surf Company. “We’ve been watching him surf since he was little.”
An employee at Backdoor in Ching Young Village said that the news had not really hit home yet. He said that he was sure in the coming days as people held memorials and lu‘aus in Irons’ honor, that it would then become more real.
“I would say our whole town is in mourning,” said a woman known to many in Hanalei simply as Bobo. “He was very valuable to us all.”
Former professional surfer Kaipo Jaquias was in shock.“Hawai‘i just lost its best surfer,” he said, in an emotional statement. Jaquias said he knew Irons growing up, as a friend and as a fellow competitor. “I feel for him and his family,” he said. Jaquias was the first Kaua‘i surfer to win the prestigious Hawaiian Triple Crown in 1996. Irons’ first of his four Triple Crown titles was in 2002.
The men’s Triple Crown is made up of three O‘ahu North Shore events — the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa Alii‘i Beach Park, the O’Neill World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach and the Billabong Pipeline Masters at the Banzai Pipeline. This year’s Triple Crown is scheduled to begin Nov. 12. Andy was set to participate again.
Irons’ passing away is a “tragic loss” to the surfing world, said Jaquias, adding that Irons was the best and most successful surfer ever from Hawai‘i. Jaquias said Irons died young, but “lived his life to the fullest.” “Whatever time I had with him, I cherish it,” he said.
Andy and Bruce held an annual contest for keiki with the Irons Brothers Pine Trees Classic in Hanalei. Residents said that he and Bruce became the figures locals could point to as the precedent for where surfing could take someone. ”Andy was kind of like a lot of people’s hero,” said Kimiko Kuwabara of Pedal n’ Paddle in Ching Young Village. “He showed that you could surf and get paid for it, and not just that but actually do something with it.”
Outside of Kaua‘i, news of Irons’ death was also spreading in rapid form, both by word of mouth and social media . Both “Andy RIP” and “Irons” became trending topics on Twitter. Billabong, his longtime sponsor, released an official statement which said “It is with deep sadness that Billabong has learned of the news of Andy Irons’ passing. Andy was one of the greatest surfers of our time. More than that, he was a much loved son, a devoted husband and a soon-to-be father. The thoughts of all Billabong employees worldwide are with wife Lyndie and Andy’s family at this most devastating time.”
In a video posted by Billabong, Irons talked about his first wave he ever caught. “I thought right then, ‘This is the coolest thing in the world.’ … I literally will never forget that wave,” Irons said.
After being a tour regular for his entire professional career, Irons withdrew from tour competition in 2009, citing that he was burnt out from the grind of the season. Though he competed in a few events, he had no intention of surfing a full schedule or going after a tour championship. He returned to ASP World Tour in 2010, requesting a wildcard entry, which was granted by ASP president Wayne Bartholomew. As a result, Irons did not have to re-qualify in 2010 via the World Qualifying Series.
On Sept. 3, Irons notched the 20th victory of his career at the elite level of competition as he bested C.J. Hobgood in the final of the Billabong Pro Tahiti in Teahupoo. In addition to his three world titles, Irons won three straight Quiksilver Pro France titles (2003-2005) and back-to-back Rip Curl Pro Search titles (2006-2007).
He was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach, California in 2008. Irons was featured in the 2004 film “Blue Horizon,” along with current ASP world rankings leader and 10-time world champion, Kelly Slater.
The Rip Curl Pro Search began Saturday in Puerto Rico, as Irons was slated to go up against Australians Owen Wright and Luke Stedman in his opening-round heat, but did not compete.
The Rip Curl Pro Search called a lay day on Wednesday, suspending the event out of respect for Irons, saying that competition will resume following further consultation with ASP and surfers.
Story by Garden Island reporters Leo Azambuja and Paul Curtis