"When I go to my grave my head will be high, Let me die in my footsteps before I go down under the ground." -Bob Dylan, 1962
February 13 is Andy Irons Day in Hawaii. Officially recognized in the Islands to celebrate the life and accomplishments of the three-time world champion from Hanalei, Kauai.
Memories of Andy come in flashes and waves. They come in bits and pieces. Like well-edited YouTube montages popping up in the mind's eye every so often:
Hoisting the 2006 Pipe Masters trophy after narrowly edging out Slater. It could have been the single greatest heat ever surfed. Emotions are in the driver's seat. He's shaking with uncontrolled excitement. Rabid. Frothing. The thrill of victory-or the kill. Before he can extend his arms above his head his wet hands slip. He drops the big bronze sculpture on this face. Blood runs down the bridge of his nose. He doesn't even blink. Doesn't even notice. Soon the awards ceremony is over, and he's ushered into the Volcom house for a party that will only start to slow down 48 hours later.
Sitting at a harbor-front bar in Mundaka. He'd dismissed himself from Giuseppe's, where Bruce, Occy, and Fred are marinating. He wanted somewhere quiet. Now he's lost in conversation with a 70-year-old Basque fisherman. The language barrier is thick. Somehow, they end up trading shoes. Somehow an hour later Andy still has on a pair of cracked Spanish leather kicks while his new friend sits comfortably in a spacious pair of Nikes that are two sizes too big. Laughter and miscommunication are pervasive.
Placing an order in a smoothie shop in Hanalei, a long-haired 20-something Hawaiian approaches. Andy notes his nickname is "Shaka." In his younger years, Shaka had got the three middle fingers of his right hand stuck in a poi grinder, rendering his hand in a permanent state of aloha. He says, "Ho bra, how you been, I hardly even recanotice you." "Recanotice" is immediately uploaded into our collective vocabulary and sited often thereafter.
Paddling out to a Reunion Island mysto slab. It's heavy. Steamy and tropical like the Indian Ocean is. There's nobody else out. Nobody else is ever out. It's not even a surf spot. Bruce and Fred watch from the car before eventually gathering the courage to join their friend. It looks deathly shallow. Local passersby note it's a sea turtle breeding ground. Andy was spooked by tiger sharks before getting in the water. News of the turtles doesn't help. A half of a mile up the coast, St. Leu is peeling perfection. But this has risk. Bruce and Freddy break their boards and go in after a wave. Andy wins the day, again.
Waiting for a wave to come his way on the Gold Coast. Time ticks off the proverbial clock. His wife Lyndie is on the beach watching. She's concerned for him. She understands what this means to him and she's there for him. It's his first heat back after getting clean. The day before he'd been flogged across the Snapper rocks. The confidence simply wasn't there. But he dug deep, waiting for his wave. For a chance. For redemption. For some sanity. Him against the ocean. Him against the world.
Driven, friendly, familiar, excessive, uncompromising. Andy Irons was nothing short of multidimensional. On Nov. 2, 2010, the three-time world champion left this world.
In his 32 years on Earth Andy burned white hot, and in the words of Bob Dylan-and in a sentiment occasionally referenced by Andy-at least he went in his footsteps. He was traveling the world, surfing and living the life he'd always dreamed of. And yes, he did eventually get to that one last wave when he won the Billabong Pro in Tahiti earlier in the year. Sweet redemption. Sweet relief. And on Dec. 9, 2010, first day of the Pipe Masters, Andy's wife Lyndie gave birth to their son, Andrew Axel Irons. And the legacy lives on.