Forget what you know about Andy Irons.
From a statistical perspective, Andy's three consecutive world titles place him firmly in the company of our sport's greatest champions: Mark Richards, Tom Curren, Kelly Slater. Yet Andy has not basked in the same universal adoration that other surfing icons have enjoyed - instead, the public has faulted AI for his competitiveness; some have even resented that his titles came at the expense of Kelly Slater.
When I first met Andy Irons last year, I was just as guilty as the rest. I expected to encounter the hyper-focused, ruthless competitor portrayed in Blue Horizon. Instead, I was surprised to meet a gregarious, articulate athlete who seemed just as concerned about his friends' heat wins as his own. It struck me that most fans had no clue as to what Andy was really about. The issue only heightened over the last two years, as Irons' good results became inexplicably sporadic. Andy's frustrating competitive slide finally came to a head in September, when Irons failed to show up for his heat in France. It was obvious to fans that something had gone wrong. But without information, the public was left to fill in the blanks on their own.
As is often the case, the real story is a bit more complicated than the rumors. After hearing one too many tall tales, Andy Irons decided it was time to answer some of the questions that have been on fans' minds.
SURFLINE: Why did you no-show for your heat in France?
ANDY IRONS: It was a decision I made after the first heat I paddled out in, the day before, and made a complete fool out of myself. I just wasn't into it, and I felt like I was going to have a crazy meltdown if I stayed and tried to fake it any longer. It's hard to explain, but it goes all the way back to J-Bay, where I was freezing cold, miserable, and I truly wanted to lose that heat to Granger [Larsen], and just get the hell out of there. I even gave him a wave hoping he would get the score. Ever since then, it's like every time I put a jersey on I am slamming my head into a brick wall, and causing myself even more problems with my sponsors, fans, judges, and all these internet bloggers or whatever you call 'em. What people don't understand is that I am just as confused as they are.
You've gone into the Hawaii leg of the WCT knowing someone else is winning the title before. Do you plan on surfing the Pipe Masters this year?
I wish I could tell you "yeah," 'cause I love surfing Pipe, but I really don't know. All I can say is that you won't see me put on another contest jersey until I am 100% into it.
Any plans yet for the 2009 ASP season?
I don't know. Is there such thing as having a plan with no plans at all?
Has your brother's decision to retire from full-time ASP competition affected your perspective on the tour?
Everyone keeps asking me that. I started off saying no, but thinking about getting stuck somewhere like Bells while Bruce is getting perfect waves somewhere is going to drive me crazy. So I guess yeah... It has affected me.
A lot of fans were upset by your no-show in round two in France. A common complaint was "Would Kobe Bryant not show up to a game?" Do you feel like you have an obligation to your fans or the ASP to show up at events?
If Kobe were going to have a meltdown on live TV, I am pretty sure that the coaches would allow him some time off for "personal reasons" to avoid the obvious. Everyone is up my ass about it, so I would imagine Kobe would get all sorts of media heat and the paparazzi would be following him documenting and making their own stories up about what those "personal reasons" might be. Aside from photogs following Lyndie and I to the movies, I am going through the same shit media wise, but this is the first real interview I have done in probably 8 months because I never really knew what my deal was. I am doing this interview for the ASP, and for the fans, but I am doing it for myself too 'cause I am finally comfortable enough to do it. I want you guys to know what has been going through my head, and make you understand why I have been holing myself up in my hotel rooms at every event, only leaving the room to go surf a heat and then going right back under shelter to avoid the questions, or potential run-ins. Creepy, right? I don't know why. I used to love freesurfing, and cruising with all the boys. It's just not the same now.
You started out 2008 with renewed focus. Did losing twice in a row to Kelly at the beginning of this season have any effect on your desire to compete?
I have always said, "I can't get mad at losing if the guy I lost to wins the contest." Not saying I always followed that rule, but f**k, it sounds good right? Nah, serious... Losing to him didn't affect my desire to compete.
Judging by body language, you seemed pretty frustrated during losses at Ulus and Trestles. Is that frustration carrying over to your life after heats, or are you leaving it at the beach?
I wish I could tell you that I am leaving it on the beach, but you all know that I am full-on at whatever I do. If I am pissed off leaving the beach after a bad heat, I'm probably not the guy who is going to help your grandma across the street later that afternoon. Depending on why I lost, you used to have to give me at least a day to cool the jets. This year it feels like I have been taking those bad moods all the way across oceans to the next event with me, and I can't figure out why.
During your reign as World Champ, your rivalry with Kelly Slater seemed to spur you on to great performances. Would you like to battle him for the title next season, or is that no longer a priority in your life?
If I get into it 100% again, yeah I know I can take him down. Right now though, I just want to get my head back on, and fall in love with surfing again for myself. I can leave it to you guys to talk up the rivalry, and world title stuff. Would I kill all of your guys' dreams if I told you that Kelly and I are actually friends?
If you don't compete for the title next season, what would your priority be?
Living a happy life is my main priority. You guys may think I am selfish for "wasting my talent" by staying away from events for a bit, but I am finally at a comfortable place where I can honestly say, if you guys see me out on tour again it's because I am there to win, and I'm going to go 100%. If you don't see me on tour, it's because I have found happiness away from winning, and that might be the biggest achievement I could ever accomplish.
Can you envision a scenario when you're not on tour, and what would that look like to you?
Getting the best waves around the world with guys like Bruce, Shane-O and Rasta would be sick. I have never dealt with an open calendar, and to think I could take off to places like Tahiti, and P-Pass on a days notice to get barreled sounds like a dream to me.
You've always been pegged as the ultimate competitive animal. You've gotten older, won three titles - has that changed for you?
Yeah, it really has changed. Those titles were my life goal, but I've realized getting them is a type of temporary happiness. It would all reset as soon as you got to Snapper the following year. So I am not the guy who wants to eat you for breakfast anymore when we are in heats together. That shit will drive you crazy, if you stay in that mode for too long. Take my word for it, or just keep making up your own theories.
Are you going to the next ASP event, in Brazil?
No Brazil for me! I am in California right now just trying to get my mind right, and taking a break from surfing all together. Been going out to dinner, movies, and I even started working with a trainer. I had a meeting with Billabong the other day, and they are being super cool about this whole deal. They have seen me struggle, and knew from J-Bay that I have been close to jumping off a building at every event since then. They actually gave me the option to skip Europe all together, but I couldn't wrap my head around skipping an event I have had so much success at [The Quiksilver Pro France]. So, I went, and was right back at LAX within like 4 or 5 days I think. Pretty heavy few days. Sorry Lyndie!
There's been a ton of crazy rumors spreading through line-ups and websites about you in the last year. It seems like that would be a pretty tough thing to go through, on a personal level -- hearing wild stories about yourself that aren't true. Has that had an effect on you?
I know people have written a ton of shit about me over the past year. Blair Marlin [Andy's Manager] has told me bits and pieces of what the word on the streets is, but the other day I picked up his computer and it was on the Fantasy Surfer website. So I got into it for my first time by myself. It's f**kin radical how mean people are, and how they think they have all the answers. I read a couple things from supporters, but most of 'em just talked about how I was spoiled, or unappreciative, or just some drugged out loser. I tried not to get mad when I read that stuff, but yeah, it fired me up pretty good. How wouldn't it? Talking about my wife and shit? What the f**k?
I am a professional athlete, which means it's part of the deal for people to watch me and watch what I do in and out of the water, but I am not some bubbly f**king angel who is going to go out and try to be your best friend. I have my friends, and I surf because it's what I have always loved doing. No one really said shit when I was winning about how I acted. Now that I have a bad year, everyone is asking me to change, so let me tell you guys this: I have been on tour for the past 12 years. I have won 3 titles, and come runner-up who f**kin cares how many times. Do any of you people ever think about how draining it is to travel all year long, going to the exact same places, when the waves seem to almost always be shitty, trying to keep a winning attitude? You don't see anyone giving Bruce shit about going off tour or losing in France with a 2, but that's 'cause he never acted like he cared. Figure that shit out... You are on tour to win, and anyone who is on tour that says they don't want to win is just saying that to make themselves feel better about losing. Dane might be an exception, 'cause he's a little weird like that, but aside from him everyone cares. Saying they don't is just a disclaimer.
I don't want to be one of those guys who says they don't care, just staying somewhere in the top ten for a few more years. I want to win everything, or I don't even want to be there. Right now. I am at a point where it doesn't even matter what the waves are like. I just don't want to be there, and I don't want to put a jersey on.