The End Of A Life, And Great Rivalry

Don Chapman
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November 24, 2010
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The words used to describe that Sunday, Nov. 14, at Hanalei Bay just begin to tell the story: Awesome, amazing, emotional, unforgettable, chickenskin. So too do the handmade signs on the highway, such as the one on Page 86 - a full page of photos in tribute to the late Andy Irons.

As the surfing world in general, and the island of Kauai in particular, looked back at the life of Andy Irons, who died tragically while traveling back to Hawaii and whose ashes were scattered at Pine Trees, the break where he learned to surf, so too did we at MidWeek.

Andy twice appeared on MidWeek‘s cover - Jan. 3, 2003, in a tuxedo, after winning his first world title, and Nov. 19, 2003, as he and Kelly Slater went into the final events of the year in a battle for the title. The cover photo showed Irons and Slater wearing boxing gloves. (A few folks have appeared on MidWeek‘s cover more than once, but Irons is the only person to do so twice in one calendar year.) An inside photo showed them bare-knuckled, laughing, but throwing sucker punches as well. Both of those photos also are on Page 86.

I wrote that second story, interviewing Irons at Turtle Bay, and like many who met him was taken by how “in the moment” he was, thoughtfully answering questions. The same can be said of Slater.

Much of that story focused on the rivalry between the two, including this segment:

In planning the photo shoot for the cover, an associate of Irons said, “You won’t have any trouble getting them to sneer at one another.” An associate of Slater said, “They put those gloves on, be careful, they just might start going.”

“We’re cool,” Irons says of Slater. “Kelly is the surf god. I have the ultimate respect for him. He’s the Michael Jordan of surfing. To be up there with him in the rankings is an honor.”

But he adds: “On the beach, friendship is one thing. In the water it’s different.”

“Competition is a tough thing,” says Slater. “As guys, we compete for a lot of things, from girls to money to careers. I have brothers, so I grew up competing.

“By the nature of what we do, and our positions now, yeah, Andy and I are very competitive. But we have a deep respect for each other. At the same time, we’d probably be much better friends if we weren’t competing. He reminds me of my older brother, they have a lot of the same traits.

“It’s not a negative rivalry, just the opposite, it’s quite healthy. We never pass without saying hello.”

Despite Slater’s slight points lead in ‘03, Irons would win the final event of the year, the Pipeline Masters, to win the second of his three consecutive world titles.

Slater, who this year won his 10th world title, has said the rivalry “made me who I am,” and that he would not have won as often if he weren’t competing with Andy. It’s also fair to say Andy would not have been Andy without Kelly.

See Ron Mizutani’s column on Page 32 (Click here) for more on Irons, and another great photo.

An Oahu ceremonial paddle-out/memorial for A.I. will happen Dec. 8 at Pipeline.

Click Here to see more Andy’s photos

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