That Andy Irons changed the world of surfing isn't groundbreaking. But the extent to which the late surf great changed the sport in such a short period of time is almost unheard of.
As we chronicled, around the turn of the century when Andy hit the scene, surfing was a different sport.Andy emerged with a visceral rawness to his surfing that the sport had never before seen. His surfing was borderline manic, powerful, and in your face. He wore his heart of his sleeve and was proud to be from Kauai, and as a result, became surfing's cultural zeitgeist during his championship tenure.
"When I was a grom it was like, 'Oh Kelly's my favorite surfer, no Andy's my favorite surfer, no Kelly's my favorite surfer, no Andy's my favorite surfer,'" John John Florence told TGR about growing up during Andy's heyday. "They were just both these guys that I looked up to and I idolized and seeing them battle heats out at Pipe and stuff."
Andy's legacy will forever be intertwined with his immense Hawaiian pride and unique surfing style: No other Hawaiian surfer prior to Andy had won back-to-back world titles, and the only one to do since is Florence.
"Andy to Hawaii, Andy to me and all my friends and I'm sure to everyone in Hawaii, he was the guy who grew up in Hawaii and went out and was winning world titles against the best surfer in the world at the time, and that was Kelly Slate," said Florence. "Andy showed being from Hawaii was like one of the coolest things to do. It showed that you could grow up and surf kind of any kind of wave and you could surf big waves, small waves, and you could take all your knowledge of surfing in Hawaii and bring it around the world and win."
Today's surfing scene rarely resembles the highly competitive days of yesteryear–apart from the occasional backlash at the WSL's judges–but back when Andy burst onto the scene, he brought a new fire to the tour that had never before been seen, which introduced the sport to a much larger audience.
"To me Andy just ... He surfed like he wanted to win no matter what. That's what drove Andy," said Florence. "You watch Mick Fanning surf, and he surfs smart. Mick Fanning surfs very smart. He surfs every wave exactly how he needs to surf it, and does exactly what he needs to do. I gotta give it to Mick Fanning, that's amazing. That's the most incredible thing to do. But then you go and you watch someone like Andy and it's so different. It's 100 percent like a whole different ballpark. He's going out there and he's just, every sections just as hard as he can. You can see the aggression, and he just wants to win. He just wants to kill the wave."
"It was raw and it was gnarly," Florence continued. "He just seemed like a person who really didn't give a fuck. He was gonna go do what he was gonna do and no one was gonna tell him how do it or when to do it. He was on his own program."