The surfing world is mourning with shock news of three-time world champion Andy Irons’ death at age 32.
Irons was forced to withdraw from round one of the current Rip Curl Pro Search world championship tour event in Puerto Rico with illness over the weekend, and then flew out of the island.
The American died during a stop over, believed to be in Dallas, Texas, on Tuesday on his way back home to Kauai, Hawaii where he was to seek treatment.
The cause of death was not immediately known, but he withdrew from a surfing competition in Puerto Rico last weekend because of illness.
Employees at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, found the body and called airport police.
Local public safety officials said Irons had checked in on Monday and had died of unknown causes, and an autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday.
A statement from Irons’ family in Hawaii, posted on the website of the Association of Surfing Professionals, said Irons “had reportedly been battling with Dengue fever,” although this was unconfirmed.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the surfer’s friends denied suggestions he had been battling a drug problem, after a Honolulu Star Advertiser article said police were investigating a possible methadone overdose.
The Star Advertiser said a small quantity of methadone – used in pain relief – was found on Irons’s night stand, along with insomnia medication.
Surfing world shocked
Surfers and event organisers at the Rip Curl Search in Puerto Rico were devastated after receiving the news.
Irons was a popular surfer on tour, who won the world title three times in 2002, 2003 and 2004 and for many years was the main rival to nine-times world champion Kelly Slater.
He had 20 world tour event wins and is the only surfer to have won at every location on the ASP tour.
He is survived by his wife Lyndie Dupuis.
A statement was released from Irons’ family via the ASP World Tour.
“The world of surfing mourns an incredibly sad loss today with the news that Hawaii’s Andy Irons has died,” the statement read.
“Andy was a beloved husband and a true champion. Irons, 32, withdrew from a professional surfing event in Puerto Rico last weekend due to illness and passed away during a lay over en route to his home in Kauai, Hawaii.
“At this time the family sincerely thanks his friends and fans for their support and asks that the community respect their privacy. The family also asks not to be contacted so their focus can remain on one another during this time of profound loss.”
Rip Curl event organisers were planning to meet shortly to determine whether they should cancel the remainder of the competition or continue on in Irons’ honour.
“We’re still getting our key people together so there’s nothing to really discuss at the moment,” said event manager, Brooke Farris.
“We haven’t made any announcement as such.”
Australian former world champion Mark Occhilupo was left shatterd by the news, describing Irons as one of his best friends.
“(Australian surfer) Joel (Parkinson) rang me this morning … and I just broke down, I went to my wife and couldn’t stop crying,” the 1999 world champion told Fox Sports.
“It’s just really, really heart-wrenching … I’m devastated.
“He was such a vibrant, lovely person to be around.”