Andy Irons has been praised for changing the face of surfing, after news on Tuesday that the triple world title winner had been found dead in his Dallas hotel room.
The ASP world tour in 1998, Irons became known as an innovator and after a decade of excellence he was inducted into the surfers’ walk of fame in California in 2008.
The Hawaiian competed in an era when Kelly Slater was conquering all, and the fact Irons was able to win three consecutive world championships between 2002-2004 is perhaps the greatest testament to his immense talent.
At the Rip Curl Pro Search event in Puerto Rico, where Irons had been due to compete, Slater is on the verge of winning an unprecedented 10th world title.
But all of a sudden, Slater has been left crushed by the sudden passing of one of his greatest rivals, with initial reports suggesting it was due to an overdose of methadone.
Irons won 19 world championship events before taking a break in 2008. It had followed a similar hiatus when he was starting out in the late 1990s.
Irons fought ‘inner demons’
While speculation about the cause of his death continues, Irons himself had admitted battling his own “inner demons” throughout the years.
Earlier this year he told a Billabong documentary: “If I didn’t have surfing to get those (demons) out of my system, I would self destruct,” he said.
“Surfing’s the only reason that keeps me going in a normal state, that keeps my life at an even keel.
“Without it, it would just tip into oblivion.”
Irons returned to claim a 20th title at the Billabong Pro in Tahiti this August, and the old ‘AI’ appeared to be back.
He remains the only surfer to have won every event on the world tour. His major sponsor Billabong described him as “one of the greatest surfers of our time.”
Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) chief executive Brodie Carr credited Irons for reinventing the surfing game.
“We all know Andy won three world titles, he won four triple crowns, he won (20) world championship events, he’s a great, great surfer and he changed pro surfing when he came on the scene. He’s a great competitor,” said Carr.
Irons was forced to withdraw from his two weekend rounds at the Rip Curl Pro Search amidst some confusion at the site, but it was soon confirmed he was severely ill and bed-ridden.
Surfing staff told AAP in Aguadilla how over the moon Irons was when he fought back from his lay-off to win that Billabong Pro.
Occhilupo pays tribute
Australian Mark Occhilupo agreed, and paid tribute to one of the most amazing surfers he’s seen.
“Last time I saw Andy was in Tahiti. We stayed together and I dropped him off to the airport and he was as happy as I’ve ever seen him,” Occhilupo told Fox Sports.
“I just spoke to Donavon Frankenreiter (Billabong surfer) on the phone and he saw Andy in Kauai a few weeks ago and he was fine. “Some of the things I’ve seen him do in the surf, has just been unbelievable.
“The way he surfed at Pipeline … I remember one day he took a 30 foot wave when no one wanted to know about it.
“We’ll all get together today, Luke Egan, Joel (Parkinson) and everyone, and just remember how good he was.”
Irons is survived by wife Lyndie Dupuis, who was due to give birth next month to their first child.
He is also survived by his younger brother Bruce, a fellow professional surfer.