It seemed like the ocean was mourning the untimely passing of Andy Irons with the Vans Presents the HIC Pro at Sunset Beach yesterday. Scattered showers, overcast skies, choppy conditions and 16 to 20-foot wave face heights matched the mood of the ASP 4-star event. Sunset Beach was bummed.
"It was a very somber mood," said Jason Shibata on the vibe at Sunset Beach for the last contest of the 2010 ASP Hawaii season yesterday morning. "To kickoff the winter season with this event and to know that Andy is not here is really sad."
"We know Andy is here. His heart is in the ocean," said Shibata, who was on the Billabong surf team with Irons. "Being out at Sunset yesterday (Wednesday) morning, caddying for some of the boys, you could feel the ocean is really alive and has a lot of emotion just like everybody on the beach."
Kalani Robb, a close friend of Andy Irons since gromhood, felt the sea of emotions firsthand. In his second round heat, Robb and his caddy were caught by a rogue set wave in the channel, and subsequently broke one of his boards. Surfing these conditions was tough, but it was even harder just to muster up the will to compete after learning one of your best friends recently died.
"I was kind of over it (on Monday)," said Robb about surfing in the HIC Pro, "He would want us to keep doing our thing and going out there and charging, but it's a bummer and feels like it shouldn't have happened. He was the best surfer from Hawaii -- guaranteed."
Nearly every heat yesterday at the HIC Pro had a competitor or board caddy paddle out with a lei to pay tribute to Andy Irons and his stunning surfing career. In a five-year span, A.I. won three consecutive ASP world championships and four Vans Triple Crown of Surfing titles. Irons is also the only surfer that captured wins at all venues on the World Tour. Slater could never win at Sunset, but Andy could, and did, on numerous occasions. Andy's first professional victory at Sunset Beach was at this event in 1997.
On a day like yesterday, when conditions are challenging and the weather is ugly, surfers normally don't hang out at the contest site for very long. But it was different scene at the HIC Pro. Competitors and non-competitors hung out in the Sunset Beach parking lot well into the evening. Almost every handshake was followed by a hug, and it seemed like everybody in the surfing tribe wanted to be close to one another yesterday.
Waimea has been breaking. And November, the start of the Van's Triple Crown is normally a joyous time on the North Shore. But the only celebrating going on is remembering Irons.
Before the start of the contest, a memorial service was held for Andy Irons, who was a long time team rider for Hawaiian Island Creations and won this event in 1997. Kahu Butch Helemano led the Hawaiian ceremony and reminded those in attendance that Hawaiians talk about the deceased in the present tense as opposed to the past. Competitors, contest staff and spectators held hands in a large circle around one of Irons' surfboards that had a portrait of the three-time world champ.
"It's a sad day for everybody," said 2000 World Champ Sunny Garcia. "He was like my brother ... it's definitely not going to be the same without him." It's heart wrenching to know that one of the greatest Hawaiian surfers to ever ride a board will never physically be with us again, yesterday at the HIC Pro was an illustration of aloha in the surfing family.
"I wish we would remember Andy for being a great brother, great son, great friend and he would have been a great father, and not remember what some of the media is trying to portray," said Garcia. "He was a great person and I think that's how he should be remembered."