On Sunday, Nov. 14 the surfing world gathered to remember three-time world champion Andy Irons, who died unexpectedly two weeks ago while in route from the Rip Curl Pro Search in Puerto Rico to his home on Kauai.
"Live and learn, live and learn," he told me in the last interview we did together several months ago. "Unfortunately, some people like to remember what you did wrong and not what you did right," he contended.
Through coming up in the outer islands, to being caught in the midst of surfing's greatest rivalry, to returning to tour life and winning the Billabong Pro at Teahupoo, a common theme in our conversations was his feeling of being misunderstood, or maybe just misrepresented. But if memorials on Kauai and throughout California this weekend are any indication of how he will be remembered, he had absolutely nothing to worry about. After this weekend he can most certainly rest in peace.
On the normally quiet and removed beach that is Pine Trees, on the normally quiet and removed northern shore of Kauai -- the birthplace of two of the most influential surfers of the 21st Century -- over 5,000 friends, family members and well-wishers gathered to pay their final respects to the man who had given them all so much in such a tragically short amount of time.
"I've never seen the power of aloha like that. It really makes you realize how many people he touched and where his place is in the history of Hawaiian surfing," described ESPN.com Surfing's Jason Kenworthy, who also helped produce Irons' first bio film "Raw Irons" back in 1998. "It was a very profound day and everywhere you looked there were memorials and tributes to him."
Along the highway from the airport to Hanalei signs dotted the road, reading "R.I.P. Andy," "Much Love to the Irons Ohana," and simply, "Irons Bra!" At Pine Trees, where the memorial ceremony and paddle out was held, there were Polynesian dancers, a huge tent filled with photo collages and videos, and on one side of the beach park caterers busied themselves with a formal meal, while "the boys" took up stakes at the other end, drinking beer, eating sashimi, talking story and remembering their friend Andy. The paddle-out commenced with brother Bruce, Andy's wife Lyndie and his parents in a boat at the center of a massive circle of friends. Bruce gave a heartfelt speech, and well-wishers paddled up to offer their condolences to Lyndie.
"There were chants like, 'Long live the king,' and 'A.I., A.I., A.I.,'" added Kenworthy. "There were so many people out there and so many people had things to say, it all started swirling around. Then a couple helicopters flew over and dropped plumerias on everybody. It was magic."
Meanwhile, 5,000 miles across the Pacific, in Los Angeles, Huntington Beach and down at Salt Creek, California surfers paid their own respects. Over 3,000 fans gathered under the shadow of the Huntington pier, among them former world champion Lisa Andersen, Hurley founder Bob Hurley, Surfline mastermind Sean Collins, as well as legends such as David Nuuhiwa, Reno Abellira and Jericho Poppler.
"What an amazing day, what an outpouring," said Billabong's Jeff Booth after the paddle-out ceremony in Huntington. "Aaron Pai deserves a lot of credit for organizing this. He said, 'We need to get something together to remember Andy,' and that's what he did."
"This is how we remember our legends, Andy's a legend, plain and simple," said Pai, the owner of Huntington Surf and Sport. "All of this love and support that was out in the water today, we've never seen anything like it here."
But more than any paddle-outs, speeches, or token leis, as Kenworthy recounts, "When we got to Pine Trees this morning it was flat, but by the time the sun set the surf was absolutely pumping. You think that was a coincidence?"
Ride on Andy, you won't be forgotten.