Year in review: Surfing

Surfers Pay Tribute to Andy Irons (2:28)

Competition was put on hold in Puerto Rico as the surf community paddled out in tribute to Andy Irons. (2:28)


The Best That Ever Was
"More than anything, it's a relief," said Kelly Slater minutes after being crowned 10-time ASP World Champion. In a career that's spanned 20 years and multiple generations, on Nov. 6, the 38-year-old Slater was anointed world champ, and in the process left little room for doubt that he is truly the greatest surfer of all time. His accomplishments rank right up there with the sport's best. Think Armstrong, Jordan and the like. "It's been the most stressful title I've had, I think ever," he continued. "It's kind of an unknown place, you know. People say that at my age I should be retired, that I shouldn't be doing this, that all the young guys are getting better, blah, blah, blah. It's a challenge to you to see how much you believe in yourself." Well, seeing is believing. At an age when most professional surfers have either fallen off the radar or transitioned into an industry job, Slater continues to paddle out and redefine the sport. And as for plans for the 2011 season? He's not ruling out retirement -- going out on top epitomizes a graceful exit, but then again, he shows little signs of slowing anytime soon.

Queen For A(nother) Year
For four years running, no woman has dominated surfing like Australia's Stephanie Gilmore. On Nov. 1, the girl from sleepy Tweed Heads, Australia, captured her fourth consecutive ASP Women's World Title, and placed herself among the sport's most distinguished competitors in the process. "I think this title was maybe the most difficult," confessed Gilmore immediately following her coronation at the Rip Curl Pro Search. "I didn't feel like my surfing was as up to scratch like a lot of the other girls, and I knew coming here [Puerto Rico] was going to be a challenge and the other girls were going to be on fire. I've never been so nervous before a heat, but yeah, this is a really sweet feeling." Layne Beachely, who owns seven world titles -- and won six of them consecutively from 1998 through 2003 -- is the only woman standing in Gilmore's way of becoming the winningest female surfer of all time. But to be fair, Gilmore's just getting started. She won her first title in 2007 as a rookie, and hasn't relinquished the top spot since.

RIP, Andy Irons
On Nov. 2, three-time ASP World Champion Andy Irons was found dead in a Dallas airport hotel room. The tragic news came as a sudden and unexpected shock to the global surfing community, which at the time was poised to help Kelly Slater celebrate his record 10th world title. After falling ill in Puerto Rico prior to the start of the Rip Curl Pro Search event, Irons withdrew from the event, then attempted to return home to Hawaii to recuperate and see his wife, who at the time was eight months pregnant with their first child. Initial statements from his family and sponsors claimed that Irons' passing was a result of an acute case of dengue fever, but speculation ran rampant that illicit substances may have played a role. To date, final findings from the Tarrant County medical examiner are still pending. While he'll forever be remembered for what he accomplished in the water, in recent years Irons had admittedly been "battling demons." But with a win in August at the Billabong Pro Tahiti and a son on the way it appeared he'd righted the ship and was back on a positive course. On Dec. 16, the first day of the Billabong Pipeline Masters in Memory of Andy Irons, his wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Andrew Axel Irons.