Pipeline: surfing’s most iconic and historic wave; the ‘Holy Grail of waves by which all others are measured’; the wave which has claimed more lives than any other wave in the world; the backdrop to surfing’s quintessential and most revered event, Pipemasters.
One of surfing’s oldest events, and the final jewel in the Vans Triple Crown and last stop on the Men’s WSL Competitive Tour, the Pipemasters title is the most prestigious in surfing, with winners becoming instant champions and flung into the ranks of the most highly-respected surfers on the planet.
In 2010 the event’s named changed to ‘Billabong Pro Pipemasters In Memory of Andy Irons’ – dedication to the fabled American legend following his shock death one month prior, aged just 32.
Six years on and the dedication by naming sponsor Billabong remains, as does the almost mythical legend of surfing’s rock ‘n’ roll, antihero superstar.
Growing up surfing in Hanalei Bay on Hawaii’s North Island Kauai, Irons honed his skills ‘under the radar of surf industry star-making machinery’.
Surfing’s biggest marketing asset and, in turn, the world’s wealthiest surfer as a result of sponsorship by Billabong, was just an anonymous Hawaiian local winning US national titles while other rookies were being groomed for the pro ranks.
Irons’ anonymity continued until it was blown out of the water by his 1996 Pipemasters win, where he tore through 12ft Pipe in a way which only Andy Irons could.
Fame quickly followed Irons as he trail-blazed his way through the professional surfing circuit, being one of only a few to win three consecutive world titles. His wins put him into many head-to-head showdowns with Kelly Slater, creating the greatest rivalry in surfing history.
Billabong’s rebellious Irons versus Quiksilver’s squeaky-clean Slater – and surfing punters around the world picked their side: Team Irons or Team Slater.
Despite the rivalry, the two were said to be great friends, with Slater being one of the first to pay tribute following Irons’ death, and dedicating his 2010 World Title win to his late friend.
“I just want to send my condolences to Andy’s family,” Slater said.
“I’m a little overwhelmed right now, but I want to dedicate this to Andy… It’s like exact opposites. This doesn’t really offset that, I’d give this title away in a second if Andy could come back.”
Sponsorships, rivalries and antics aside, Andy Irons surfing had spoken for itself. ‘Spoken’ being an understated adjective when referring to Irons’ presence on a wave.
Surfing, he once said, “is the closest thing you can feel to being kissed by God.”
“Kissed by God” seems an adequate description by Irons when viewing old footage of him surfing Pipe, Mentawai’s or Teuahapo’o. With distinct style and grace his surfing screams relevance today, but more so than anything else it depicts a man not only in, but enjoying, his element.
“When Andy surfed, he surfed with a passion that was so raw, so balls-to-the-wall, all-or-nothing explosive, you never knew what he was going to do next” – Keala Kennelly, professional big wave surfer
“Andy surfs like a cat on acid” – Mark Occhilupo, world champion surfer.
“He set the pace of which surfing finally came around to embrace” – Dave Riddle, Volcom Surf Coach.
With surfing’s elite often paying homage to Andy Iron’s and his surfing ability, it’s undoubtedly clear as to why professional surfing’s most prestigious and gnarliest event remains in dedication to the Hawaiian local who won the attention of sponsors, the respect and love of his competitors, and the hearts of fans worldwide.
“More than anything, I just want to be remembered as someone who passionately loved surfing,” Irons told Surfing in 2005.