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Best I Ever Saw: Andy Irons

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He was completely spontaneous, and the most naturally gifted surfer I’ve ever seen. The wave shown here is from a trip to Mexico, where we got the points really good for the film Trilogy. I remember clearly that this was his very first wave off the plane. He had walked up the beach, said hello to me, Rob Gilley, Matt Beauchesne, and Taylor Steele. Then he paddled out, caught this wave, and did this turn. I never saw him do a turn like this again.

I miss Andy so much. I think about him every day. It’s a little weird to write about a friendship with someone of Andy’s level of celebrity. It feels kind of like I’m name-dropping. But the truth is that Andy was like a big brother to me. I got hired [as a photographer] for Billabong at a pretty young stage in my career. I certainly wasn’t qualified for the job, and I knew I’d have to meet this larger-than-life character. To be honest, I almost dreaded it. What the hell was he gonna think of me? I was some boring kid from Orange County.

He lived such a visceral existence, which is why he would do incomprehensible things on his surfboard. You never knew what the hell he was gonna say or do, which made him tough to photograph—but always exciting.

The day came in Tahiti at Momi and Popi Maoni’s house. I recognized his voice and suddenly the curtain from a little room popped open and there he was. My friend Dino Andino walked me straight up to him and said some nice things as an introduction. Andy threw his arm around me and said, “Follow me.”

I spent five years with Andy and Lyndie (she’s family to my wife and I). We had the greatest times together. When you were having fun with Andy, you were having the best time of your life. He lived such a visceral existence, which is why he would do incomprehensible things on his surfboard. It all came from the heart. You never knew what the hell he was gonna say or do, which made him tough to photograph—but always exciting. With most surfers, you can look at the wave they’re on and it can be predictable. With Andy, you just had to be ready.