Hawaiian lauded as great champion

ANDREW McKinnon described the late Andy Irons as “the John McEnroe of surfing,” and few would disagree.

The 32-year-old, former three-time world champion who passed away in a hotel room yesterday – the cause of death is being investigated – was the people’s champ.

One of the most popular surfers to ever grace the world tour.

“Even when battling his own personal problems, people wanted Andy back, wanted to see him compete,” Tweed Daily News surf columnist McKinnon said.

“He was a great character, a great champion, who bought something to the tour few have.

“Andy always had that raw edge and became a surfing hero.

“In terms of popularity polls I’d say he was even more popular to the masses than (nine-time world champion) Kelly (Slater).”

And that’s exactly why Irons will be so sorely missed the world over.

Granted an ASP wildcard this season, McKinnon said Irons returned to the competitive world tour at the start of 2010 a new man.

He’d transformed from one of the bad boys of surfing into a genuinely good guy.

“I always liked Andy, but gone was the old brash and arrogant AI and in came the new fun-loving bloke,” McKinnon said.

“I don’t know how many saw it, but I certainly did.

“Like McEnroe, he had the talent, the bravado, the trash talk, the attitude, and everyone used to be frightened of coming up against him. But upon his return he became humble, and the measure of respect for him went up yet again.”

Irons registered an emphatic win at the fifth event this season, the Billabong Pro Tahiti in September, his first tour victory in three years.

While for some, usurping the world’s best again so soon came as a little shock, McKinnon said the writing was always on the wall.

“He was destined to win Chopes (Teahupoo) again,” McKinnon said.

“Pre-event he’d said to me that it would be great to win again and sure enough he did and it was amazing to see. What a comeback.

“But then it was no wonder. His tube riding was good as anyone’s in the world. His backhand barrel riding was as good as it gets. He was fearless and had incredible timing and style.”

McKinnon remembers fondly the Irons of old; the man who took it to arguably the greatest surfer of all time in Kelly Slater, and beat him to the 2002, ’03 and ’04 world titles.

“Andy comprehensively beat Kelly in a way that was almost humiliating for the American,” McKinnon said. “He made Kelly take a step back and rethink his approach, his tactics.

“He also said prior to his win in Tahiti this year that Kelly would win number 10 and I’m sure that when Kelly does, he will dedicate it to AI.”

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