Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 |
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HANALEI — Signs lined the highway entering Hanalei town, welcoming the waves of people who came to Kaua‘i’s North Shore from all points on the globe to pay tribute and celebrate the life of Andy Irons.
The Kaua‘i-born surfing legend was found dead at age 32 on Nov. 2 in a Dallas-area hotel. He had recently withdrawn from the 2010 Rip Curl Pro Search due to illness and was returning home from Puerto Rico.
While November North Shore days can often bring heavy cloud cover and sporadic rainfall, Sunday was clear and sunny, providing a warmth that was fitting to commemorate a friend to so many.
An estimated 6,500 people lined the beach at Hanalei Bay — some fans, some acquaintances, many friends and family.
As far as the eye could see were arms cradling surfboards.
“It shows that Andy was a true ambassador of aloha and he was loved around the world,” said Myles Padaca, the 2001 Triple Crown of Surfing champion. “Here we are, thousands and thousands of people. … His spirit will live on. … He’s done so much in such a short period of time, lived life to the fullest, what else can you say? I’ll miss him.”
Pine Trees was the focal point, as the Irons ‘ohana and close-knit circle had their own tent together.
The memorial service began with an opening prayer by Kelvin Ho.
The family gathered together by the stage as onlookers came together to share their aloha.
“Welcome to this beautiful celebration of our boy, Andy,” said Lui Kaninau-Cabebe before performing three chants and blessings.
A moment of silence had a fitting backdrop as the sound of crashing waves filled the air while bowed heads held their private reflections.
“We can hear the sound of the sea calling us home,” said Ho after the moment of silence, prompting loud cheers.
A massive paddle-out had already taken shape with hundreds of surfers out past the break. They were gathered together, holding hands, crying out cheers of “AI” and splashing wildly to let out a full complexity of emotion — a complexity that Andy himself embodied.
“Once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Rick Terrazas about the paddle. “The reasons for this gathering are sad, but the brotherhood shown amongst everybody on the island is unbelievable. That’s what Andy would have wanted. I just felt so much chicken skin out there. Amazing. Absolutely amazing.”
As Bruce Irons led the paddle-out of Andy’s closest friends and family, a helicopter made multiple flower drops over the growing swarm while a conch shell continued to be heard throughout the festivities.
“It was so emotional out there,” said Eddie Abubo. “The canoe full of Irons family was out there and what a turnout of support. Amazing amount of people came out to support this and Andy’s spirit and celebrate his life. I was one of the fortunate people, he was always around our house. I had one son, but it always felt like we had four or five kids around. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Over the loudspeaker, Pete Pope Kahapea talked about paddle-outs happening all over the world in honor of Andy. People in locations such as Puerto Rico, Florida, California, Brazil and Israel had all headed to the ocean in his memory.
“It seems that this young man has brought us all together,” he said.
The Irons family all proceeded to make their way out into the water, using Jet Ski and surfboard. Each time family members would embrace one another, a loud cheer could be heard from the rest of the floating masses.
After their time together, Bruce came back towards the shore on a Jet Ski, holding his board above his head, prompting noise from those on the beach.
Though a northwest swell was on its way, the sets seemed to dissipate while the paddlers gathered. Not until everyone began to return did some opt to catch a ride.
“We are a unique tribe,” Kahapea said. “A tribe of surfers who chase waves around the world.”
The memorial service lasted less than an hour, but the day retained a festive atmosphere with live music and tents set up all along the beach. Donavon Frankenreiter, Shiloh Pa and Titus Kinimaka were all scheduled to take the stage.
One tent had a four-walled collage with various images of Andy and Bruce growing up on Kaua‘i. Two video screens played montages of Andy, one such clip backed by Jay-Z’s “Young Forever.”
“The thing that I noticed the most is just how amazing it is, how many people Andy’s touched,” said Taj Burrow, currently the No. 4 ranked surfer on the Association of Surfing Professionals world tour. “It’s obvious he’s had a huge impact on my life. He’s influenced me a lot, especially when it comes to competitive surfing. We’ve competed against each other since day one. He’s an amazing competitor, an amazing person and it’s great to see how many people realize that.”
The thousands in attendance had an opportunity to write a personal message at a condolence booth.
A high percentage of those thousands were wearing tribute shirts, many printed with the Irons name or years of Andy’s life.
“The memory I have of Andy is when he tucked me in to bed to sleep at night,” said pro surfer Makua Rothman, 26, of Sunset Beach.
“I think he’s only tucked girls into bed and me. He sat there until 2 a.m. talking story to me. … Andy had the soul of gold. He’s what you call a genuine person. We love him forever.
“He’s just one of those people that you call a legend and will never be forgotten,” he said.
The day was a combination of remembrance and celebration. A glimpse of someone mourning was often balanced by keiki running and playing in the sand. Smiles were plentiful, as were friendly embraces.
Many of the sport’s elite were in attendance as a lay day was called at the Reef Hawaiian Pro, the first leg of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, which began Friday on O‘ahu, though no action has yet taken place.
“I got to travel with Andy on the world tour when he first came on the scene, he and his brother both, and he’s a pretty inspirational guy,” Padaca said.
“Just traveling with them over the years just really improved my surfing and I would say, without a doubt, it contributed to my biggest achievement ever in professional surfing, which was winning the Triple Crown in 2001. The year I won, he lost by just a few points. For me that’s a special memory because he was part of that success.”
The cause of Irons’ death is being investigated.
• David Simon, sports writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or email@example.com
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