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Irons, Bruce


Prodigiously talented regularfooter from Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii; world-ranked #9 in 2005; winner of the 2001 Pipeline Masters and the 2004 Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big-wave contest at Waimea Bay; the proudly dissolute younger brother of three-time world champion Andy Irons.

Bruce Irons was born (1979) in Lihue, Kauai, a three-and-a-half-pound preemie, the son of a California-raised surfer-carpenter and nephew to 1964 United States Invitational winner Rick Irons. Raised in Hanalei, Irons began surfing at age seven, and went on to become one of the state's best amateur competitors: in the United States Surfing Championships, he won the menehune division in 1992, placed third in the boys' division in 1994, and finished runner-up to Andy in the juniors division in 1996. Irons turned pro just after high school graduation, and the following year, as surf journalist Chris Mauro later wrote, he had "the entire surf industry eating out of his palm."

Publicly, Irons was always remarkably lacking in ambition. "I don't think I have to prove anything to anyone," the mumbling 5'10", 165-pound surfer told Mauro, and added that he hoped to just "keep everything the same as before, keep hanging with the same people and keep the same routines." While big brother Andy earned a spot on the world pro circuit in 1998, Bruce continued to be hit or miss as a competitor, often losing in the early rounds, but sometimes rocketing to a top finish: he finished second in the 1999 world juniors championships; in the Pipeline Masters he placed second in 1998 and third in 2000; he beat six-time world champion Kelly Slater to take the 2001 Masters, then a few weeks later won the 2002 Gotcha Pro, also held at Pipeline. 

2004 was something of a breakout year in Irons's competitive career. He qualified for that year's world tour, lost to his brother Andy in the finals of the Quiksilver Pro France, won the prestigious Eddie Aikau memorial big-wave contest at Waimea Bay, and made the finals of the season-ending Pipeline Masters contest. Yet a sibling rivalry that many hoped for never really emerged between the Irons brothers on tour. Andy was the more aggressive and seasoned competitor, and Bruce was reluctant to challenge his brother's dominance. "I remember when I made the tour, I only did it ‘cause he (Andy)  made it," Bruce told Stab magazine in 2011. "and to tell the truth, when I did surf against him, I didn’t wanna win. Because that was his thing. He’s the world champ. I was just there ‘cause my brother was there."

But contest results had little to do with Irons's rock-star reputation in the surf world. In the water he was fluid and limber—smoother than Andy, if not quite as powerful through his turns—deploying one spring-loaded aerial move after another in small-to-medium-sized waves, and riding the tube with insolent calm at places like Pipeline and Teahupoo. He was often described as having the best pure surfing style since Californian Tom Curren.

Irons dropped off the tour following the 2008 season, but remained a high-profile figure. In August, 2011, less than eight months after Andy Irons died of drug-related heart failure, he was a standout during the once-in-a-lifetime "Code Red Swell" at Teahupoo, catching three of the heaviest waves ever seen on video, the third ripping the boardshorts clean off his body. He performed similar feats of style and bravado at Clouldbreak and Mainland Mexico.

The most photogenic surfer of his generation, Irons has appeared in a hundred or more surf videos, DVS, and webisodes, including Voluptuous (1996), Side B (1997), Magnaplasm (1998), Loose Change (1999), Changing Faces (2001), and The Bruce Movie (2005).

Irons was named Breakthrough Surfer of the Year in the 1999 Surfer Magazine Readers Poll Awards; on their 2009 "50 Greatest Surfers of All Time" list, Irons was #23.