Bruce Irons is a legend. He is, without a doubt, one of the greatest surfers of all time. In both his free surfing and his contest surfing, Bruce has proven that he stands nose to nose with the best of the best–but he needs to stop competing.
Not because he can’t compete with the best anymore, but because, more than anyone else, Bruce needs waves that match his surfing. His surfing is huge and powerful, like a runaway freight train teetering dangerously on the brink of disaster. The “world’s best surfers in the world’s best waves” tagline is bullshit–at least the last half, anyway.
When Bruce Irons lost to Filipe Toledo in the second round of the Billabong Pipeline Masters, it was fair. Toledo won that heat fair and square. Had it been true Pipeline, though, I’m not sure that Toledo would have stood a chance. That’s not to say that Toledo doesn’t hold his own when it comes to tube-riding, it’s just to say that there are only a few people in the world that know Pipe like Bruce knows Pipe. I’d wager that Toledo would agree.
Surfing competitively is much more than just surfing. It’s playing the game; using your available resources to get the highest rating possible. It’s heat savvy, it’s mind games, and it’s the ability to stay focused on one singular goal for the whole season. Bruce fans want to see Bruce performing like we know he can, which is why whenever he gets a wildcard, it’s an exciting thing. But that wildcard only works out for Bruce when it’s pumping. Putting him in sub-par waves is like putting a Ferrari on a go-kart track: sure, you know it can haul ass, but there’s just not enough track to do it on. Bruce is made for hair-straight-back surfing; for massive tubes, huge hacks, gigantic throw away airs, and the heaviest of drops. He’s not made for seemingly endless painful minutes of webcast drudgery.
Bruce needs the best waves in the world to be one of the best surfers in the world, and there will never be a year where every heat of every event has big, perfect waves. That’s part of the beauty of surfing, after all: Mother Nature doesn’t give a shit about who’s in which heat.
Bruce Irons is at an exciting time in his life right now. It seems, at least from an outsider’s perspective, that he’s shaken off the cobwebs, started to sort his life out, and is surfing at a level that we’ve been waiting for him to return to. His story is turning into a phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes tale, but if he keeps trying his luck with events, that flame might just fade out, guttering like an old candle. And Bruce is a raging bonfire. He needs the right fuel to keep it going.