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Q&A With Bruce Irons

November 2009

Bruce Irons, 29, grew up on the North Shore of Kauai. In addition to being an avid golfer, he's considered one of the best big-wave surfers of all time. In a recent Q-and-A, Irons compares short putts to big waves and breaks down his so-called rivalry with fellow surfer and golfer, Kelly Slater.

When did you get into golf?
My dad always played golf and I remember him hitting balls when I was really young. My grandfather lives across the street from a golf course in Aspen, Colorado. One of my earliest memories, when I was 5 or 6, was when I went to Aspen and he made me a little wooden 3-wood. The thing was probably two-and-half feet tall. That was one of my earliest memories. But then four years ago, I started wanting to learn how to get good. I wanted to learn the proper swing and to hit the ball where I was aiming. I was sick of trying to baseball-bat every swing. I was sick of bad luck. I wanted to learn how to do it right. I didn't know how to grip it right until four years ago.

Your bother, Andy, has won three world titles in surfing, but he's not a golfer?
He loves golf, but he sucks. He loves it so much and he plays a lot, but he does not want to learn how to get better. I told him it starts with your grip. He enjoys going out there, playing like crap, swinging bad, and lying about his score. He loves it.

What do you love about the game of golf?
It's the whole mental aspect. You have to hold your composure. I also like the etiquette. When you're playing the game right, and doing those things, it shows the character of a guy. You have to have patience; you can't lose it. You have to swallow your last bad shot. It's really mind over matter. It's amazing what a little white ball, that doesn't move, can do to a big, grown-up man.

It seems like a lot of surfers like to play golf. When there are no waves, does golf give surfers an outlet for spirituality?
There's a lot of spirituality in surfing -- you're sitting in the ocean waiting for Mother Nature to produce a wave. And you have to have some sort of spirituality in golf. They both have a lot to do with feeling. I think surfers are mind-over-matter people because you're messing with Mother Nature and it can hold you down and it can drown you. And in golf, you have this little white ball just sitting there. You can be the biggest, toughest 300-pound guy and you're going for a birdie putt and this big man is shaking and trembling trying to make the putt. In both you're trying to conquer the elements.

How about the scenery for both sports -- you're always surrounded by some of the best Mother Nature has to offer.
Yes. And I love fishing for the same reason. And in golf, I don't care where you are, if you're on a golf course, you're outdoors. It's beautiful and I love it.

Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods both love to fish.
Bring it on guys. Bring it on [Laughs.]

Try to explain what it's like trying to catch a 20-foot wave. Are you going on pure instincts at that point? Is that like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute?
I'm scared of heights so I wouldn't do that. It's also mind-over-matter. And I'm scared, don't get me wrong. But that's what gets you, the adrenaline -- the, "What if?" Guys can say they're not scared and they're cool, tough guys. I'm scared. And those close calls, that's what gives me the adrenaline rush and that's what makes me paddle back out. I want a bigger, longer, heavier ride. That's what keeps me going.

How much do you train for that?
If you surf every day you're going to be in shape, and I try to surf every day.

Tell me about this rivalry between you and Kelly Slater. He's a scratch golfer.
He's not scratch. Come on. Is that what he's saying? [Laughs.]

Have you guys played together?
Yeah. And he's real good. It pisses me off.

In terms of surfing, is it a legit rivalry?
No. There's no rivalry in hell. He's a lot better than me. But, my [trash] talking is way better than his. The reason I quit the surf tour is so I can get better at golf and rival him on the course. In surfing, he has nine world titles, so there's not much rivalry in the water. But if the waves are big and solid, I'll rival him. I've had good battles with him in good-sized surf. He has beaten me a lot, but I've beaten him my fair share in good-sized waves.

To me, the ignorant, can you try to describe the difference between a big-wave surfer and a tour surfer?
I would say the Nationwide Tour is like surfing the tour waves. The stuff that I like to do is more like the big events; like the Masters, the U.S. Open or the British Open -- the majors. What I do is surf the big-bammers -- the stuff that people like to watch. That's why I quit the tour because I couldn't do well on the little scrappy waves. I quit the tour but I'm still going to do the big events -- Pipeline, Teahupoo, the Eddie Aikau -- basically just playing the majors.

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