Kelly Slater claims the Rip Curl Pro in Puerto Rico should go ahead as a way of honouring the memory of his greatest surfing rival Andy Irons.
Irons was found dead in a Dallas hotel room two days after withdrawing from the event with severe illness, thought to be dengue fever.
On the verge of winning a tenth world championship, Slater admitted his own personal goals had been put in perspective by the tragedy, but announced his determination to get back in the water – because that’s what Irons would have wanted.
“That’s the kind of guy Andy was, he wanted to see his friends doing good … and he’d expect nothing less from the people around him,” Slater said. “I’m fine to compete.
Everyone’s going through a little shock, we’ll need to obviously take a little time to process that and just remember Andy and go through all the thoughts you do when someone leaves you.
“It makes the contest seem very insignificant for sure, the world title seems insignificant, you’d much rather have that person back than all that stuff.”
Police are investigating whether drugs were involved in Irons’ death after several types of prescription medication were found in the Dallas hotel in which he died.
According to celebrity news website TMZ.com, anti-anxiety and sleeping drugs – but no methadone – were found in the hotel room.
A Texas county medical examiner on Wednesday ruled out trauma and foul play in his death, and said the cause may not be known for weeks.
A paddle out at Middles Beach in Puerto Rico was held in tribute to Irons, with more than 200 surfers, friends and support staff taking part in the emotional memorial.
The Hawaiian won three consecutive world titles between 2002-2004 at a time when Slater was at his peak, and the two champions shared a long and sometimes heated rivalry.
Irons’ struggles with inner demons have been well documented, but Slater revealed the 32 year-old had been happy, and described the respect the pair had for one another despite their legendary battles. “It’s surreal, I’m kind of lost for words.
I don’t know what to say, nothing really covers it, it’s just sad for all of us and he’s gone,” said Slater as he returned from a free-surf. “I thought it was going to be a good week for him and I was really looking forward to it (Puerto Rico), not to mention getting to Hawaii (the next event and Irons’ home).
“Last time I saw him was in Portugal … he came up and gave me a hug and was all smiles just looking me in the eye and saying I’m pulling for you, I want you to win this thing so bad and just saying how stoked he was I was doing well.
“Andy had some great things to say for me and he said he was really proud of me and it was really special to hear something like that.
“Last time I saw him he was in really good spirits.”
The head of professional surfing Brodie Carr said he expected the Rip Curl Pro Search to continue.
“I don’t know, I think I’d want to go on, I’d want to win it for Andy,” Carr said. Australian champion Mick Fanning, a close friend of Irons, said he admired his strong personality. “It was good having the paddle-out, getting everyone together.
We’re a surfing family,” he said. “Andy was incredible. I think he was a person that always wore his heart on his sleeve. He didn’t try to impress anyone. He was just all about what he wanted to do.
“He was an amazing competitor, he was an amazing friend. And also, he was a brother.”