Is Bruce Irons the Best surfer Who Ever Lived?

Have you seen Tan Madonna, the Alex Knost-directed surf film starring Alex Knost and scored entirely by Alex Knost?

I have seen it with my eyes, just yesterday in fact, and here’s my three-word review: I love it. Tan Madonna is a classy film. It’s distorted, moody, and the surfing is incredible. What I frothed most, however, was seeing a singular artistic vision nailed perfectly from start to finish by a director who knew exactly what he wanted to achieve.

Surfing has only a few of these types of filmmakers at present, a small group who I like to call ‘the uncompromising-ables’ (not a real word, but what are you gonna do about it?). Andrew Kidman of Litmus, for example, he makes movies because fuck people and their willingness to gobble up surf tripe from an endless slop bucket of meaningless web clips. Likewise, Harry Triglone of Fun Boys fame, he makes movies because fuck $300 boardshorts made in a laboratory that lightly blow on your dick whenever you take a piss in them. Joe G of Strange Rumblings in Shangri La, another guy who makes surf films because surf films are supposed to be fucking epic, remember?! And then there’s Ryan Thomas, or RT as he’s known to friends and the police, the master director of an entire Volcom back catalogue that has influenced thousands of groms over two generations and counting. It was RT I was thinking about when I watched Tan Madonna because for some reason (might have been an energy thing) it reminded me of his 2006 epic The Bruce Movie.

Oh man… what a movie, and what a time to be a surfer. If you didn’t catch the Irons boys in full flight throughout the 2000s you really missed something special. Andy, the firebrand hyper-competitive three-time World Champ who crushed Kelly Slater’s pretty little picture, and his younger bro, Bruce—smooth and stylish, ice-cold in every conceivable heavy water scenario and who also wielded the biggest air game on Earth. They had attitude to burn and they really did change everything, especially the way life-threatening surf could be ridden because they basically toyed with that shit. When you marvel at the casual brilliance of John John Florence in similar conditions today, it’s worth keeping in mind that it was Andy and Bruce who paved the way.

Revisiting The Bruce Movie today is a wildly different experience when compared to the froth and fanfare that came with watching it upon release. On one hand you’ve still got a beautifully crafted piece of surf history—scored by Motorhead, Pink Floyd, The Jam, and Iggy Pop—showcasing a once-in-a-generation talent at the peak of his power; and then, on the other hand, you’ve got the awful knowledge that four years after the interviews and conversations in the film take place, Andy will be gone. It adds a sadness but also a strange power to the entire thing, particularly in the moments when Andy and Bruce are riffing on one another and Bruce is asked about what happens when you die.

But I prefaced this story with a question: Is Bruce Irons in 2006 still the best surfer in the world today? It’s a stretch for sure, but watch him turn and spin under avalanches to win the Eddie, watch his sixth sense in tubes from the Ments to Chopes to Cooly to Pipeline, watch him huck monster airs over razor-sharp reefs, and watch him do it all with a style that’s as timeless as breaking waves, and it’s not as far-fetched as you might think. Watch The Bruce Movie and make up your own mind, then watch Tan Madonna, and then make a hard-boiled egg for lunch. Five stars.

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