I remember sitting down with Lyndie Irons in the backyard of our house at Rocky Point in December 2013. It was one of those dark days on the North Shore. Rainy. Gray. She hadn’t spoken to media since the news of Andy’s death two years earlier, and we were both nervous. We had only just met, and we would certainly discuss Andy. It was hard to triangulate exactly how candid the conversation would be. She was bravely making appearances at the contest renamed in honor of her husband all week, but the wound was still wide open. She was fragile.
“There has been the speculation about how he passed, which isn’t the truth,” said Lyndie. She sped up those last few words for emphasis. “So people can write whatever they want and say whatever they want, but there hasn’t been too much to make me freak out and want to get the story told correctly, but there are definitely people writing books and stuff about Andy so I hope I find a producer pretty soon just to tell the truth…from my side.”
The most pertinent follow-up question, naturally, was: What is the truth?
But Lyndie wasn’t quite ready to elaborate, and in the moment I didn’t have the courage or audacity (depending on your vantage) to “hold a widow’s feet to the fire demanding answers,” as one of our readers suggested at the time. The fact that she agreed to speak to The Inertia on camera felt like a big step in the right direction, and her vulnerability was palpable. As we walked to the house, she confessed that she cried often while on the North Shore. Andy’s presence during the Pipeline Masters (in Honor of Andy Irons) felt more powerful than ever.
Earlier in 2013, I sat down with Bruce Irons in Bali during the Oakley Pro, and asked him what he had learned from the death of his brother.
“I realize no one is perfect, and life is a trip,” said Bruce. “Everyone has a story, and it’s how you want to deal with your story. I could just sit there and bitch and complain about a lot of things that have happened in my life, but what I’ve learned is that’s not going to do nothing but make me bitch and complain and be depressed. So you just gotta take a positive out of every situation…and which way you wanna go. You wanna go up or you wanna go down?”
The story of the Irons brothers seemed to ride that roller coaster well.
I only had one memorable interaction with Andy. It was during the 2008 Surfer Poll Awards, when I worked as Surfer Magazine’s Online Editor. Andy had just been voted 5th, and he wasn’t particularly pleased with his result. It was an election year, so I thought it’d be fun to ask surfers who they’re voting for along with some stock promotional questions like, “What do you think makes this the biggest night in surfing?!”
Andy didn’t like that question. He went off on me. Said the whole night was a sham. That it was just some bullshit, made-up event that didn’t matter at all – like any other night on earth – and everyone’s just “slurping” off everyone to get their piece of the action. I was 23, and bushy-tailed. My boss at the time, Publisher Rick Irons, who is also Andy’s cousin, looked on incredulously, and threw his arm around Andy’s shoulder after he finished his rant to calm him down. Ultimately, Andy was right in that awards shows are self-indulgent ego strokes, but that was my only brush with the trademark unrestrained, call-it-like-you-see-it demeanor that won him so much adoration. Needless to say, I don’t know who Andy voted for in 2008.
Now, nearly six years have passed since his death. Each year seems to bring immense emotional mending that invites more open conversation. Family members, friends, and (less importantly) fans have begun to come to terms with Irons’ early exit from this world, and Teton Gravity Research has released their first trailer for the documentary Lyndie mentioned on the North Shore in 2013. Looks like she found her production company. As it turns out, Andy had a great relationship with the Jones brothers and TGR from the occasional winter outing to Jackson Hole, so when they approached the Irons with Enich Harris, a family friend who served as Marketing Director at Billabong during the height of Andy’s career, about producing the project, the reception was warm.
And now the first trailer is out. The project is a go.
The trailer is good. It invokes powerful nostalgia and raw emotion befitting arguably the most important story in modern surfing. It appears that this project will wade into uncomfortable territory that seems to blend bi-polar disorder, substance abuse, and wild success into an indistinguishable dark haze that snatched Mr. Irons from our world. But the same question that felt so poignant in the backyard at Rockies – the idea of truth, both objective and subjective – still lingers. It’s our human desire to reconcile the facts with the emotional weight of loss.
“The story of Andy Irons may likely never feel good to us whether you were his friend and you miss him or you have a strong judgment about his shortcomings and it made you angry,” Kelly Slater wrote for The Inertia in 2011. “No matter what, it doesn’t make sense for someone so gifted and in touch on so many levels to die alone in an airport hotel room nowhere close to anything that mattered to him.”
With regard to facts, it’s hard to forget receiving a press release from Billabong’s Director of Media on November 2, 2010 with the title “3-Time World Champ Andy Irons Dead From Deng (sic) Fever.”
The shock of a champion athlete dying in his prime was sufficiently jarring. But Dengue Fever? In June of 2011, The Inertia’s Ted Endo wrote, “It is still unclear who, if anyone, diagnosed Irons in Puerto Rico. Billabong Media representatives have not responded to repeated interview requests, and in December ASP officials refused to pass along contact details for the medical staff that allegedly diagnosed the disease.” The autopsy report had also been delayed twice, and a Billabong official actually told me off record to ignore any information that might involve substances.
Speculation was rampant as none of the information available made sense. And “true” or not, it felt as if surfing’s most powerful entities (from apparel manufacturers to competitive governing bodies) had colluded to obstruct and/or manipulate the facts surrounding the death of one of surfing’s most accomplished figures. To this day, no official has commented on the origin and dissemination of the Dengue Fever narrative.
It came from somewhere. Maybe it was intentional. Maybe it was benign. But the misinformation following Andy Irons’ death almost certainly did more harm than good, because not only did fans of surfing feel pain, they felt deceived. Hopefully, the upcoming Andy Irons film will address that. It’s hard to fathom the equivalent taking place in any other sport. To put it lightly, Nike might run into issues if they distributed a press release claiming Kobe Bryant died of Dengue Fever. If he did not die of Dengue Fever.
That said, seeing the tears of Bruce Irons, Lyndie Irons, Kelly Slater, Kai Garcia, and the royal forces in Irons’ orbit through this trailer reveals a raw emotion that is undeniably true. And the decision to crowdfund the latter half of this project is notable.
“We privately financed,” says Co-Producer Todd Jones in their Kickstarter video, which has raised just short of $14,000 from 268 backers after one day. “We didn’t want any corporate influence in it, because we wanted the true story to be our sole focus and to have no external forces influencing our decision process.”
The gesture is certainly appreciated, but fidelity to truth is a lofty charge when truth is a relative concept and private financing carries its own set of biases. To their point, corporate interests rarely dig deep when it comes to high-stakes investigations, and whatever meddling may have taken place in 2011 makes some sort of reckoning feel appropriate today. In this case, the most immediate pressures affecting decision-making and creative vision for this project will be the internal ones, most notably, the Irons family. They authorized the project.
“I just want to share his story,” said Lyndie Irons on that gray, rainy afternoon in 2013. “From when he was born until the day he passed. I just want to tell a good story.”
Where exactly the truth fits in is fluid. It will forever be a matter of opinion.