On September 3, 2010, Andy Irons won the Billabong Pro at Teahupoo, Tahiti. Two months later, on November 2, 2010, one of the world’s greatest surfers was found dead, lying on his back in a bed, sheets pulled up, in a hotel in Grapevine, Texas. That’s about the centre of the US and about as far away as you can get from a surf coast. And it’s a very long way from Kauai, Hawaii, where his wife Lyndie and their unborn son, Axel, awaited his return. Andy was alone when he died.
Andy Irons – Kissed By God is a soul-baring insight into Andy’s life and the events that led to that tragic discovery in the Texas hotel room. Beautifully and sincerely directed by Todd and Steve Jones, of Teton Gravity Research, the film dives deep into Andy’s bipolar disorder and opioid addiction that was previously buried beneath the veneer of a surfer who was widely regarded as the people’s champion.
There is something eerily familiar about the pathways that presented themselves to Andy and his brother Bruce throughout their life and career. The emergence of exotic destinations, riotous surf travel and money flooding into the sport at a similar rate to alcohol abuse, narcotics and pharmaceuticals. It’s a story that has similar strands running throughout New Zealand. Perhaps the power of this film is not just in the incredible surfing achievements of the three-time World Champion, as he battles his demons, but in the breaking down of the stigma and attitude toward disorders like bipolar and addiction. Millions of people worldwide struggle with mental health and addiction. Mostly it’s swept under the carpet. That is certainly the case in New Zealand. Films like this change attitudes, break open myths and open minds.
One of Andy’s last confiding moments with Kelly Slater was to urge him to help him tell the story of their rivalry and to bare all to help future generations avoid the same pitfalls. It was a poignant moment and I can’t help but think that the hours of emotionally charged interviews that Kelly gave about his nemesis were his way of staying true to Andy.
Bruce Irons, Andy’s younger brother, narrates the story and provides a backbone as heart-wrenching as it is honest. He is joined by Lyndie who shows incredible resilience and fortitude to show her perspective looking on as the opioid and bipolar disorder storm rages within Andy. It seems nothing is held back. Tears fall. More will come.
Somehow, through the intensity of it all, Todd and Steve Jones have captured an insight into the life of Andy Irons so well that you begin to understand his demons and challenges. That makes it even more remarkable with what Andy was able to achieve. And it makes it infinitely sadder for those he left behind and the son he never got to meet.
This is not just a movie for the era – this small window in time, but a movie for generations. I watch my own children run down to the surf, they’re 13, 11 and 9, and while this movie may not suit them right now, there will come a time where Andy Irons – Kissed By God will help to open their eyes to the world of mental health and addiction. Thanks for sharing that with us, AI.
Andy Irons portrait by Brian Bielmann www.brianbielmann.com