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Beach Grit

5 Lessons From Andy Irons’ Overdose

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

Opiates ain't toys, re-evaulate what it means to be "bad-ass" and love doesn't conquer all… 

Earlier today, the trailer for the Andy Irons documentary Kissed by God was loosed ahead of its May 2 world premiere.

It is a cautionary tale of a life lived as a banquet but found bitter.

“A film about bipolar disorder and opioid addiction etc.”

I remember, vividly, the Wednesday morning when Taj Burrow fired a text message from Puerto Rico to a mutual friend saying that Andy Irons had been found in a Texas hotel room. A few calls and I was into the Tarrant County coroner’s office. AI’s body was inside. He’d been found by two hotel workers at the Grand Hyatt at Dallas-Forth Worth airport, dead, bed sheets pulled to his neck, an empty Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup on the floor beside him.

Andy Irons, who was thirty two, had died six thousand clicks from a wife pregnant with his son Axel and a home gilded by the rays of a Hanalei sun.

Andy brought light but he also summoned the executioner. And there are five things we should learn from his death.

    1. It’s okay to tell your heroes “No”: If you’ve ever hung around a famous athlete, surfer, baller, whatever, you’ll know the dynamic. It’s a sea of sycophancy. Prior to landing in Dallas, Andy had been in Miami trying to score…well… it wasn’t weed. That happened all around the world. He didn’t have to try real hard to get high. Everyone’s your friend at midnight. A few years ago, I was shocked when a shaper pal worded up a noted pro surfer who’d done something stupid with the line, “Everyone here is so intent on sucking your ass they won’t say a damn thing. Well, I will.” Andy needed a few men like that.
    2. Opiates ain’t a toy: Back in 2010, we were all still under the impression that it was okay to throw a few Oxy’s down our necks. Government approved. Made in commercial factories. So clean and safe and… ooowee, that numb feeling. What we didn’t get was it was this was a roundabout way of chasing the dragon except it came in a neat little pill. More than two million Americans are now hooked on legal opiates. The result? Drug overdoses killed more people in the US last year than in the entire Vietnam War. 
    3. Love doesn’t conquer all: Andy had a wife he loved, a house on his favourite beach and a kid about to be born. And, still, he needed to get high.
    4. Nihilism is lame: Andy told me, “I’m not going to worry about tomorrow, because you don’t even know what’s going to happen right now.” If you live like there’s no tomorrow, one day you’re gonna be right.
    5. Re-evaulate what it means to be radical and bad-ass: Andy’s best friend was Cory Lopez. A few years ago, I called him to talk about his old pal. “Life and death is such a fine edge we ride. Andy wouldn’t have been who he was if he didn’t do what he did. That’s why we loved him so much, because he was so extreme. We lived vicariously through his radical and wild life.” Is being radical, a “bad-ass” worth dying for?

Get Andy talking about surfing and he’d light up like a damn Christmas tree.

“Surfing’s the only thing that’s always been there day in, day out, fucken girlfriend breakups, fucken report card fails, surfing always makes you feel better. No matter what, when I’m in the water, even if I don’t catch a wave and just swim in the ocean, I always come out a better person.”

What if Andy had found a way of kicking the pills?

What if he was happily retired, surfing with his little boy in front of the Hanelei bomber, Lyndie maybe ready to burst with another kid?

Wouldn’t that have been radical too?