The Lyndie Irons Interview – After The Tell All Documentary
COASTALWATCH | SURFING WORLD
“I JUST WISH ANDY WAS HERE TO FEEL THAT, TO FEEL THAT IT’S OKAY.”
The Lyndie Irons interview,
From SW 399 Andy Irons The Truth Will Set You Free, On Sale Now
By Sean Doherty
During the Byron Bay screening of Andy’s movie recently, Lyndie Irons quietly walked in late to the darkened theatre and sat down. She’d been out to dinner with the Parkinsons – Monica and Joel – and had made it back with 10 minutes of the film to go as she had to host a Q&A session with the crowd once the credits rolled. As the movie’s toured through America and Hawaii she’s been referring to these Q&A sessions as her own therapy, talking herself through the issues in Andy’s movie as much as she’s talking them through with the crowd. The whole movie, of course, is wrought with feeling, but the final minutes are particularly so. Lyndie has seen the movie hundreds of times, been on a real journey with it, ultimately made peace with it after four years, but as I glanced over, she was quietly crying. Oh, man. It was infinitely sad, and just the smallest window into what she’s been through. Lyndie was seated on her own amongst the crowd, and at that point Mark Thompson, the shaper from Lennox who was sitting next to her, also noticed she was crying. She’d never met him, he’d never met her, but he reached over and patted her hand and smiled. Through tears she smiled back, and just a few minutes later was out the front of the audience, talking through her time with Andy and listening to the story of a guy whose eldest son has just been diagnosed with bipolar. Lyndie’s done something brave and important with Andy’s movie, and in doing so she’s found the surf community right alongside her.
SW: You’ve just finished touring Andy’s movie through the States and at home in Hawaii. How’s the reception been, and how’s the experience been personally for you?
Lyndie: Honestly, months in advance I was probably the worst I’ve been in years – even during the making of the film – because I was so scared of what people were going to think and what they were going to say. As you know, Andy was the biggest punching bag in surfing; his lifestyle was seso… anyway, I literally assumed the worst. I was bunkering down. I spoke with my therapist and said this is going to be really tough… I just thought people were going to be so awful about him. I was so scared, to tell you the truth. Once the movie came out, I hung on for dear life with Danielle and Bruce. They were like rocks. I’m waiting for all this to happen, but I honestly have never been more relieved in my 36 years of life. The amount of love and understanding from everybody has been so great. Now I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster high. I was prepared for the worst. I thought he was just going to be ridiculed, but the opposite happened. I wish he were here to see it, to finally see that everybody loved him. It breaks my heart, but at the same time I’m so happy and relieved. And Axel, with his age at seven, I thought the kids were going to be mean and all these things, but honestly it’s been an unbelievable amount of love. I guess the truth sets you free.
But through it all there’s been so much goodwill from the wider surf community for you, Axel, Bruce… the whole family. Have you sensed that along the way?
I think about it now more than ever. In these last seven years since I lost Andy, the amount of love from the surf community has been rock solid. Everyone respected me in the nicest way. I remember asking, “Please, can I not talk about Andy and do interviews?” I was so worried about what people would think of him, but I feel the circle of surfing, the tight community has been so amazing to me and my son. There’s so much love in the surf community, and I’ve been so thankful for that.
Why were grown men crying when they watched the movie? What was it about Andy and his story?
He was one of the most beautiful humans I’ve ever met. He was your friend, he was your best friend, and when he loved you he loved you hard. He was the most real, raw human I’ve ever known. The producers did a really good job of grasping him. He was an amazing person who had a little bit of a dark side, but at heart he was a good man.
What was your reaction to the film when you saw the first edit?
I think about that all the time and I laugh, but it was tragic, the first one. I’ve been there nearly every step of the way for almost four years now. I wanted to watch every interview. I was so psycho about it. If anyone used the word “OxyContin”, I flipped out. I was so adamant about certain things. I was going through all the interviews and going through the whole process and going to Jackson Hole in Wyoming every month (the producers are based there) and just cry and cry and cry and get through it. But it got easier after a while. We worked really well together, but in the beginning it was pretty tragic, reliving all the experiences and talking about it on repeat. Those guys have seen me cry more than anyone in my life.
How important was it to do the movie on your own terms?
I wouldn’t have it any other way and that’s why I picked TGR and Enich. They had the ultimate say on how the movie went but they knew Andy and I trusted them. I’ve known Enich (Harris) forever and we used to go to Jackson Hole snowboarding as far back as I could remember, so I trusted them. And I needed to have good control myself. I still do. I just want Andy’s legacy… I just want to do right by him and honour him and do it the right way. I met with a ton of different LA producers and I was like no, no, everyone had their different opinions, different thoughts about Andy, but I chose these guys because they knew Andy and I knew they’d do best by Andy and the family.
Was there a distinct moment when you felt the time was right for you to tell the story?
I felt the thing I was most worried about was Axel. I didn’t want to wait till he was 15 or 22. For his own protection I wanted to get it done, so he was told when he was younger, being okay with who his dad was, and so he didn’t have to learn it when he was 15 with people saying things. I honestly did it for Axel. I knew he wasn’t getting any younger and it was something I needed to do as a mum, for Axel as a mum. He’s been a part of the whole process, too. He doesn’t know any different, he doesn’t know what the drugs are and what the hard stuff is, but he does joke with people that Kelly Slater is his number one enemy. It’s cute! It’s really cute, but it’s healthy and it’s good for Axel to understand it all and be a part of it. Kids are way more resilient than us adults, that’s for sure.
The reason the film has been so anticipated is because Andy was able to keep his problems away from the public. He was actually very good at it. Did you sense how much the people really wanted to hear his story?
I think people had so many opinions and guesses on what was really going on, and I understand that. The people who were in the movie and the people who were closest to Andy, like the Australian guys, Joel and Mick and all the people involved in the movie, they kept it so tight amongst all of us, all his friends, we all dealt with it the best we could. It was pretty honourable, his friends were so behind him and trying to protect him. I think people always had their guesses about why he was sometimes aggressive or he liked to party a lot and they suspected an issue with the drugs, but you have to understand the people around him were all trying to help Andy work through it and they all respected that.
How close was he to telling his own story?
He always wanted to, and at the end there his body and his demeanour was changing. He was feeling really comfortable with himself finally. He was finally letting it go, he let the people closest to him know what he was going through, the drug part, and if you asked him to his face, “What did you just do?” he was so honest he’d tell you to your face, “I just snorted four OxyContin.” He was so honest. I know that it was real close. You could even see it in the movie; his body, his face, everything changes as he gets comfortable with who he finally was.
In terms of Andy’s bipolar, I suppose the tour might be a good environment when you’re up, but not so much when you’re down. Particularly when he was winning, did the rhythms of the disease work around the tour?
I think he was a lot more in control of his bipolar than we all thought and I think it worked for him in a way. He was so aggressive in the water and his manic highs worked for him, and they were so much more than his lows. I felt his lows. The real low, low part of the bipolar didn’t come out for me personally really until a few years into our relationship, until I noticed that they were drastic lows. I was like, that’s weird, and I noticed they happened in the same surf spots they’d happened in the year before, so there were patterns to it. I thought that was really weird. It felt like… I don’t know, it was a trip, but somehow he always pulled it together. He did what he needed to do and he got through heats when he was on his manic highs. That’s when he did his best and it fed him. It fed him more, to a point where he just kept ramping it up.
The story of Andy winning the Chile event while high was pretty startling. What are your memories of that event?
That trip was crazy for everyone. I remember all these people that I thought were so straight-edged doing coke. That trip was the gnarliest one I’ve ever been on. I remember Damien and Charlotte Hobgood praying for me at one stage. They were sitting around a table holding hands, praying. I don’t go to church and I’m watching this going, what is happening here?
Did Andy in some ways need Kelly, first on the way up, but then on the way down as well?
I think so. He had so many friends on that tour; they were all friends except that Kelly was on a different level of everything. It’s crazy, I went through so many years of hating Kelly because of Andy, but Kelly is an amazing person and he was always there for Andy and would always be there for Andy… and Andy knew that. He’s an awesome person. But I do think if there was no Kelly there would have been no rivalry, because I don’t think anyone else would have put up with Andy. No one else could have dealt with it. Kelly could handle all that, but I don’t think anyone else could. And I think in a way it was what Kelly needed too.
I remember back to those months in late 2009 when you and Andy came over to Australia and stayed down at Angourie. I remember them as really good times for you guys. Andy was clean, fit, and it felt like you were a million miles from your problems. It must have given you hope?
Well that’s the only reason Axel’s here! It did give me hope. Okay, there’s still old Andy in there. That was my favourite time with him. He worked so hard at trying to get sober and trying to get right in his own head. He put in so much time and tried so hard and I knew it was always in there. I knew it was going to be a fight for him to be sober, but it was worth it. The good days always outweighed the bad and I always stuck it out with him because of that, and Angourie was so special. We didn’t even have a TV in the house, which if you knew Andy that was pretty crazy because his mind was always racing and he always needed something on. But that was a really magical time and I’m looking forward to taking Axel there when we come down at the end of the month, show him Angourie and tell him how special it was to me and his dad.
Did you ever have bipolar explained to you by a doctor? What it was? How it worked?
Never. Now I know. Part of the grieving process is regret and getting through that, and I still have regret today. I was 21 when I met him. I loved him and the lifestyle and the good times were good and the bad times, well we just got through them. I wish I knew more, but that’s why I started the foundation in Andy’s name. I think it’s really important for everyone to know about mental illness and it’s such a huge epidemic in our world these days. It makes so much sense now what he was going through and I finally understand it and I feel so bad for not maybe taking him to another doctor and worrying about the bipolar part. I was just worried enough about trying to keep him sober, but that was nothing compared to what he was dealing with mentally, and he was self-medicating as a result. But I know now what to do, so my goal is to bring more awareness to mental illness and take his movie to high schools in the next couple of years and inform people about mental illness. Information is key. If I knew back then what I know now it would have been different, I’m sure. If I had known back then maybe things would have been different. I would have tried to get the right help, but I was just worried about the drug part. He tried to explain it to me, but I had no idea. I was in my early 20s and I just didn’t understand.
How did Andy’s surfing fit in with his problems?
He surfed more than any person I’ve ever met in my whole life. He had to. He surfed and I’d sit on the beach for hours every day, and if we were on surf trips or at contests, he’d surf way more than anyone else. I think he always used to say that he needed surfing to feel mentally okay, and that was a big part for him. His mind was racing, and being in the water and being active was really helpful for that. When he wasn’t surfing it was scary. I begged him to surf. It made him feel better and surfing was everything to him.
In the film Bruce was a rock, a huge, honest presence, but it’s been a real journey for him to get there, as it has for all you guys.
Yeah, all the family members have dealt with the loss differently in our own time and on our own terms, and you can’t really judge people for how they’re grieving or how they’re supposed to act or how they’re supposed to be. It’s hard. I feel personally I’m in the best place I’ve been. I never thought I’d ever be in a position like this talking about Andy. Ever. If anyone ever brought it up, I’d give them death glares and mouth the words, don’t talk about him! But working on this movie and getting a lot of therapy and working it out, starting the foundation and learning about his disease has really helped me, so I’m in a better place. I still have bad days. I still sit on the floor and shut the door and cry, but I come out of it a lot quicker and there are less of those bad days. But I still have them, Bruce has hard days too, as well as his mum and dad. Everyone deals with it in their own way. I’ve always been there for Bruce and I always will be.
Do you feel a calling now to take everything you’ve lived through and learned and share it?
Making the movie definitely changed me. When I started working on the movie and learning about mental illness and the drug addiction stuff, and I think stepping over that hurdle and starting to let go and learn, I thought how great would it be to help kids, like the kid Andy once was? Where Andy grew up on Kauai, on an island, there was no help and no resources. He was just this crazy bad boy who happened to surf really good. But it’s given me real purpose, as much purpose as having Axel. It feels so right.
Taking the movie out on the road have you met other bipolar sufferers and talked with them?
The Q&As at the movie screenings, I feel that’s been my therapy because during the whole process of the movie… I look at my interviews in the movie and I’m very, very guarded compared to how I am now. I was really timid about saying things, and that’s where I was at the time, but now I told the producers, I’ll do all the Q&As. Get me out there. People in the audience share their stories and I talk about my experience, what I was dealing with, and I love it. A lot of people have come forward. I had no idea there were people I was really close to that had bipolar as well, who I’ve spoken to now about it. It just feels safe to talk about it, to talk about mental illness and addiction. I just wish Andy was here to feel that, to feel that it’s okay.
There is a free screening of Andy Irons: Kissed By God this Thursday at The Newport. A not to be missed opportunity for those on Sydney's Northern Beaches to see this incredible and heart wrenching film about one of our legends and icons.
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