Surfer Andy Irons' Life, Death & Addiction Struggle Examined In New Doc

By Paul Gaita 06/11/18

"Andy Irons: Kissed by God" sheds light on the champion surfer's battle with drug addiction and bipolar disorder.

Andy Irons
Photo via YouTube

The surfing world knew Andy Irons as a three-time world champion and Surfing Walk Hall of Famer whose pursuit of excellence in his sport reaped four Vans Triple Crown of Surfing and the Billabong Pro Teahupoo in 2010.

Those closest to him remember Irons as a fierce competitor—especially against fellow professional surfer Kelly Slater—whose strength and determination was challenged by mental illness and a dependency on drugs and alcohol that contributed to his untimely death at the age of 32 in 2010.

One of those people, filmmaker Enich Harris, has released a new documentary, Andy Irons: Kissed by God which looks at both his iconic career and personal struggles.

Harris became close with Irons as a member of the film and marketing department for the surf company Billabong, which was Irons' primary sponsor for the majority of his professional career. Harris would eventually travel the world with Irons, documenting his stratospheric rise in the surfing world and his rivalry with Slater, which was marked equally by admiration and intense drive to be the best.

That aspect of Irons' life is well known to the surf and sporting world, but the extent of his struggles on dry land are the primary focus of Kissed by God.

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 18, Irons relied on alcohol and drugs to ward off the powerful shifts in mood and personality that accompany the condition.

Eventually, he turned to opioids, which had a deleterious effect on his life and career: he withdrew from surfing in 2009 to seek treatment for his dependency, and returned the following year for what appeared to be a dramatic return to form with the 2010 win at the Billabong Pro Teahupoo.

But that same year, he reported fell ill, and took himself out of the Rip Curl Pro Search to head home to Hawaii for recuperation. He never made it— authorities found his body in a hotel room in Grapevine, Texas, where he had stopped for a connecting flight.

The medical examiner's report listed heart attack as the primary cause of death, with "acute mixed drug ingestion" credited as a secondary cause. An autopsy found alprazolam, methadone, traces of methamphetamine and benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, in his system.

Irons' death was not only a loss to the surfing world; he left behind a wife, Lyndie, who gave birth to their son, Axel, four weeks after his death, as well as his brother, Bruce.

Both appear in the film, and as Harris told the OC Register, their participation provided them with an outlet to touch upon and bring some relief their loss.

"It was such an open wound," he said. "There was healing that went on in the process, for them talking about him again. It's very healing for them to know that Andy didn't just die—his message can go on to help the next generation of kids growing up."

Harris hopes that younger viewers, especially those that may be enduring similar issues, may find hope in Irons' story. "Mental illness and drug abuse, that's the message I want people to take away," he noted. "It's not the right road to down.

"If you're struggling with the same things, talk to people, get help," said Harris. "He was an amazing, all-powerful human, but those struggles were bigger than him."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.