Let’s talk about it

It took a few at­tempts to get in con­tact with Lyn­die Irons and just prior to mak­ing the con­nec­tion, I won­dered if I re­ally should.

Tracks - - Ripe - By An­thony Pan­cia

The im­age of a heav­ily preg­nant Lyn­die sprin­kling the ashes of Andy Irons out into the wa­ter at Hanalei Bay is not one I’ll for­get in a hurry and one can only imag­ine the bur­den she must have car­ried since. But, prompted along by the cre­ators of Andy’s doc­u­men­tary, Kissed By God, I per­sisted and so did she. “I’m so sorry I’ve been hard to get to, it’s not usu­ally like that,” Lyn­die be­gan be­fore set­tling in for a won­der­ful 30-minute chat.

I can’t but imag­ine how many of­fers you’d had over the years to tell Andy’s story, so why now?

The idea came a few years ago. My son is now seven years old and hon­estly I knew I had to make a movie be­cause there was talk in the in­dus­try and talk of other peo­ple do­ing it I just felt, the age my son was at, I ac­tu­ally just wasn’t ready to be hon­est about Andy’s whole life, I just thought I need to do a doc­u­men­tary about Andy be­fore kids might start to tease or talk in­ap­pro­pri­ately about Andy. Axel al­ways ac­cepted who his dad was but now he knows more than any­thing I’ve ever been able to tell him. I just wanted to speak Andy’s truth and I didn’t want any­one else to do it. Andy was hon­est to a fault and I knew he would have wanted me to tell it, if not for any­thing else than for our son’s sake.

The doc­u­men­tary bal­ances a fine line be­tween telling Andy’s story and tack­ling the stigma of men­tal health. Were you wor­ried that would get lost in the process?

For sure, I mean, it’s so im­por­tant. It (men­tal dis­ease) is such a hor­ri­ble stigma that no­body wants to talk about yet there’s so many peo­ple suf­fer­ing from it. (At this point, seven-year-old Axel Irons pipes up in the back­ground, ask­ing rather po­litely for cof­fee to which Lyn­die replies, “Can you just hang on for one sec­ond? Sure Axel, but mummy’s on the phone, just keep it down.” I’m sorry about that.) I just want ev­ery­one to know, it’s okay to talk about it. We were so ashamed, and I spent a lot of time try­ing to cover for Andy. Al­most ev­ery sec­ond of ev­ery day I was try­ing to pick up the pieces and cover up what was re­ally go­ing on and it’s not healthy to live that way. It wasn’t healthy for me, it cer­tainly wasn’t healthy for Andy or any­one else around him. It was just re­ally sad, and it bummed me out. I just wish I knew then what I know now, I would have been a lot more help­ful.

What were the first signs for you that Andy was strug­gling with his men­tal health?

It took a few years re­ally. I mean, I was 21 when I met him, he was in the mid­dle of his sec­ond world ti­tle and I just wasn’t … look­ing at it now, that was in my party days. We were young and on the surf­ing tour I didn’t know any­thing else be­cause we were just hav­ing fun. I slowly started to no­tice the ex­treme mood swings of his, which I just thought came with be­ing a pro­fes­sional surfer. His moods were just so ex­treme after a few years. I talked to his mum about it, and it came out that he was di­ag­nosed as bipo­lar at 18. That was some­thing he never told me about. I knew a lot later, when the pill thing came about he just found a way to self­med­i­cate, that was a lot later on.

That sense of shame you men­tioned ear­lier, do you think Andy was bur­dened by it?

100 per­cent. I know he was ashamed to talk about it, but I didn’t know any­thing about it, not even one thing, not what I know now, that’s all I read and talk about

now but he never talked about. Through all the re­hab that I sat through with him, and all the coun­selling ses­sions, they never re­ally dis­cussed the men­tal health is­sues, ev­ery­thing was more around the ad­dic­tion side of things. But look­ing back now, the rea­son he was there was be­cause of the men­tal ill­ness, that was the root of the prob­lem yet that what wasn’t be­ing looked at. It was all fo­cused on the drug abuse than any­thing else.

And how hard was it as a part­ner to help carry that load?

I felt so alone, I didn’t know any­one I could talk to, it was just a mat­ter of get­ting through ev­ery day, it was like a roller coaster of a life­style, but mainly I felt re­ally alone.

What do you re­mem­ber about the me­dia in­tru­sion around the time of Andy’s pass­ing?

Oh geez, I think I was in shock for a cou­ple of years and the sec­ond year was ac­tu­ally much harder for me. I was a new mum and I was just try­ing to be the best mum I could for Axel. I just put all my feel­ings aside and I kind of numbed it out and did my best to put one foot in front of the other. But, those were the worst, dark­est days of my life. I would cry for days on end, but I wouldn’t cry in front of my son. I owe the surf­ing com­mu­nity more love than any­thing though, they were all there for me through it and they were amaz­ing. Hav­ing said that, I still have bad days. I have a won­der­ful new boyfriend now, but I still have those days where I’ll just have to cry.

Was it hard to get those who are in the doc­u­men­tary to open up? You do get the sense it was slightly cathar­tic for them.

None of his clos­est friends re­ally talked about Andy un­til I started the doc­u­men­tary, largely out of re­spect for him and I know a lot of them said they had a hard time talk­ing about it. They called me and asked, ‘Did I say too much?’ I think ev­ery­one was re­ally wor­ried about be­ing too hon­est. All of those years no one spoke a word about it – his episodes and sit­u­a­tions. It was re­ally hard for them, but it just showed who he re­ally was, a re­mark­able man with a dark side. Ev­ery­one just re­ally loved him. We still don’t talk about the doc­u­men­tary too much, but I think I’m just a bit fur­ther along in the griev­ing process.

It’s an in­cred­i­bly hon­est ac­count of Andy’s life, what has it been like sit­ting through pre­mieres? What sort of re­ac­tions are you see­ing?

To tell you the truth, I was pre­par­ing for the worst. Andy was a punch­ing bag in the surf­ing world when he was here. Peo­ple were so mean and quick to judge, and he had a re­ally hard time with the me­dia. Peo­ple just judged him. But I haven’t heard one bad thing, the amount of love has been out of con­trol and it’s mak­ing me feel bet­ter about go­ing for­ward with this. His mom, dad and brother – we were all just ex­pect­ing the worst, I have not had heard one bad thing.

In that sense, do you think you reached what you set out to achieve?

Yes. Be­fore I went into it, I wasn’t ready to tell the whole thing, I had guide­lines, I didn’t want to talk about cer­tain things, I felt so guarded for him. Andy was so hon­est to the core that I came to the re­al­i­sa­tion that I had to speak to the truth – I felt his truth would set him free. It’s crazy to think schizophre­nia is one of the world’s old­est known dis­eases, if not the old­est, yet it’s still not okay to talk about men­tal ill­ness? Hope­fully in 20 years from now it will be.

Photo: Brian Biel­mann.

Lindy and Andy en­joy­ing a love that was real.

Photo: Brian Biel­mann

The doc­u­men­tary Andy Irons Kissed by God is also the story of Andy and Lindy.

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