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.
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.
Lindy and Andy enjoying a love that was real.
The documentary Andy Irons Kissed by God is also the story of Andy and Lindy.