Andy Irons signing autographs and getting barreled in Tahiti

“The key point to get across about Andy is that he knew, and his family knew, and his sponsor Billabong knew he had a problem,” says ex-pro surfer, Peter King, an outspoken critic of using the image of drugs to brand surfing companies. “He was getting away from it and getting better. Much better. No one was ever trying to cover up what Andy was going through…his performances suffered, he had to take a break from competing, and he worked to get past his addiction. No secret there.”

“We aren’t a tabloid culture in surf trying to destroy each other on top of bad things that are happening,” King offers unprompted. “I do not know exactly why Andy died other than there was no one with him on that flight home…but no one was ever trying to market or capitalize on his problems.”

The sense of camaraderie King alludes to has long characterized the way surfers conduct business. Irons’ problems with substance abuse were never directly addressed in print, both for business considerations, and because surfing magazine editors appeared (and appear) to have a genuine concern for his public image. He was described as a “partier” and his break from the ASP World Tour was framed by media outlets as a loss of the will to compete, as seen in two separate interviews on Surfline in 2008 and 2009. At one point in the interviews, Irons himself denies the “partying,” saying: “Nope. It’s easy to place the blame on drinking and partying, but honestly, 12 years (on tour) is the reason why, and that is it. Go ahead and replace the word ‘partying’ in Transworld’s quote with ‘repetition,’ and you got yourself a quote we can work with.”

The Surfline interviews reflect an essential truth about the surf media: Its traditional role is not as much to inform the reader as it is to give Irons a platform to speak his piece. Such acquiescence is common in all celebrity driven cultures – ie: music, show business, mainstream sports, etc… – but in surfing, members of the greater industry still have a high degree of interaction with their stars. If they felt they were protecting Irons’ image, they were also protecting their own.

“What surprises me, is that it isn’t just the surfers doing drugs, it’s the reps, the filmers, the team managers…you name it,” an industry insider told told me at the Rip Curl Pro Search in Puerto Rico . “A lot of times they are the ones scoring it for the surfers. I was at an event in California and every other person was coming up to me asking if I wanted to do a line in the bathroom.”

According to photographer and friend of Irons, Art Brewer, the surf industry is unique not because of the presence of drugs, but because it is in the precarious process of distancing itself from a stereotypical drugged-out image. “None of us are saints, but no one wants to talk about it,” he says. “It would be a black eye to the industry. Being a pro surfer now is like being a rock musician back in the day. Drugs are so accessible when you are in that scene. But I wouldn’t say it’s the company guys who are giving drugs to their riders. They know it’s happening, but they’re not acknowledging it, or maybe they don’t know how to handle it.”

The facilitators, according to Brewer, are the mid-range players, the people who “aren’t the stars, but want to be cool and look good in those people’s eyes.”

According to Brewer, the media’s sidestepping around Irons’ addiction problems was a result of the advertising dollars that come from the large surfing companies keeping those magazines alive. “The only reason I talk about it is because I think it’s a joke how the industry is run – it’s a whole little clique, like a mafia, and it’s becoming cheaper and cheaper,” he says.

During his illustrious career, Irons was a bona fide marketing coup. The brashness of both his surfing and personality made him the consummate foil for the cool, sometimes robotic professionalism of Kelly Slater. Irons was the Andre Agassi to Slater’s Pete Sampras, and Brewer admits that he was initially drawn to the concept of rebellious savant. “Part of the reason I got into surf photography was that I was attracted to the characters you could meet, especially the bad boys like (Miki) Dora or Andy. But when someone dies from it, the game is no longer any fun.”

1 2 3

  • Richard

    Good on ya for stepping up and exposing the truth about pro surfing and drug abuse. Its about time the surf industry took some responsibility of their own.

  • CoriS

    Surfer mag reposts press releases and statement from family.
    Stab reposts statement from family. 
    Surfing mag…. *crickets*

    This article exemplifies exactly why I read The Inertia. Thank you, Endo. 

    • George

      It must be weird to be working at one of those mags – watching yourself become less and less relevant by the day…

  • TinaS

    Finally an article that says how it works in surfing. Drugs are everywhere and everybody knew that.
    But despite all the drug stuff the official manner of death is “natural” and I think that should in a sophisticated article like that one be mentioned. 70-80% artheriosclerosis is mentioned in the official autopsy report (http://outside-blog.away.com/files/press-release-06-10-2011.pdf). Even though I’m totally against downplaying all that drug stuff, this medical finding should definitely be taken into account as well.
    But thank you very much for a very rare rational article.

  • Stu

    Freaking awesome article.  How Chris Cote is the editor of TWS and you’re posting for a free blog is beyond me.

    • Smcguc01

      It’s easy, when there is no writing. It’s all bright colors, and airs. TWS is for 12 year olds.

      • Al Baydough

        Even 12 year olds need better guidance than what TWS provides.

        A bratty publication only encourages bratty behavior. No reason they can’t splice solid content with radical surfing. 
        There are many surfers who are at the cutting edge who display admirable behavior worth emulating. Why this is not only overlooked but even derided by many in the industry is both baffling and abhorrant.

    • DoubleJ

      that’s a pretty redundant question since Chris Cote is the poster child for the head in the sand surf industry.  

      • Chris Cote

        I get to be on a poster! Awesome!

        • Stu

          c’mon, Chris.  Deep down, these comments must hurt.  Nothing to say on the matter at all?

          • Chris Cote

            You must think a lot of yourself to insinuate that your comments would mean anything to me, let alone hurt me.

            Endo’s article is eloquent and written beautifully. I see no reason to bring me in to the discussion. If you don’t like TransWorld SURF, don’t read it. I enjoy TheInertia.com and will continue to visit the site on a daily basis.

            Thank you.

          • Stu

            were it only me, I might see your point.  But it’s not, and I don’t.  Those thick glasses must come in rose color now…

          • Al Baydough

            You knew Irons and know his family. It would be wrong and unnecessarily harmful for you to comment on his disastrous choices. I would not expect it nor require it of you. 

            You could,  however, write a heartfelt piece on what this loss and its causes (and the toll of such behavior has exacted in the surf world in general) means to you; how you would hope that it might have some kind of silver lining in the end.
            Maybe you need more time.
            But the way I have seen you handle this episode and respond to those who take issue with the very real fact that TSW, and the industry in general, are immensely irresponsible about how they impact the world of surfing is anything but respectable.
            The mirror may show the face of a man but the words echo the mind of a child.

            You visit The Inertia regularly? Hopefully you will begin to glean some wisdom from it sooner than later.

          • Gordy

            It honestly doesn’t make sense to target Chris Cote and TW Surf as villainous in any of this. TWS does exactly what they allege: provide light, accessible entertainment for the young surfers of the world. Whether you agree with it or not, they don’t pretend to take themselves any more seriously. And Cote’s the only guy who admits he reads, enjoys, and is affected by outlets like this one. He deserves some kind of props for his honesty.

            It’s the other mags, who presume to be “Bibles” and purport to have “real” writers who scoff at the TWS’s of the world that deserve criticism, and Endo’s piece puts them in check. They know where they stand, toothless and cuffed.

          • Stu

            I’m actually confused by TWS and its supposed “target market”.  They’re for 12 year olds, but then feature all kinds of BS clearly aimed at older folks (how many 7th graders really appreciate the specialness of the Cali Rally?).  They perv on Alana Blanchard, but then somehow think they’re appealing to the masses when they actually show girls surfing (ala Steph’s cover last year and the current issue’s cover this year).  I don’t actually think anyone is making TWS out to be a bad guy vis-a-vis AI.  That said, it’s hard not to question a magazine that features surfers’ poor behavior  issue in and issue out only to ignore the fun once it’s done.  As for Chris, I’m pretty sure he has his own personal demons when it comes to AI and what “the industry” did or didn’t do for him.

          • Gordy

            Maybe so, but I still think TWS is a low-hanging fruit when it comes to scapegoating and I’m honestly surprised you’re that familiar with their magazine. You brought TWS and Cote into this discussion like an involuntary reflex when other surf publications ostensibly aspire to more but essentially deliver the exact same product – just with an air of undeserved pretentiousness. In my view, that seems like a greater sin.

          • Stu

            to be quite honest, I don’t even know who the editors of Surfer and/or Surfing are.  To dismiss TWS as “low hanging fruit”, however, simply serves to encourage more sh*tty mags from them.  

          • Al Baydough

            With this kind of grade school reaction, given the topic at hand, Cote is the one who opened the door against him:

            “I get to be on a poster! Awesome!”

            Seriously, would you crack jokes at your mother’s funeral as well?

            And yes, the entire surf industry (and culture that fawns over it) needs to seriously check itself. That point has been made many times over already. 
            Had Evan Slater, Brendon Thomas, or any other publishing figure head made a similar crack the responses would have been the same.
            Fortunately, they have a modicum of tact that Cote never has. But at least he owns that character deficit.

        • Al Baydough

          I understand why you would respond in this way. I do not respect it. 

          I understand that you are a big fan of Hunter S. Thompson. Perhaps you should seek to emulate what made him so great among the New Journalists rather than do a poor job of copping his pop culture public persona. It is one thing to live an animated life but quite another to choose to be nothing more than a cartoon.
          Generation of Swine indeed. 

  • Winston Smith
  • RobWelch

    Thoughtfully expressed, it takes a lot of courage to be honest. So refereshing to read an article that scratches below the veneer of supestardom typically presented by the surf media.

  • Blasphemy Rottmouth

    And now the dominos begin to fall. Way to step outside Chas Smith’s herd of empty-headed sheep Mr. Endo. Huzzah!

  • JBee

    I think one of the main problems here is that the surf industry and the good old boys truly don’t know how to fix the problems.  It is the blind leading and partying with the blind. They are too proud and/or ignorant to do what needs to be done and reach out for some restructuring.  Why are the athletes on the world tour allowed to compete without physical exams at least annually?  Why is there no health insurance offered by sponsors? These men and women need to be treated at least as good as the racehorses that they are.   I guess it is easier to sell them to a glue factory when they trip and fall.

  • Steve Shearer

    This article should be tatooed on every industry lickspittle and surf media stool pigeons body.

    Balanced, well researched and ultimately damming.

    If this doesn’t bring about some change in an industry grown fat on a culture of insularity and cheap lies disseminated by a compliant media as truth then nothing will.

    Bravo Ted.

  • Pingback: I’m Back! Sort Of… « Blasphemy Rottmouth

  • Nick Carroll

    Good job boys.

    The faint horror of that last line of Artie’s: “It’s almost like a marketing tool.”

  • bozo the clown

    hey this is getting serious……..
    These guys have bookmakers making book on most events these days and you are telling me that drugged up and wasted surfers are surfing and competing  without any testing regime in place?
    How does this sit with the mighty and august gurus of the ASP?
    I’m certain a multi point, world wide drug testing regime is going to be announced soon and that will calm all the frayed nerves.
    Shit man there are  $$$$$ involved here ……can’t have hippies and stoners wasting all that good promotional work by the marketing department.

  • Kel

    Thanks Ted and Zach for pursuing with this topic. You, your article and The Enertia deserve a round of applause. 

  • Pingback: The Ethics of the Andy Irons Inquest | TheInertia.com

  • Pingback: UPDATE: Surf Legend Andy Irons dead at 32 | Some Good Adventure Blog, Magazine, Hike, Ski, Wind, Kite, Bike, Climb, Kayak, Canoe, SUP, Surf

  • Jesmarín Puente

    Very good article; Basically what we see here is that since the  beginning of surfing, the rebellious youth image and culture has been used by the multi-billion dollar surfing industry to exploit professional surfing. Pro-Surfers in turn fall into their own problems as a result of living a life away from human reality. The only way to change those things is for the organization of surfing to become part of the Olympic movement. Every nation could then ensure a system where their representative athletes are held to high standards of conduct and fair play, discarding the merely commercial use of their image. Sport is an infinite tool of union for humanity, as it does not exclude race, religion or politics, and can be used to fight serious problems that plague society.

  • Juan_morey

    yeah cause christian fletcher is the opinion we need, you gotta be fucking kidding me. Suprise he couldn’t conjour up any racist shit in this interview.

  • Chris Cote

    Do I still get to be on a poster?

    • Al Baydough

      The jester is also the enabler.

  • Pingback: Reflections on the Death that Rocked Surfing | TheInertia.com

  • Pingback: Crashing Down: Outside Investigates Andy Irons' Death | TheInertia.com

  • Pingback: Not Going To Happen | TheInertia.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000019508418 Debra A. More

    Good article, I loved to just watch him surf, no sound, just him and the waves.  I am very sorry for your loss but I am glad for the honesty about it.  We all know someone who uses drugs and it is up to them to change what they don’t want in their life.  I am no-one to judge anyone.   He was/is amazing to me still.

  • Evan

    Awesome article. Great journalism. Couldn’t find details like these surrounding AI’s death anywhere else.