The Ethics of the Andy Irons Inquest
The mainstream media is populated by people whose perceptions of surfers are based on a 1991 film featuring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze (the homosexual subtext is arguable). Is it little wonder then that in much of the world surfing dogs receive more coverage than World Tour events?
Real surfers (not just dogs) do occasionally hit the global news agenda: Laird managed it towing Teahupoo, Kelly’s managed it, though his involvement with co-star Pamela Anderson generated more column inches than his tenth world title. And now Andy’s untimely death and the related inquest is being featured in news outlets across the globe.
Media colleagues recall that I surf and ask what I know about Andy Irons. What can I say? One of the best tuberiders ever. His backhand butt-dragging technique inspired a generation of surfers, myself included, to drop our butts and pull in as we took off. Colleagues look at me with mild concern as I stand on the desk and demonstrate butt-stalling my board while pigdogging a section only I can see.
But Andy is not on the global news agenda for his surfing, he is not on it for his death, he is on it because drugs are a complicating issue and this, the media has determined, is news. The media tends to vilify drug users while they are alive and then portray them as tragically flawed geniuses once they die. Both are over-simplistic points of views; the truth, as always, is more complex.
I understand the Irons family putting out information on the coroners’ report into his death. The mass media will portray his death as drug-related, in the minds of many this is very close to labelling it as an overdose, which it wasn’t. The media will also forever link the name of Andy Irons to drug use. When was the last time you saw a story on Michael Jackson which didn’t refer to the coroner’s report that found drugs in his system? It’s become a media standard to drop that tidbit into anything vaguely Jackson related. And the same will happen to Andy, I wish it wouldn’t, but the mainstream media works a certain way.
The responses I’ve read to the news that drugs were found in Andy’s system show us more about our own attitudes to drug taking than anything else. You could fill several weighty books looking at the confluence of drugs and surfing, surfers, surfboard design, etc, etc. Drugs will be a part of surfing as long as surfers take drugs. Drugs are a personal choice, one of the hardest things about having someone you care about become enthralled to drug use is learning that they have to really, really want to make that personal choice to be helped before you can do a damn thing to help them.
But information does empower us in the choices we make. I haven’t seen the full AI report so can’t comment on it, but I can comment on Matthew. None of you know Matthew, but I do. I grew up with him. Pretty typical story, Matthew moved away from home to a larger town with more consistent surf and more nightlife. He had no qualifications, no skills and did whatever it took to allow him to surf during the day and party at night. He died of a heart attack while he was sleeping. He was in his mid-twenties. The local paper reported an untimely tragic demise related to a genetic predisposition, which is true. Most of us who knew him figured drugs would also be a factor in it somewhere. He hadn’t been a heavy user but it was a bit more than occasional. At the time I read up on it and found out some things I hadn’t known. This knowledge later influenced some of the choices I made. Personally, I believe knowledge empowers:
-Cocaine narrows the arteries, which exaggerates the influence of any underlying heart conditions.
-Three percent of sudden deaths amongst young men are attributable to cocaine usage.
-The risks of serious effects including heart attacks are markedly increased by mixing cocaine with alcohol.
-Combining drugs increases risks and can produce unexpected results.