Robert Welch
Freelance Journalist/Writer/Editor
Andy Irons Signs Autographs at Jeffreys Bay

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. Photo: ASP/Cestari


The Inertia

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.

  • Stu

    Interestingly, I think the PR stuff put out by the family drew more attention to the matter than otherwise would have followed had they just remained silent or put out an honest, heartfelt statement.  From all accounts, AI’s drug use was bad – the poor handling of the matter just made his death that much worse.

  • Anonymous

    Reports of Dengue fever and the unsubstantiated rumor that Andy was put on an intravenous drip for hydration, and does not use the methamphetamine found in his body, were used to mislead the public, and enhance financial gain.  A World Surfing Champion has made a statement with his death about the life of a surfing pro.  Sick, on drugs, in a room at the airport alone, just trying to get back home. 

  • Sablephotography

    Will there or has there been any investigation (legal) into who supplied him with the drugs he took in Miami?  Cocaine, meth etc. are illegal drugs and it is illegal to buy, sell, distribute or use them.  If a person sold an illegal gun to someone who used that gun to then kill themselves wouldn’t there be a criminal investigation into where the gun came from?  I don’t think Andy arrived in Miami with cocaine in his backpack.  He called people and arranged for a pickup.  Granted nobody forced him to take the drugs, but somebody gave him the illegal drugs, which ultimately contributed to his death.  I am not saying they are responsible for his death, but they should be prosecuted for selling or distributing illegal drugs.  Maybe when the life insurance company gets involved we will hear more on this.  Can’t imagine a well known drug-user like Andy will stand a chance getting the insurance payout.  It is just another tragic tale from Kauai and our rampant drug abuse problems here.  The parking lot at Pine Trees is known as the candy store because you can pick up any and every prescription drug on the market.  You don’t really see that published with the ads for the Irons Brothers Pine Trees Classic do you?  It’s all such a scam.  Makes me embarrassed to call myself a surfer sometimes.

  • Dan

    I read the title of this article, and was expecting an article about, oh, I don’t know, the ethics of the Andy Irons Inquest.  I’m super confused how the author can believe, even slightly, that this article deals with any of the possible ethical implications regarding the death of Irons.  This discusses, well I’m not really sure what the point of the article is at all, but, from what I can gather it is that drugs influenced his death, but they didn’t cause it.  I’m seriously disappointed with the editor of this “thinking surfer” site for posting this jibberish.  We apparently aren’t much in the way of “thinkers” at all.  

    • M193myers

      apparently you think you are though…

      • Dan

        You’ll have to explain to me why that could possibly be a problem, M193myers.  This website labels itself as the largest community of thinking surfers, and being a reader and commentator would make me a member of that community.  If I didn’t consider myself at least somewhat of a thinker, I would be content reading the airheaded posts at TWS.com.  My point is that this is an article that barely makes the grade for TWS, and certainly doesn’t cut it for a site that has kept such a high standard in deciding which articles they are willing to publish.  I encourage you to keep them in check as well.  They want to be held to higher standards than other surf rags, so lets do just that.  This article was garbage, I’m letting them know.   

        • hector chavez

          I agree. I thought this website was rad initally, but then realized it’s just a bunch of burnt guys and gals who think they are intelligent after attending a few comunity college courses (cori s) and re barfing out their professors ideals, loosely correlating the subject matter to surfing.

  • Jkicks

    I’ve noticed that surf news groups could use some work in the area of grammatical correctness, but what does it matter?  I’ve noticed that our world and the surf industry have problems, but why worry?  I honor the honest opinion of these writers and thinkers and I’m driven to actually think about what I’m doing while I chase waves, but the most important things are not those which we the humans perceive and do.  The most important concept in life, especially in this present age, is believing that God is who He says.  In the end, not much else matters. 
    The heart of each man is so valuable to God that, if at any moment in all of this madness, one of you chooses to believe what I said about God, God himself will honor that when you die.  So who cares about thesis and grammer?  Who cares whether or not surfing earns it’s claim in the big wide world of sports, besides the man who’s providing for his family through these means?  People matter.  How we spend our time matters.  What we think of God matters.
    Remember: God is.

  • Al Baydough

    Taking cheap shots at people who are infinitely more articulate than yourself is no way to be pumping your own pseudo-intellectual ego.

     Hector indeed.

    • Chris_Fauxte

      LOL.  You’re talking to a guy who posted 7 months ago.  Perhaps he’s correct?

      • Al Baydough

        The jester makes another crass assumption. Run along, fool, Lear is missing his puppy. 

      • Al Baydough

        The jester makes another crass assumption. Run along, fool, Lear is missing his puppy. 

        • Chris_Fauxte

          I’ll get back to you in 7 months.

          • Al Baydough

            I’d prefer you made it 7 decades.

            Scroll down to Jkicks, dumb ass.