“Everyone had their own addiction problem. Everyone was hiding it. We all just turned into these closet-case, drug-addict monsters.”
For us humans, the truth is often really tough to accept. Especially when that honesty requires a higher level of self-examination: when families have been destroyed or people have died due to reckless lifestyles. Bruce Irons’ quote, above, from the new documentary, Andy Irons: Kissed by God, drips with tragic honesty, as he weaves his family’s story without pretense or bullshit, while interview cuts from surfing royalty corroborate his sordid tale.
Bruce narrates the documentary with a level of honesty that unnerved me. After watching it I almost wanted to tap an Uber to the nearest dive bar to drown the demons. But it’s a level of honesty required for this story—if it were art, it’d be a Greek tragedy, supported by a cast of gifted players. Only these players don’t act. They lived it in the most painful of ways.
There is no blaming others in Bruce Irons’ narrative, as he blatantly states. No asking why there was a lack of drug testing in the sport, no blaming sponsors or parents or anyone else who might have enabled. No passing the buck. During the course of the film, it became apparent that Andy Irons endured through some form of bipolar disorder that basically went untreated. The disorder plagued Andy throughout his life and spiraled way, way out of control on self-medicated binges that included prescription pills, coke, weed, alcohol and seemingly anything he could get his hands on. Bruce takes full responsibility for his and his brother’s actions as two of the greatest surfers of their generation went all in on substance. And that’s what’s so unnerving about it all. The film requires the viewer to self-examine as well.
It’s a story that could have risen from the depths of high school literature. Bruce unknowingly summons Caleb Trask from Steinbeck’s epic Cain and Abel recreation, East of Eden. Caleb finally comes to terms with his family’s wicked truth. When his innocent brother can’t handle that truth, he joins the army and perishes in World War I. After his father blames him later, Caleb retorts, “Am I supposed to look after him?” or, in biblical terms, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The younger of the Irons’ brothers, Bruce couldn’t have been expected to be his brother’s keeper, but in death, he is the keeper of the family’s truth. It’s a truth that is poignantly and uncomfortably depicted. Could we all be so honest? Could we all look as deeply at our own transgressions and admit mistakes in the same way? Bruce makes the “truth” look as easy as navigating a squarely-shaped barrel, spitting out the end while shaking off his pain.
Most of us have over-indulged to escape at one point or another, whether it be alcohol or drugs, sugar, coffee, sex, or exercise. Who have we taken advantage of in our own lives to get where we are or what we want? But are we truly willing to cop? I know this film made me re-examine my use of substances – take an honest look at what I use on the daily to get through. While I might not have been grinding my teeth on prescription pain meds in my youth, I certainly had bouts with psilocybin and other “hippy drugs.” After about the tenth time I found myself wandering dark, lonely streets at night, my mind frozen in paranoia, eyes bulging out of my head in full pinwheel formation, I had to ask myself, “What the fuck am I doing?” This film and Bruce’s character reminded me that I need to keep being that honest with myself.
“Hold up,” you say? Am I giving Bruce too much credit? He only gives us as much as he chooses, right? I would be loathed to disagree. Anyone who was associated with anything called a “Wolfpak,” the group of mostly Kauaian surfers that regulated Pipeline in the early 2000s, most likely earned some enemies. But this is fucking unprecedented. This entire situation is unprecedented in action sports. A brother describing, in vivid detail, his sibling’s life and death and the often-sickening circumstances surrounding that death? We’re all just trying to figure this whole thing out, doing our best to come to terms with the truth.