The surf world has responded to the anniversary of Andy’s death the same as it has for the last six years – by pausing to remember its collective shock when news broke that Andy Irons had passed away. But come 2017, two accounts of what preceded his death – Andy: The Untold Story of Andy Irons, a documentary produced by Teton Gravity Research; and Breaking, a book on Irons’ life written by former SURFER Managing Editor Brad Melekian – will present two different narratives, occasionally at odds with the other, of Irons’ life. We asked Matt Warshaw about the six-year mark of Andy’s passing, what’s left to uncover, and what could be brought to light by year seven.
How has your thinking about Andy changed, compared to November of 2011?
I was thinking of Andy a lot the day John won the title. Both are at their best when the surf is big and hollow and horrifying, when everybody else, pros included, is tightening up. The cool that both guys bring to heavy situations just leaves me awestruck, but I'll take Andy every time cause there was emotion involved as well. John, for me, is too chill—chill to a fault. Andy was cool right up to the point where he's grinning as the spit blows past his head, or he's aiming the invisible shotgun, or he's out of the doggy door and screaming "Fuck you!" to Bruce up at the Pipe house. I miss all that. It's gonna be John and Gabe neck and neck for years, and that'll be fantastic. But in some imaginary world, can you imagine Andy versus Gabe? Black hat against black hat. It would throw the world off its axis.
Sean Doherty wrote that the story of Andy Irons will be told twice in 2017 – one from the inside-out in the documentary, and the other from the outside-in, in Brad Melekian’s book. Is it important to hear Andy's story told both ways?
It's not imperative to hear Andy's story from the inside out. It'll be heartbreaking, and we'll love Andy all the more for hearing Lindie and Bruce and the rest of his friends and family remember him. But when the estate has final say on the project—it can't be anything more than a tribute. At this point, sure, they'll allow the filmmakers to get into mental illness and drug use, but only to the degree that the family wants to get into it.
If Brad's book, meanwhile, builds on what he did in his two Outside magazine articles, we'll finally get the full accounting we deserve. Andy's family, understandably, want's to give Andy back to us as a gift—that's their mission. What Brad did with those Outside pieces—Brad's mission—was to look at the man in full, at his otherworldly talent, his humanity, his ridiculous level of charisma, his flaws, his downfall, and I think, most importantly, the forces around him that contributed to that downfall.
Is it a historical imperative for you, six years in?
Sure! The days, weeks, months after Andy died — that stretch of time, to me, is one of surfing's most shameful episodes. The dengue fever lie, the delays on the autopsy report, the family hiring their own pathologist to say that Andy died "a natural death," and "there were no other factors contributing to the death" besides a bum heart. In terms of the family, you kinda get where that's all coming from. But the surf media went along with it, whole hog, everybody went along with it—except Brad, who went out there and dug out as much of the true story as he could. And got slammed on by most people for doing so. So on top of the sadness of Andy dying, our sport ends up covered in embarrassment, as well. That's how I felt, anyway.
Is it a source of tension for you, as a historian, to walk through Andy's maze post 2011? Do you feel an obligation to believe in a particular "truth”?
There isn't a "particular truth." There's just truth. Brad got the closest. Nobody else even bothered trying.
What don't you know about Andy that's most bothersome to you?
I'd like to know if, before his comeback year on tour, if he even wanted to do it. I'd like to know if Andy himself thought it was a bad idea to get back on the road. I think maybe he did.
What do you still miss?
For better and worse, Andy was way more human than just about any other freakishly talented surfer. He soared. He fucked up. Most of us do the same. We just don't fly as high or fall so low.