Lose a brother, gain a nephew, refocus a life. Bruce Irons has cut adrift some of his greater excesses to focus on deeper meanings. Photos by Richard Freeman
Bruce on Andy
Adrift on the Indian Ocean, Bruce Irons opens up on the death of his brother and its ongoing consequences. The interview takes place over two sitting, three days apart.
Part 1 – Hearing the news. Watching Andy's kid get born. The first time Andy died.
Stab: Describe how you’re feeling right now?
Bruce: Fucking – without the f ’ing – really good. I’m actually doing really good right now. Here. Happy. I’m in a good spot. I couldn’t say that about a week ago. Well, y’know what, I have uh, I guess I was lost after my brother passed away. I just didn’t want to believe it. It’s still hard for me to believe. Feelings are a hard trip to deal with.
When I saw you at Pine Trees for Andy’s service, you looked like you weren’t even in your body. Oh, hell no. I think back to those first couple months and I can’t even remember any of it. I had no feelings. I was trying to numb it. (Aggressively) It’s just a fucking… I didn’t want to believe. I just thought, “Nah, he’s coming back from a trip.” My brother was everything. I looked up to him, followed him, did everything. Then, all of a sudden… it’s hard for me to even say the words. When I do stop and think about it now, I kinda go into depression. My whole life I never dealt with my feelings. Me and my brother never talked to each other about feelings. We never sat there and said, “Are you alright, brother?”.
Did you think that any expression of your feelings would appear as a weakness? Yeah, it’s like you’re a pussy. Which is completely wrong. It’s like everyone has these feelings and if you don’t deal with ‘em it feels like you’re gonna go fucking crazy and that’s what I was doing.
So, now both these sets of feelings have amplified and surfaced together? You know what? I was always worried about something with me or my brother. Something fucked up. I always thought something was gonna happen to either one of us. I really worried about my brother and sometimes I just laid in bed and really worried about him a lot of times. I always tried to prepare myself in case anything happened, which you can never prepare yourself for. A lot of nights I’d get a really weird feeling and call him up in the morning to make sure he was alright. Which he was.
Where were you when Andy died? Who told you? That was the worst day of my life. I was at home and it was two weeks after the thing we did at the Canaries (Bruce did a trip with Stab to the Canary Islands last year). I remember we went to the fair the night before – me, Mia and Kaimelia (wife and daughter) – a Halloween fair and my daughter was all psyched. I was at home. I was in a deep sleep and it was about seven in the morning and I heard Lyndie at the door screaming. I came out of a dead sleep and as I came to it (Bruce snaps his fingers) – I instantly knew it. I heard her voice at seven in the morning, very pregnant, and in that split-second, I knew it. I knew instantly it was what it was. It’s a fucking trip to wrap your head around it. Lyndie was very pregnant and I was trying to calm her down and it just didn’t register. I had to call the coroner. It worked me. It tweaked me out. I was frantic and then it was, like, “Aha, no way this isn’t happening.” I was calming Lyndie and she was very, very pregnant and I was trying to make sure she and the baby were alright. It was horrible.
Describe the next few hours. It was fucked. So fucked. My brother was in Texas, he was dead and I talked to the coroner. I was like fuck, fuck, what the fuck happened? I was pissed off. Right away, I had the feeling I knew how he died. He died when he was 21 and no one really knows that story. He was in Indo after a trip. He was drinking a lot and was out of control. He’d snore when he was sleeping. I grew up next to him and he’d snore so hard. He’d do that thing (Bruce makes a snorting sound) and he’d stop breathing. It’s this thing from sleeping on your back. Sleep apnea. It stops you breathing. If there’s no one there to kick you, you stop breathing. I grew up sleeping next to it. I for sure thought that’s what happened to him.
Anyway, on his 21st birthday, he was with Archy (Matt Archbold) and Nathan Fletcher. Fuck, he drank a whole bottle of Jack Daniels on his own. Nathan wasn’t drinking and he was sleeping in the same room as Nathan. Nathan was hearing all these growly snorts, then he didn’t hear it for a long time and after a little while he looked over and my brother was white with purple lips. Then Nathan slapped him, slapped him really hard. Then he got Kasey Curtis (also on the trip), cause he’s a fireman. Then they took him to the shower naked, slapping him, he was purple in the shower. Long story short, he was unconscious and then they followed the ambulance to the hospital. He was on oxygen in the ambulance and he’d slip into these comas. His lung had collapsed. Then he flatlined. He was dead for six minutes. He was dead. My brother told me this story and he’d never told anyone else. My brother said, “Bruce, that white light, it’s all totally real. When I died I went into this white light. I was warm and I looked down and I saw my dead body with all these tubes and all these people working on me. I was in that place. And, to tell the truth, I didn’t want to come back. I was looking at my body, sitting on the table, dead.” And, he really liked it.
What happened when he came home? He went to Huntington with black rings round his eyes. He was fucking dead, bro. Then I think he won it. And, two years later, he wins the world title three years in a row.
How long did it take to laugh again? About a week ago. I’m not joking. I held everything in my stomach. Everything was pushed up. It was so tense and I went to see this guy 10 days ago in California. He does energy movement, he’s a healer and I feel he saved my life. I really needed his assistance. It helped me. It got my stomach to drop. He made me laugh. He made me breathe.
Describe your life in the past six months? I went into this weird feeling, almost kinda cuckoo. I felt I couldn’t get any lower in my life. I have a beautiful wife and family but my heart was broken. I was just sick, I didn’t want to be here. It’s not a good place to be in. It was depression and then just nothing. Then I think about my brother. Then I look at the ocean and every time I think of surfing and the ocean, everything I shared with my brother. Everything I see in surfing and the ocean, I associate with my brother. I felt guilty surfing. Why the fuck should I be surfing? I did that because my brother did that. Everything in the surfing world is from him. It’s hard to figure out things on my own. I was not letting anyone in. I stopped hanging out with anyone. I stayed at home and hung out with my wife and my baby. I didn’t want to talk to nobody. For the first time in my life, I felt right to do that and be by myself and with the ones who truly love me. I cried a lot. Fuck, I just cried a lot. It felt good to release that. Lyndie came and stayed with us and we kinda just dealt with it together.
I stopped hanging out with anyone. I stayed at home and hung out with my wife and my baby. I didn’t want to talk to nobody. For the first time in my life, I felt right to do that and be by myself and with the ones who truly love me. I cried a lot. Fuck, I just cried a lot. It felt good to release that. Lyndie came and stayed with us and we kinda just dealt with it together.
Will Lyndie stay on Kauai? When she had the baby I was hoping the baby was going to be okay. Hoping the stress wouldn’t do anything to the baby. Her mum was gonna be there to support her but at the last moment, she said she wanted me to be there for the birth. I was stoked on that. You’re only allowed one person for the birth and then at the last second she wanted me to be the person with her. I was the first person to hold him. She wanted me to be there and she knows he’s gonna be a big part of my life and that’s what my brother would want. She knows that my brother wouldn’t want her to live in California. She feels a lot safer on Kauai and her and Axel are gonna be taken care of by me and the whole island.
Does he look like Andy? When I look in his son’s eyes it’s trippy. I look into his eyes and he’s got my brother’s eyes and I can see my brother’s gaze. We go nose to nose every time. I see my brother’s eyes every single morning when I do that, the same shape and he has that eyebrow bump that my brother had right here. I can almost see my brother and then I see Axel when I gaze. As soon as he came out, they gave him to me and I instantly brought him to my face because it was a c-section. I had him hold my fingers the whole time. I put him right on Lyndie’s cheek. We want Lyndie to move in with us. But, she’s strong, man, and she’s independent and she knows it’s there if she wants to move in. Axel and my son are only gonna he 10 months apart. When we’re all together, that’s when I feel like it’s gonna be alright.
How hard is gonna be at some point for Lyndie to find companionship? I told her that one day you’re gonna find love again. It’s not selfish and it’s not wrong of me to say, yeah, she’s always gonna love my brother but I want her to find love and happiness. It’s up to her. I support whatever she does. It’s out of our hands.
What are you missing about Andy? Me and my brother had a real crazy relationship. No one ever told us how to express our feelings. You know how when you’re younger you like a chick and you’ll be mean to her? That was our relationship. We didn’t know how to look each other in the eye and say that. I knew it; he knew it. The one thing that gets me is the clip Brian Bielmann made. That is him. That’s the song I used at my wedding. Everyone sees my brother as this aggressive contest machine but that really captured what he really was. That’s my brother right there. Brian is someone who can put the camera in your face and make you feel comfortable. I called Brian straight away and thanked him and I know I’ll treasure that for the rest of my life. (Bruce becomes visibly upset.)
Let’s come back to this later. Yeah, good idea
Part Two – Memories. Reconnecting. Appearing as a starship commander in his dreams.
The five most vivid memories of your brother. My memories are about the sport and him. The ones that stick out the most are, I’ll say the one about Parko. My brother and Parko were in Tahiti and Parko had won the first two events (in 2009) so he was looking good to win the world title. We were all staying together. And, this is what my brother told me. Parko asked him on the side, by himself. He goes, “I haven’t won the world title yet, but how’d you deal with the pressure? I haven’t even won and I’m freaking out. How’d you do it, not just once, but three times?” And, Andy just goes, “Look, Parko, you’re too nice of a guy, you know? There’s nothing wrong with that, but you don’t say no to enough people: you have your trainer, you have a guy making a book on you, you have all these things and you let all these people come in and they distract you. They take your energy. I went off straight anger. Fuck everybody except for your wife and your immediate family. Everyone else is a competitor and you’re out to kill them – on the beach and out in the water.” And that’s how he did it. Everyone’s your competitor. And, I mean everybody. Even the people that’re not in the contest, that’re just travelling with the tour. And you don’t let anyone in. That’s exactly how my brother did it. Even I was in his fucking crosshairs. I remember I made the tour, but I only did it ‘cause he made it. And, I was stoked just to make it and, to tell the truth, when I did surf against him, I didn’t wanna win. Because that was his thing. He’s the world champ. I was just there ‘cause my brother was there. In Fiji, me and him had a heat together and, like, yeah, my brother’s all stoked I’m on tour, yoo-hoo. Yeah, we draw a heat in Fiji and, ah, he opens up with a 9.75 or 9.73 or something. And he fully just mad-dogged me for the first wave. I mean, the heat starts and I wasn’t gonna get priority at Restaurants. He’s, like, “Don’t fucking think you’re gonna get around me and get priority.” And I’m just AARRGGHH! That just kills me then ‘cause I really wanna beat him but I don’t wanna fuck his whole running-for-the-world-title thing up. So he opens up with a 9.75 or a 9.45, something like that. He’s paddling out, shoulders cocked back. I catch the next wave, I get a 9.75 or something. So I just kinda out-do him by a coupla little points. He paddles back out, we’re just sitting out there, it’s just me and him. He’s all stoked ‘cause of his score and mine comes out and he looks over and he’s like, “Pffft, what? You’re the new fucking flavour of the fucking tour? The new flavour of the month?” After that I was, like, “You know what? Fuck you, fuck this contest, this sucks!” You know? My brother’s out here, here we are again, it’s just like, argh! Next wave he gets, he gets like a 9.30, he’s like “Ye-heah!” Then I get a 10.
So you beat him… Oh fuck yeah. So he gets his two 9’s, he’s kinda thinking like, yeah, what’s up, after he just told me, “You’re the new fucking flavour of the tour, the new fucking flavour of the month, you’re the fucking bitch of the tour.” I was, like, you fucking prick, so I was like, yeah, next wave I get a 10, paddled back out, I’m like, “Ee-hee, what’s up?” I didn’t say that, ‘cause he was just fucking ready to eat his board. All he needed was a fucking 9.75 to beat me. He was fully capable but he just spent the rest of the heat dropping in on me. I was just like, “fucking kook.” So I came in, and even after that’s over, he’s still just like, “Oh yeah, you’re fucking flavour of the fucking month.”.
Why’s that a fond memory? I think it was actually my second year on tour and I got through. I was actually finding my wheels on tour, I was, like, “Fuck yeah! I fucking belong here!” You know, he was bummed, because… fuck he’s a competitor. Lyndie had to calm him down and afterward he gave me a big hug. He didn’t give a fuck who you were.
Any others? Okay, another memory for me was when we both made the final together in France. That was my first year on tour and I had the most crushing ego-blow ever (Bruce was going shithouse on the tour). We both made the final and we were both just sitting out there and we looked at each other and it was this cool little moment. It was like we were just two kids at Pine Trees and that’s what it felt like out there. That’s what I was thinking (laughs) and that was my downfall right there ‘cause I looked over at him and, I was stoked just to be on the tour, I was in the final, my brother was stoked too, like, yeah he’s proud of me, but I look over and all of sudden he had that this-is-business-motherfucker look. Sure enough, it’s neutral priority, and who’s getting the first wave? Not me. Fucking took that wave from me and he started his fucking BAM BAM BAM. I went into that wrong. If I had won we were gonna get into a big fight on the beach.
Do you seriously believe that if you’d won you and your brother would have fought on the beach? Oh fuck, yeah. There would’ve been a fight right after, on the beach, in the water, shootin’ boards, whatever. One hundred percent. I was just stoked to make the final and this moment we had out in the water but he had his fucking 9’s and dah-dah-dah-dah. For me, it didn’t feel like a contest. But he knew it was (laughs). I was in la-la land.
Y’know, I really like his passion about heats. He’d come out with velocity and ferocity towards patriots, like people out for their countries. That one contest in Tahiti (Billabong Pro, Tahiti 2002), Andy’s in the final with Luke (Egan). All the Aussies, Hedgey and all those guys are all “AARGH YEAH”, going off, and my brother’s, like, my brother takes shit like that personally. They’re just stoked for their camararderie from their country and my brother takes it as, like, “Oh, you guys are against me?” Even to Dean Morrison, with the gun. He came out of the barrel and just fucking gave it straight to the boat, like, “Yeah, now what?” And, it’s all his friends, too. Very passionate and also very evil at the same time. But, in the end everyone was good friends. It’s true, it’s lonely at the top. Because all your peers wanna see you fucking fall. And, that’s just the nature of the beast. Like my brother said, the first year, I think Mick might’ve said, the first year you win the world title, oh yeah, everyone’s stoked. Second year comes around, huh, all those people that were spanking you on the back, they wanna hex you, voodoo you. That’s where you gotta go. You gotta go deep. But that was good for my brother cause my brother went off anger and jealousy and just channelled it. But it also takes a toll on your emotional side. My brother just wanted approval from everybody. My brother would say throughout, “Taj, Mick, Parko, all those guys surf way better than me.” But my brother had the fucking will. He willed those things like, “Yeah, I’m gonna fucking crush you. I’m gonna crush you on the beach, looking at you.” And remember when Sarge did that interview with all four of those guys (Paul Sargeant interviewed Andy, Joel, Taj and Mick)? And they all started talking. I stayed in Japan and my brother was so pissed because those guys all ganged up on him ‘cause my brother and Kelly were just stomping them. I would say the same thing, too. Like, “Oh, the judges were over-scoring Andy.” Even though they’re all friends and that’s just them talking shit ‘cause they’re jealous, my brother takes that shit to heart. I remember in Japan when we were all staying together, he fucking snapped at Parko and those guys ‘cause that hurt his feelings. ‘Cause, fuck, you know, don’t hate cause someone has… not as much talent, but a lot more fucking hunger/will/determination. I mean, he’ll fuckin eat you. My brother would snap. Parko was there with his wife and his kid and my brother was very passionate and he didn’t give a fuck who was there in the room. He’s gonna speak his mind right then and there. A lot of times he goes off, then he thinks about it, then afterwards, it’s all good. That’s what made him really tight with a lot of those people. My brother loved Parko, really couldn’t believe how good he surfed, and the same with Mick and everybody. Taj, especially Taj, my brother would just… you know, they had that thing, ever since they were young, but, straight up, because my brother loved his surfing so much, he was jealous. My brother studied, fucking studied, those videos, Montaj like you don’t even know. If these people knew how much my brother watched their videos, like, how much of a fan he was… you’d think that he’d be throwing darts. My brother watched more surf videos than anyone I’ve ever known. Sabotaj, Montaj, 3 Degrees, you know he watched it ‘cause he was really fucking baffled by how good those guys surf. I’ve also seen my brother, like, watch a video and afterwards just FUCKING SNAP, FUCK! Just ‘cause of how good they surf. Like, in his mind, he doesn’t rate, at all. Like, are you kidding me, Andy? It’s like those were his demons. His demons were how good that those guys surfed. And my brother would never, ever compliment them. Ever. No way. It was like our relationship. Y’know, we could never share our feelings. But deep down inside, my brother really, along with Kelly, we grew up watching Kelly in Black and White and Momentum, along with Parko and all those guys. That’s what got my brother going, how good they surfed. Even though he wasn’t better, in his mind, but, he knew he could fucking demoralise ‘em, break them down in a heat and crush them.
Kelly gets into everyone’s head, but Andy’s the only one who’s head Kelly couldn’t get into. Exactly. My brother, you look in his eyes, they’re black. You ever seen them? See, like, I have these nice, big, blue, batty fucking things? You look at my brother, his eyes are slant and it’s dark in there. And, you could look into his eyes and there’s a lot of things going on in there. A lot of it was crazy man, him going to battle with himself.
Where do you think your brother is right now? Well, you know what? Fuck, I had a fix on how he passed away in my head, but then we got the report and it was that valve, you know? The stress on his heart, his arteries. In my mind I kinda had it that it was partying, I had it fixed that it was lifestyle, when the artery clogged, but I went and did the tests and my arteries are fine and me and him had just as much fun. And my things are fine, so it made me start thinking a little different, to where… it was his time to go. And, I really believe that this life’s temporary and there’s something else out there. When it’s your time, it’s your time. Fuck, you know, I mean, I feel that, ah, fuck, it’s hard for me to let go of that in my stomach. But, every morning, I wake up and I tell him how much I love him, out loud. I wake up in the morning and I’m, like, “I love you brother.” I say it out in the water all the time.
Would you have ever said it to him, face to face, previously? Yeah, I did. I mean, like, we were in a big fight a coupla months before he died. And the first time I saw him afterwards was just after we did that Stab shoot in the Canaries. It was just so random. I was coming through the airport early in the morning. I just ran into him so I gave him a big hug and it was still kinda in the back of my head and same with him. So, we were talking for, like, 15 minutes. It was nice. It broke the ice. Then when I went home he called me from France. Called me once, twice, I wouldn’t answer, three times, I’m like “Okay, something’s up.” So I answered the phone, “What’s up brother?” and, fuck, he just sounded so good. I think he’d come to grips with the arrival of the new generation. ‘Cause he never thought that what he did was good enough. On that phone call, many times, he said, “I love you.” He was comfortable in his own skin for the first time in his life. He came and we went to my friend’s wedding and when we saw each we hugged and said, “I love you, I love you.” And, fuck, the last time I was with him was at that wedding.
So that was relatively new, the “I love you” thing? So we were at the wedding and feeling kinda good and I walked up to my brother. He was kinda talking about me to our friends that we hadn’t seen in a long time, saying nice things about me. And I was, like, “Fuck, I love you, too.” It was really good, it was, like, nothing but over-the-top compliments and I was like, “Fuck, I love you too.” It was almost uncomfortable ‘cause it was so different. He was so fucking loving to me.
So that’s like a bit of closure? Oh, big time closure for me, bro. Fuck yeah. If he would have passed away and we were in that way when he left my house when we were fucking, almost going toe to toe, you know… it’d be a very scary thought. So I had a lot of peace of mind ‘cause the last time I saw him he gave me a big hug and said “I love you.” I believe in the whole world of dreams and people coming to you in dreams. I’ve had certain people that my brother came to visit, and the stuff that he said to them to say to me and Lyndie and stuff, it’s just, these people have nothing to do with surfing, don’t know shit, and the stuff that came out of their mouth is just too, like… my brother said it was his time to go and he did live his life. He had lived his dream fucking over and over and over. Like Parko said, he lived his life…
He said it himself, not that long ago. Exactly, exactly what he said, he lived it fucking, my brother lived his whole life by the time he was 25 years old. My brother has conquered every dream. Twenty-eight years old, my brother did everything he could have ever done in his dreams. His dreams got reached, over and over and over.
What was it like for you, reading those words he’d said in that last interview (issue 45, Stab), that he’s lived a life of a king and lived stuff kings wouldn’t dream of? When that magazine came out, like, fuck, all the shit that I said to you, like, “I don’t know what I would do without my brother,” and he said the same thing. It’s almost just like… wow. And, it’s something that we couldn’t say to each other, but that’s our relationship. And, you know what? I say it now, I say it all the time, how proud I am, like, he was my brother and, say it out loud ‘cause I know he’s listening, I know he’s there. I’m proud of him. I’m stoked I got to be his brother. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have any of this. I didn’t want to be here after that happened, I didn’t wanna deal with life. But I feel like I can’t get wiped off this Earth, as long as I’m around and relevant, as long as I keep surfing, it’s gonna help his legacy. Rather than just going into the black. I don’t think my brother knew how much people loved him.
Do you feel like your friend Ronnie-boy (Bruce’s best pal who shot himself over a gal) and Andy are in the same place? Yes. I never believed in a certain God and this and that and all that shit, but, I believe I’m my own god, you’re your own god, then there’s the universal god that’s this whole creation. You can’t put a face on it, but it’s someone. But, I also think the people that I do pray for, that watch out for me, are like, my brother, my friends we’ve lost, those are the people I know are the people watching over me and making sure. Ronnie-boy, my brother, the list goes on. And I feel that they’re all in that next place, and I know that place is… I don’t know, but I feel that the next place is going to be really great, also. This place is a hard place to live in ‘cause of all the feelings, emotions, things you gotta deal with in your life. There’s a lot of negative, but there’s also a lot of positive. And it’s whatever you look for. Fuck, I’ve been negative my whole life but I’m changing that ‘cause there is more positive and the positive is a lot healthier. It’s what you look for. Someone’s having a shit-fucking-pile-storm, bitching about something over there, I used to jump into that shit-storm with them. Oh yeah, misery enjoys company. But not anymore. I’ve no reason to be sorry for whatever the fuck they did. It’s none of my business. But then, it’s also practise what you preach. It’s a hard thing to do. I wake up every morning and I’m like, “OK, how’re we gonna do this today?” And I have to tell myself, this is the best day of my fucking life. I’m very grateful to be here.
Have you had a dream about your brother yet? Um, yeah. I used to have dreams, like, just the same old dreams, kinda fucking, just fighting, just in the water, just RAAAH, but actually I went to see that healer in California and he helped move some energy out of me that I’d been holding onto for a long time. And after that I had a dream about my brother that he was… I got beamed up into a spaceship and he was the commander of the star fleet (laughs). And he was, like, some very famous fucking commander dude, and he’s been up there for years and I see him and, like, I haven’t seen him in a long time and he hasn’t seen me in a long time, and I was, like, “Oh fuck, it’s so good to see you!” and gave him a big hug and he was saying how proud he was of me. I know he’s proud of me.
What was he wearing? Can you remember? (Laughs) Fuck! I wanna say just… he mighta had one of those captain pilot hats or something… I almost wanna say like something outta Star Trek with, like, pads. He’s been up there for three years and he was the guy running the fucking star fleet. I don’t know what was going on up there but, he was like, a very decorated commander (laughs). I kinda have little visions and trips so I wanna see him again. Like, when it is my time, it’ll be like, “Finally, you’re here.” I have a feeling, like, I hope we’re all together, like, “Yeah! You finally got up here!” x