From Stab issue 58: Mrs Lyndie Irons remembers the whirlwind of her nine-year love affair with The Champ – the demons, the angels and everything beautiful and crazy in between…
They were perhaps the fiftieth or maybe the hundredth couple to make out beneath the tall Ficus tree between First and Third streets, Encinitas, after a night at The Saloon. Andy Irons, 25 back then and a world champ too, but only one-time and not thrice, although he was mid-way through his second, pulled the brown-skinned Californian gal toward him and then pushed the both of them back into the trunk.
Ms Lyndie Dupuis, 20, held her breath and felt like… felt like… well, how can she explain now, what it was like, back then, to be held, pushed, owned, by a Hawaiian god who’d suddenly become, unexpectedly, the most exciting and dominant surfer of his generation?
Years after, when they’d come to town, married now, Andy’d reenact the whole thing, back at the Saloon, under the tree, and behave like “a real donkey,” says Lyndie, laughing, something rare these days, except maybe when baby Ax goofs off or runs, which he does with the same loping gait as his dad, the dad dead not one month before Ax saw daylight for the first time.
What does that make Ax now, one and a half? Can you believe it’s been that long since we woke up to the stupid, the insane, the this-has-to-be-a-prank-but-we-all-know-it-ain’t, news of Andy’s death?
Stab spoke to Lyndie in Sydney, where this shoot happened, in Hawaii and in Costa Rica. Tears interrupted most sentences and that’s hard when you’re the one pushing her to remember certain memories or reviving buried stories. But, the gal is, maybe not tough, cause that conjures up a hardness and Ms Irons is soft as butter, but… brave, brave because it’s hard to cry in front of someone and brave because she knows it’s up to her to carry the legacy of Hawaii’s greatest-ever surfer and ensure its lustre never dulls.
STAB: I want to read you a quote from his last interview and, if y’could, I want you to interpret it for me. It’s a recurring dream he’d had since childhood: “I’m on top of a mountain and I’m trying to stand on the pinnacle without falling off. The wind gets really strong and it turns into this radical Wizard of Oz trip with the wind coming up and with lightning bolts appearing around. It starts to rain and the mountain starts getting real slippery. What does it mean? Probably that I’m trying to hold on…”
Lyndie: Interpret it? His life was a whirlwind. Every single day he was… he wanted more than anything to be normal. That’s what he’d always say. His lifestyle and his job kept him on this crazy 100 miles an hour treadmill. He was always trying to just hold onto life, to normalcy. I could see him in his dream just thinking that everything around him was just crazy and chaotic, which it was. He just wanted to stand still.
When he spoke about normality, what did he mean? Living at home, splitting from the tour biz? Everybody caring about what he did, his business, his personal life. It’s really hard to be an athlete and to perform for everybody else. He’d always say, “I’d love to be a valet worker at St Regis, have a normal job and not have everybody watching me and wanting me to perform.”
Did Andy dream a lot? Were they sweet dreams, nightmares? Definitely nightmares. He’d wake up screaming a lot. And, he was talking to Koby Abberton about it. Seems like they had similar dreams. Andy would wake up sometimes screaming out or he’d sit up and start punching the bed. He had some very, very radical dreams, and a lot of them.
Did he describe these dreams? Sometimes. When he had radical ones. There’s a few I can remember, but I’d prefer to keep them to myself. He definitely had emotional, physical dreams even though he looked so sweet and peaceful when he slept. I look at Axel and get the same feeling. Axel goes a million miles a minute and when he goes to sleep I feel like I can take a breath.
Andy spoke about being a terrible insomniac. He had a really, really hard time sleeping. I think, the travel, the pressure and everything that comes with it. It was hard for him to relax.
Can you talk to me about the Tahiti contest win in 2010, what he said to you on the phone after he won? You were at home pregnant, yeah? I was really pregnant so I stayed home. I wish I was there. I watched most of the contest lying down.
(The proximity of the contest win to his death, his surprise success given the unspectacular nature of his earlier contest results in his comeback year and how visibly moved he was immediately afterward, makes it extremely difficult for Lyndie to talk about the period without crying. But, she knows it was a pivotal moment in his life, a peak before the endless trough, and so she talks through the rain.)
How long after the contest did he call? He always called me right after. I… I… to watch him… to see him beat Kelly… and see him splashing the water and seeing him so happy… it was definitely the most emotional contest for him. I’d never seen him so happy. Cause I know… he loved to win and he needed that…he was so happy… I’d never seen him so happy, too. He said to me on the phone, “I really did it! Can you believe I can still do it?” Well, of course. He had been doubting himself for a long time. That was my favourite win by far in the nine years I was with him. It meant the world to him.
Around the world there were a lot of fuck yeahs! And fist pumping! The comeback kid. Like the best Kenny Powers episode y’ever seen… I know! Words can’t explain how happy I was for him. That he… ohhhhhh…
(The intermittent tears and mewing and shudders turn into the wail of a human being torn away from their soul mate. We pause and start again a few minutes later.)
Sorry… Maybe you can talk to me about the whirlwind of those world titles, you the gal next to the guy. How about the year he made Kelly cry? That was intenso! When I was first started dating Andy he’d already won one world title and was already in the middle of his second one and so him winning every contest seemed like the natural order of things. I was shocked if he didn’t make the quarters or the semi finals. He was so happy and so on top of the world. He never second guessed himself. He was such a magical human, particularly in those world title days. It was like he was floating on air. He never even, it’s so hard to explain it in words. I wish he was here to explain it for me because he was so good with words… But, that world title that he beat Kelly in the final was magical in itself. It was so unexpected. I remember G (Graham Stapelberg, VP of marketing at Billabong) adding up the points and he was like, “Whoa, Andy, you can actually win this world title.” He wasn’t a long shot for me, and not for Andy either, but for everybody else it was shocking. It was magical and crazy.
After that final, when you were finally alone, do you remember what he said, what you spoke about? He was always, uh, these are my personal moments. But, he was so focused on wining, but he was so shocked that he won.
Tell me about Andy’s qualities… One quality that was crazy about Andy was that he never talked bad about anyone’s surfing. No one. Not even to me, personally. There’s not one person on that planet who could say otherwise. He thought everyone was an amazing surfer, from Kelly all the way down to that guy that’s just learning how to surf. He never had a negative thing to say about someone’s surfing, which is pretty crazy. Most athletes talk shit about other athletes.
He was a great surfer, and I mean great in its literal sense, but he didn’t believe how good he was, particularly later on… He had all the confidence in the world but then he’d also be shocked that he could win. But he was such a dominating person outside and in the water.
When you want to put yourself in a good place, what memories do you access? I never think of the negative, the hard stuff, the hard part, I know a lot of people know that, but since the day he passed I don’t even think about them. We travelled the world together and we were best friends. We had… (tears)… so many good times. I think about it hourly, every minute. There’s not a day that goes by or a minute when I’m not thinking about it. I can push it away when I’m not alone. I try not to cry in front of Axel or my friends anymore. Nobody can say the right thing. Bruce’s wife Mia is my rock, the only one who says the right thing when I’m that sad, when I’m having a rough time… Every day with Andy was amazing. I’m not saying that because he passed, either. I’d say it if he was still here. I just loved him, every inch of him, everything about him.
Here’s another quote from that last interview: “You gotta go in the sometimes to figure who you are. I’ve had my fair share of hills and valleys, but life’s been radical and exciting. Stuff that kings would die to do. The lifestyle we’ve got and the life I led since I was 17, I couldn’t even tell my friends. I try and tell stories and they think I’m making it up. Straight up. It’s the life I wanted since I caught my wave.” Now, ain’t that a classic quote from the Champ? He’s not here and I have a very quiet life with Axel. I think back and my life with him was like a movie. It was unbelievable. I don’t think, I know the guys on tour, they all travel and do their thing, Andy was just… he had so many demons, I guess, that set him back a little bit in life, but I never felt that way. That’s who he was. He got dealt these cards and he was just trying to figure out life the best he could. He had a lot of ups and downs but it came along with who he was. He was up high and on top of the world and then he’d falter a little bit and then every day was like a movie. I think back now and wonder how I had the energy to keep up with him. I don’t even have the energy to keep up with baby Ax and Andy was on a whole other level. He lived every minute to its fullness. He was the only person so far that I’ve met who actually lived that quote. He really squeezed everything he could out of every day and it was game on the second he woke up. It was crazy, but I loved every minute of it and I wish I could… still have it.
Talk to me about how the movie Blue Horizon affected him. It played on him for years. It really did. For many year after it came out, he was really, really hurt and unhappy with it. He didn’t want to seem like the bad guy in the surfing world against Kelly and he thought that was how it portrayed him. I thought it was a really beautiful video. It was his video but he thought it made it seem that Kelly was the good guy and he was the bad guy; that Kelly was the white horse and he was the dark horse. He didn’t like that. He didn’t want people to think that he was the dark horse. He wanted to be the happy, good guy. It affected him for many, many years afterwards. People would bring it up and say, “Oh! I saw Blue Horizon! And he’d be like, “Yep, so what!” and look at ‘em, like, “What have you got to say about it?” He was ready for… war!
I believe it was a study on what it takes for a human to beat Kelly Slater and Andy, being Andy, wasn’t going to hide a thing… I felt that it showed Andy had an amazing life, that he was human and a little more radical and confrontational than Kelly. But Andy never wanted to play up that side of himself. He really wanted to be the happy, loving guy, which he was, but he came with a little bit of…
Graphic honesty? Totally! He was so honest it was crazy. Sometimes he would be getting interviewed and I’d hear him going in a direction and I’d literally hold my breath… thinking… please don’t! Don’t be too honest! Now, I’m, like, why did I even care? He was who he was. He’d always be honest. There was never a moment where he wouldn’t be honest. Every interview, maybe because he was my husband, I listened to every word that came out of his mouth because he was so funny… so real… I think a lot of people felt that way. He was so interesting. On the tour it’s so mechanical, the same thing after every heat. With Andy, he was either really excited or really upset.
The physical attraction when you guys met was kinda off the chain, wasn’t it? Yeah! Totally! He told me loved me after a week! It was on from the second we were together. He was the most handsome man I’d ever seen and now when I look back at pictures it takes my breath away. So handsome … and so… perfect… he was… perfect… it’s still really hard for me to even look at photos… I always tell my friends I can’t believe how handsome he was. I’m shocked now that he’s not here.
(There’s a raw silence for a while as the built-up pauses and stutters pour into a wail…)
How will you describe Andy to Ax when he’s older? Maybe in a few years it’ll be a lot easier… but today… I’ve never met anybody like him. Even Bruce. When I didn’t know Bruce as well as I do now, I used to think, they’re so similar it’s crazy, maybe it’s why they fight so much, but now, I know Bruce, they’re nothing alike. I’m so close to Bruce and he’s a huge part of Ax’s life and I love him to pieces. But, Andy was… so amazing… so full of life and love and happiness he could make anybody laugh and get along with anybody, a five-year-old kid, a 90-year-old woman. He had so much charisma, and he was so witty, he was just perfect. I’ll be able to explain it to Ax a little better and in a little more detail. In a weird way, I really think that he knows. Sometimes when I look at him I see so much Andy it freaks me out for a minute. I’ll tell him, well, you’re exactly like your Dad.
Is there anything that we don’t know, something you think it’s important we should know? I mean, for one, he was a dynamic motherfucker! (Laughter! Rare laughter! So sweet!) He just wanted everybody to like him and to love his surfing. He became so doubtful about that. He cared so much. I guess everybody cares in a way.
He loved that in 2010 that people, fans, were finally cheering for him. Yeah, exactly, the first time he felt people were backing him and backing his surfing. He had a couple of years where he felt everybody was talking about him and being really negative, which they probably were. He struggled with his demons at times and people were extremely judgmental about them. Everybody has issues and Andy’s were broadcast around the world. In 2010, when he was on a good path, when we were living in Australia and surrounded by really good people, and when he won that contest, he couldn’t believe how many people were happy for him. I can’t even tell you the amount of many texts I received after that contest and the phone calls from people telling me they cried, like he did, after he won.
If any surfer said anything good about him, and he was always reading magazines, he couldn’t believe it. He was so stoked. If someone talked about their favourite surfers and mentioned him he’d be… wow! He couldn’t believe he could ever be someone’s favourite surfer.
Words by Derek Rielly
Photos by Kane Skennar
Styling by Tara Williams
Hair and Makeup by Rachael Brook @ DLM
Video by Petty Thieves
All swimwear by Acacia, by Naomi Newirth and Lyndie Irons