Matt Biolos On Andy Irons' Salad Days: "Those Were Some Times To Remember"
Mayhem recalls the Spring of '98 with the late, great Andy Irons, well before the World Titles, and his “unfortunate, untimely, and somewhat inexcusable death.”
Editor's Note: We're thrilled to have Matt Biolos as Stab's December Guest Editor, but given the timeliness of this particular tale he had for our readers, we thought we'd give you a sneak peak of our shoot with Matt and photographer Trevor King, at Matt's second home in Mammoth Mountain, where this Andy Story takes place. Take it away, Matt...
Like with rock stars spiraling out of control, the money train sometimes blinds the support team.
Today, November 2nd, marks the 8th anniversary of the unfortunate, untimely, and somewhat inexcusable death, of Andy Irons.
A day for relentless tributes, accolades, RIPs that will surely scroll by on our phone faces, featuring photos of the man in all his raging and wonderful glory.
He was the "People’s Champ.” A 3X World Title winner, who brought a certain dark horse Yang to Kelly Slaters Ying—one of very few who were ever able to stand toe to toe with the GOAT.
There was an entire industry built around him. T-shirts, boardshorts, hats galore, surfboards, accessories, and more. Magazines needed his image to sell paper. Any surf video or "film" project with any hope of success needed his name in the marque. His magnetic energy and reckless, yet somehow calculated, competitive approach to surfing, simply sold product.
For a time, it seemed like he carried the entire business of surfing.
…And maybe that was the biggest problem. In spite of his personal challenges and struggles with substance abuse, which many of us were well aware of, seemingly no one in the surfing business forcibly stepped in and made a heroic effort to save the man from his demons.
I last saw Andy, at his rented San Clemente apartment, in late September of 2010, after the Lowers WCT event. I was handing him the first small quiver of boards that we had made him in a few years. By then, Andy and I were no longer that close; I hadn’t worked consistently with him since much earlier in his career.
The Andy that I knew best, and try to remember is the young, excited innocent whirlwind of a teen-ager, who stormed to prominence from a sleepy town in Kauai, boldly brandishing his recently signed More Core Division logos on the nose of his boards.
This is the Andy that myself, and the rest of our …Lost crew knew and remember. Far before his huge competitive successes and subsequent fame (during which time I was steadfastly attempting to chase my own path and fortune, distracted by a clothing business and get rich quick Energy Drink shenanigans, when I almost let our surfboard business bumble away).
But them MCD Salad days, those were some times to remember…
Spring of '98, Shea (Lopez) and Andy are in town doing marketing duties for Gotcha, just before the start of the ASP season, before heading to Sydney for the Coke Classic. A small storm was passing through, ruining the surf, but dropping snow on the local mountains. Never one to pass up a powder day (and recently in possession of my first-ever new truck ), I was squirming to rally. Shea was on board, and Andy claimed he'd "snowboarded before…with Kai-Borg" (Kai Garcia) but had no gear.
We piled in my shiny new truck and headed through the rain to Gotcha/MCD headquarters, in Irvine. Andy really worked em over, walking out with all sorts of fancy new Gotcha outerwear. Enough for all three of us...and more. I had no idea why Gotcha/MCD attempted to be in the snow biz, but they did—and it was short lived (we probably grabbed more than they sold that year).
The next morning, we are up early and on the freeways to Mt. Baldy.
Andy had just got his first cell phone and was burning up the minutes, hot dialing "Borg" and any other of his Kauai cohorts who would answer the early call. Making sure everyone knew he was headed up to ride some "pow"! We exit the highway, and start heading up the hill.
Now Mt. Baldy road is notorious for post-storm ice slicks, and usually closed early mornings to all but chain-wielding 4WD vehicles. But the bold and brazen can blow past the usually unattended road block and give it a go. We always did.
After navigating the dozen or so "switchbacks" that snake up the mountain, we arrive to the notorious "Bowling Alley"—a section of the road about 300 yards long, with 20 degree of slightly off-kilter incline, haphazardly lined with rather large California Pines. When covered with ice, the Bowling Ally can be tricky with 4WD, but is a real challenge for a 2WD vehicle, especially a rear wheel drive truck with all the engine weight over the essentially useless front wheels.
Our first attempt ended in failure, so after a delicate reverse back down, I commandeered the boys to get out and climb up on the rear bumper for the second run. With Andy and Shea busily bouncing on the tailgate, we slithered our way up, all the while being yelled at and passed by "smarter" people, driving 4WD or snow-chained cars. Andy was smiles from ear to ear. Proudly proclaiming "We Made it!" as we rolled into the parking lot.
Now Mt. Baldy Ski Resort isn't so much of a resort; it’s more of a functioning relic of a bye-gone era. At the top of a rusted, warbling, wooden Chair-1, perched on a notch precipice between two peaks, sits a classic warming hut/rental shack and cafeteria. From there, a few antiquated, wooden, two seater chair lifts, slowly ascend to access a modest mix of rolling groomed runs, open glades and cat tracks winding down the mountain. Very occasionally, when a big, cold, mid-winter storm swoops down the Sierras from the Pacific NorthWest, the entire mountain transforms into a powder paradise, gifting (for those in the know) a hell of a lot of the steepest, most challenging, raw (and equally dangerous) lift-accessible and side country terrain in Southern California.
This little storm was not that. It was little more than a spring dusting, but enough to blanket the groomed runs with a few inches of soft stuff, and offer a little fun in the trees. After the obligatory, finger-numbing, wait for the ticket "office" to open, we then hurry up and wait for Chair-1 to be dug out, de-iced and get spinning.
Now Andy—who may or may not have snowboarded before, and had admittedly never seen "fresh powder" before—was frothing, running around in the freshly fallen snow like a playful puppy, tossing snowballs at Shea and I, and literally strapping into his bindings to ride down the path from the ticket booth to the parking lot. He couldn't contain himself. He repeatedly attempted to call anyone on his new cell phone, which at this point had no service.
Finally, we're on the lift. A slow burn, if ever there was one. The most painful part? Seeing the packs of people who frantically forced their way to the front of the line, flying down the untracked faces, while you’re still on the chair.
A few years later, Andy had sharpened his teeth a bit. Video courtesy Billabong.
Once at the top we take our first run, and it’s obvious that Andy is a raw-ish rookie. Slowly fidgeting with his bindings, lingering behind before we even get to any sustainable pitch. Shea, for whats its worth, had enough days on the snow to combine with his surfing talent and above average athletic skills, to smoothly slide along. We hurriedly head to the base of the next lift, with access to better (steeper) terrain, with Andy stumbling through the line of people, talking loudly and "ready to rip!".
We summit "Thunder Mountain", the main peak at Baldy, strap in, and point down. Andy turns into A.I. While following behind, and slowly nursing a few turns, he must have simply studied what Shea and I were doing, and within a few minutes started to mimic the edge to edge movements, and started to ride along with us, fully engaged, only slightly flailing and screaming like a wild banshee the entire time.
The few inches of fresh soft snow, made for a fast yet forgiving blanket of very surf style riding possible, and he locked in quickly, he and Shea slashing back and forth, spraying each other, and doing awkward lay backs, and hooting at each other like a couple of groms in two foot sloppy surf. We were having fun; smiles all around.
Now the thing about spring in Southern California, there’s not a lot of coverage, and these small storms bring a dangerous, deceptively thin, smooth cover to some of the most jagged rock-strewn slopes you could imagine. We call them "Sharks"— random rocks laying just below the fresh fallen snow, waiting for some one to push just a little too deep, in just the wrong place, and "Bite"!
Andy got bit. Bit good. I was well ahead already and only heard the wail. looked back and saw him sprawled out, screaming, "Fuck, fuck, fuck..Im OK!"
I ride down and up again, to find him sitting in the shade, under a tree, on the side of the run. He was hurting, but had the biggest shit eating grin on his face.
"Fuck, I ate shit,” he said. “I was ripping the powder so hard and then just stopped and tumbled. Fuck, my butt hurts so bad, but I'm all good Brah. I'm gonna hang out here for a bit and chill. You guys go ride"
"Andy got bit. Bit good. I was well ahead already and only heard the wail. looked back and saw him sprawled out, screaming, "Fuck, fuck, fuck..Im OK!"
"I ride down and up again, to find him sitting in the shade, under a tree, on the side of the run. He was hurting, but had the biggest shit eating grin on his face."
That is where we took the above photo. Right after Andy's session-ending wipeout. Shea and I rode around, poached a few little stash zones and got our fill. Andy walked from his little tree perch, all the way back to the lodge. I don't think he put his board on again. We met him there on the way back down to the parking lot.
On the drive down the mountain, he was electric. “That was so fun! I was ripping so hard! I gotta call Borg! I gotta call Bruce…Don't bring Bruce here, Brah…hahaha.” On and on, in the back seat of my truck, all the way down Mt Baldy Road, alternately sliding down his oversized Gotcha snow pants to inspect his significant, plate sized, badge of honor bruise, on his hip, and hopelessly attempting to get some service on his shiny new cell phone.
Once back on the highway and in range, it was on—twenty minutes of blow-by-blow fishing tails to "Borg" on just how hard he was ripping the now "two-feet deep fresh powder—all day, Brah...You shoulda' seen me!"