Whew. That was a tough movie to watch. People who are into surfing know the name Andy Irons, and they also know that associated with that name is substance abuse, mental illness, and a tragic death leaving behind a pregnant wife and a would be superstar surfing career. If you don’t follow surfing, then you’ve probably never heard of Andy Irons, but you might’ve seen that there was a documentary coming out about his struggles. Andy Irons was a pro surfer from Hawaii, who went on to win three World Championships. He was pretty much the only rival to Kelly Slater, the greatest surfer in the world at that time. He was married to a young woman named Lyndie, and she became pregnant with their child months before his death. Unfortunately, he passed away alone in a hotel room in Dallas when Lyndie was eight months pregnant. The cause of death was a heart attack, induced by mixing drugs. People who knew Andy knew that he wasn’t really right in the head, and was struggling with substance abuse for a long time. That still didn’t stop his death from shocking the entire surfing community. Still to this day, his life is celebrated constantly and people are still wondering what went wrong. Kissed by God tries to shed some life on that.
This story is basically a documentary of Andy’s life, and it’s get very raw and very ugly quick. His drug abuse, mental illness, and trials in life were all put on display in hopes of being completely transparent. I was a late bloomer to the Andy Irons story. By the time I had gotten into surfing, Andy had already passed away. I never watched him surf in any competitions, so I never really felt drawn to being a fan of his. But his demise was always interesting to me. Someone who seemed to have the perfect life– surfing whenever he wanted, and getting paid for it– and yet, he still was spiraling out of control. When I heard this documentary was coming out, I immediately bought tickets and I’m so thankful that the movie actually came to theaters in St. Louis, Missouri.
The cinematography was absolutely wonderful. Not only were there shots of Andy from home movies, and from surf competitions, and other interviews, but there were some stock videos of gorgeous water scenes and the beautiful Hawaiian landscape. Andy’s story is pieced together through interviews from family friends, his wife and brother, and other pro surfers. The film makers also threw in commentary from a Harvard trained psychiatrist, and a Harvard graduate who suffered from bipolar disorder. Huge names in surfing pop up throughout the movie– Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, and Sunny Garcia are just a few. Andy’s son is featured at the end of the movie, to shed some light on the next generation of the Irons’ talent.
I learned so much through this movie that I had no idea about. A lot of it was tough to watch. Andy knew he had bipolar disorder. I thought he was diagnosed posthumously, but it turns out he was diagnosed in his early 20’s. He knew he had bipolar disorder, but he didn’t like taking the medication for it, and preferred to regulate himself with illegal and elicit substances. Andy also overdosed on his 21st birthday in Indonesia, and was dead for eight minutes. During those eight minutes, he claimed that he saw “the light” and felt at peace. He later told his brother Bruce that he didn’t want to come back down from there. I also learned more about his rivalry with Kelly. The one complaint I had about the movie was that they really made Kelly out to look like the bad guy. I’m a huge fan of Kelly Slater, so maybe I’m biased, and I know he’s no angel, but I also think that it was a two way street, and the beef and tension that went on between them was two sided.
In the end, I was very happy with how this documentary turned out. I learned so much about one of surfing’s greatest talents, and I was very sad to see how he lived his life. I think if he would’ve gotten the help he needed and stayed away from drugs, his life would’ve turned out very differently. Bipolar disorder is not easy to manage, but you can do it, and there are many brilliant people out there who live with the disorder.
If you’d like to learn more about Andy or about his wife’s goal to spread awareness about bipolar disorder and substance abuse, click here.