Earlier this dry season in Bali, a solid SW swell attracted the early morning horde to Sanur, but the buzz on the beach was about Andy Irons and a few pro pals, heading off on a speedboat to Desert Point to catch the afternoon low tide. As the boat chugged away from the beach, Andy stood in the stern, hands raised over his head and holding onto the rear of the awning frame. He looked on top of the world. You could picture him holding up a fourth world title trophy.
In five months, he would be dead.
The early reports issued by family and also by the surf media said he’d died of dengue fever. Other reports, by wildfire rumor and also by mainstream news media, suggested that drugs were involved. Did the surf media pick up on this other explanation? Nope. And no surprise…the surf companies and media have had a long history of whitewashing drug deaths and suicides and the like. When it comes to the darker underbelly of the sport, there is no creditable reporting from within the industry.
All the more ironical when you consider surfing’s rebellious, anti-establishment roots, which is still deeply entrenched in the hard core culture of the sport. Heavy partying still goes hand in hand with heavy barrels.
Not hard to figure out the reason for this kind of silence: Money. Commercialization. Stock market listings. Mrs. Smith isn’t going to buy a $50 board short promoted by her young son’s surf god idol, if the surf god idol is a known drug head.
Consider, if you will, the ASP rulebook on drug use. This section is a very fine piece of waffling. It straddles the fine line between recognizing that the top surfers who attract a commercial market to the sport are still going to party hard with drugs, and draping themselves with a clean whitewashed image for the mainstream & commercial world. The ASP manages the remarkable feat of winking while simultaneously presenting a stern face.
ASP Rulebook Article 163.01″ Although the ASP does not conduct its own drug testing, the ASP permits drug testing at Prime, Star and World Tour Events by the Event sponsors, the ASP Regional Office, or the governing sporting body for the particular country in which the Event is taking place so long as the drug testing complies with the testing protocol set forth by the World Anti-Doping Agency.”
Hunh-hunh. When was the last time you heard an event sponsor saying, “Okay, guys and gals, time to pee in the cup”? Good god, can you imagine?
Article 163.04 & .05 “If the Rules & Discipline Judge determines that:
(a) there has been a legitimate positive test; and
(b) it is more likely than not that the Surfer was taking drugs for performance enhancement purposes, the Rules & Discipline Judge shall, as soon as practicable, commence a hearing before the Rules & Disciplinary Committee to present his findings and give the Surfer the opportunity to present his defence… If the Rules & Disciplinary Committee agrees that the test result is legitimately positive and that it is more likely than not that the Surfer was taking a substance (e.g. Anabolic Androgenic Steroids – AAS) from the prohibited list for performance enhancement purposes, the Surfer shall be suspended from competing in ASP competition for at least one full year.”
Notice the fine waffle room. Notice also the emphasis on “drugs for performance enhancing purposes.” A positive for marijuana? OxyContin? Smack? Those are hardly performance enhancing…so rock on, dudes. Sure, have a couple Oxy’s, just don’t pop any steroids with that Red Bull and vodka.
I guess the ASP policy is basically “Don’t ask, don’t tell…and don’t get caught.”
I’m not moralizing. I’m just pointing out the hypocrisy, which ain’t hardly news.
And Andy Irons? What’s the truth? The sad thing is, the surf industry’s perennial whitewashing of its heroes adds fuel to the rumor fire. We can’t trust what they say. We’ll find out a closer version of the truth once the toxicology report is released. It’s a terrible thing to hope that yes, “it was only dengue”—a good man is dead, after all. But if it’s an unfavorable report, will the surf media and the ASP and Billabong, Andy’s main sponsor, have the guts to deal with it publicly? Or do we have to go to TMZ for that news?
Andy died in a hotel room, half way from friends and half way to family, alone, a bed sheet pulled up to his neck.
It is so sad. It breaks your heart.