Documentary Warns Against Drug Addiction

By Erica Quinones

Elm Staff Writer

Kent Goes Purple, a local prevention initiative to raise awareness of substance abuse in Kent County, presented the story of professional surfer, Andy Irons, and the wave of addiction which ended his life.

The late Andy Irons was a three-time world title winning surfer who passed away of a heart attack related to drug abuse at the age of 32 on Nov. 2, 2010. His story was depicted in the 2018 documentary, “Kissed by God.” Washington College, screened the documentary in Norman James Theatre on Oct. 18 in partnership with Kent Goes Purple.

According to their website, Kent Goes Purple is “a substance abuse awareness and prevention initiative” which focuses on engaging with community youth to create awareness of substance abuse. The story of Andy Irons is pertinent to that mission.

Andy Irons and his younger brother, Bruce Irons, began competing in professional surfing during high school. During this period, Andy was encouraged to party with the surfer community. Here, he used mostly marijuana and alcohol, but eventually also abused cocaine.

In an interview for the documentary, professional surfer Cory Lopez said it was “amazing we made it through those years.”

Partying was not his only struggle. During his first World Championship Tour, Irons suffered a manic episode and dropped out of competitions.

In the documentary, big-wave surfer Shane Dorian, described his behavior during this episode as “something that would just grab him, and that was it. Like something pulling him underwater.”

Andy Irons suffered from bipolar disorder. He experienced its effects throughout life, but according to his mother, Danielle Tache-Irons, he had always had the ocean as his “peaceful place.”

As he entered professional surfing, that reliever became another stressor with the new pressure of competition. The loss of this outlet combined with his previous inability to receive professional helped lead him to find solace in substance abuse.

“In the beginning, drugs and alcohol help people with conditions like bipolar, and a lot of people don’t understand it,” said George Bach, a peer-recovery specialist. “And I believe it’s harder for someone to go to a doctor and say ‘I feel suicidal.’ It’s actually harder for people to admit that and seek help than it is to say ‘I’m an alcoholic’ or ‘I’m addicted to opioids.’”

This escalated to a 1999 incident where he overdosed on morphine. He was rushed to the hospital where he flatlined for eight minutes, but was revived. He then returned home to the water to continue his surfing career.

Irons was rejuvinated, resulting in his career peak as he won three consecutive World Championship Tours from 2002 to 2004, met his wife, and began his historic rivalry with eleven-time world tour winner, Kelly Slater. This ended at the 2005 World Championship Tour when Slater defeated him. 

According to Bruce Irons, that defeat “broke him.”

Andy Irons began abusing opioid pills. Over the next five years, he suffered a cycle of rehabilitation and relapse until passing away in a hotel.

His story of addiction is not new; however, it is important for young people. According to a 2014 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 35.5 percent of Americans ages 18 to 25 who suffered from serious mental illness also abused substances.

“They say if you think you have a problem, there’s a good chance you have that problem. So, don’t be afraid to talk about it, ask questions, and get it out in the open because you’re not alone,” Bach said.

There will be a second screening of “Kissed by God” on Thursday, Oct. 25, at Kent County High School.

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