On Monday, Outside Magazine posted a story online, written by Brad Melekian, that essentially spells out how "Andy Irons had battled with alcohol- and drug-abuse issues throughout his adult life, and on at least one occasion nearly died as a result."
Up until the publishing of the Melekian story, Irons' substance issues had been the stuff of hushed backyard conversation and an over-eager blogoshpere, but never had they been told with such detail and in-depth reporting. And while results of Irons toxicology reports remain pending, Melekian leaves little doubt that dengue fever wasn't the sole cause of the three-time world champion's death.
Obviously the telling of this story has the potential for heavy repercussions ("I hope he never wanted to go back to Hawaii," is one remark I've heard more than once), but in an email conversation with Melekian on Tuesday he noted that the feedback thus far has been surprisingly positive, even in Hawaii.
Multiple sources in Hawaii, all who prefer to remain nameless and "out of the fray," confirmed this. "It's a story that needed to be told," said one island-based pro. "It may be a bit premature without the toxicology results, but people need to understand that Andy was a real person that struggled with the same things as a lot of other people. We're all human, after all."
In his story Melekian points to the possibility that Billabong, Irons' main sponsor, and various surf media outlets may have been complicit in covering up his struggles. Whether a full-blown cover-up or just a negligent sweeping under the rug, talking conspiracy is always dicey territory. When asked for their reactions to the story, both Billabong and Surfer magazine declined the opportunity to comment.
"In doing dozens of interviews, probably close to 50, every conversation made mention of problems that Andy had struggled with for years," said Melekian, "and most people -- even those who declined to be interviewed, or would only be interviewed anonymously -- said they thought it was time that the issues came to light, to provoke a conversation about why these problems were never addressed publicly, and encouraged an honest telling of Andy's life that showed that he was a complex person who struggled, as we all do."
Would an Irons' confession years ago have saved him? Is a story like this too soon? Or is it anybody's business at all? Doesn't much matter now. The surf world lost a champion and a family lost a loved one, and at the end of it all, Melekian did a commendable job in keeping that in perspective.