Review: Kissed By God

Anthony Pancia
The Depth Test

If I’m to be completely honest, it took a little while to get around to watching this long-awaited documentary but certainly not for a lack of trying. It’s just that I’d wanted to find the right time and place to truly take in what by all accounts was a riveting view and the last great reveal of a celebrated era.

Alas, with time ticking on the expiration date of the screener, I found myself in the less than ideal situation of watching it on my iPhone, propped up against my legs while lying in bed on what was truly a cold and rainy night. My flatmate was obviously similarly situated in his own bed down the hall, perhaps viewing something bordering on the nefarious and as a result, the WiFi stuggled to get this going, but once it did, the hounds were indeed unleashed.

After a brief dream-like intro in which we hear Andy compare his first surfing experience to “being kissed by god,” a visibly shaken Bruce Irons begins by posing the question, “Who was Andy Irons?”

Indeed, who was Andy Irons?

The documentary, perhaps wisely, almost sidesteps the surfing prowess and drug and alcohol intake, instead taking aim deep into the core of the man and the demons that would ultimately bring him undone. It begins with an open look at a childhood unhinged by the divorce of Andy and Bruce’s parents compounded by the onset of bi-polar disorder and counterbalanced by the love/hate relationship with his brother.

“He had a lot more shit going on in his head than what I ever knew,” Bruce deadpans at one point. “Good and bad.”

Just how bad?

There are appearances of Andy Irons in this documentary that will shock the living daylights out of you, in particular his near psychotic demeanour in the wake of a mysterious bender in Queensland on his first year on tour and the Indonesian near-death experience of 1999.

“I didn’t see a good future coming from all the shit going on in his head and mind,” opines Bruce of the period in his brother’s life in which he came close to losing it all.

 “I didn’t think my brother was ever going to come to normal from how insane he was.”

As we all now know, Andy did manage to quiet his mind long enough to win three world titles and rattle the mindset of one Robert Kelly Slater deeply enough to drive him to tears. The rivalry with Slater, while not short-changed, is cut right to the bone, with Kelly recalling the killer blow he landed with victory in their 2005 Jeffreys Bay final.

“He was the one who had everything to lose. I’m bald. I’m over the hill. He’s told me all these things, ‘I’m a fucking kook,” recalls Kelly of his mindset going in to the final.

History shows Slater walked away from the event as the winner while Irons never really recovered from the loss and thus began his second great downward spiral.

The documentary ultimately bills itself as one about “bipolar disorder and opiod addiction as the seen through the life of three-time world champion Andy Irons, the “People’s Champion,” and it will surprise as to level in which those two deficiencies hung over AI’s shoulders like a lead cross. As jarring, is the realisation Andy once came to Australia not only to escape his dependency on prescription opioids but also because, as Lindy Irons puts it, “pills weren’t in, in Australia. Yet”

Today? Opioid deaths have surpassed Australia’s annual road toll and, according to the Penington Institute’s 2017 Australia’s Annual Overdose Report account for up to 70 per cent of drug related deaths in Australia.

 If that figure makes you shift uncomfortably, consider the ease in which they are dispensed.

Hypothetically, let’s say you find yourself under the surgeon’s knife for something as innocuous as, jeez, let’s say surfer’s ear, and you too will be gifted a repeat prescription for, if not Oxycodone, then some variation of it.

And, as one who was recently gifted such a golden ticket, once under the spell of those little magic pills, it requires quite the amount of willpower not to front up again to the chemist’s counter, prescription in hand, once the first box is done

But I digress…

As the documentary lurched to its inevitable sad ending my flatmate emerged from his room and lurched on up the hall. His familiar routine of a quick game of darts whilst the kettle boiled did little to distract the devastating final act of Irons’ life: the withdrawal from competition, the hotel room in Dallas, and one final phone call to his wife back home on the warm, tropical island of Kauai.

We all know how this story played out but it doesn’t get any easier re-watching a heavily pregnant Lyndie pouring the ashes of her late husband into the water. And it still stings that a talent like Irons was ultimately allowed to fall on his own sword, but as anyone who’s been in the company of wanton self-destruction, there appears nothing that can be done to stop it.

Will his story serve as a cautionary tale for people on either side of such equation? 

If history shows us anything, the answer veers towards no, but it does go a long way to shining a light on the scourge of mental illness and exposing the weight under which those burdened by it must live.

Either way, by all accounts Kissed by God is set for an Australian release in the not too distant future and it is most definitely worth a viewing when it does.

'Kissed By God' will begin playing in Australia late winter - dates still to be released. It'll then be available for digital download in spring.

Comments

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 2:42pm

How much blame do his sponsors take for what happened ?Stories ive heard during the Pipe masters when he beat slater in small surf were quite an ear opener,seems like you could say he cheated...Loved his surfing though...real shame,shame that he needed help but didnt get it.

simba

swab's picture
swab's picture
swab commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 3:23pm

..."cheated"...fuck off ya turd. irons and lynch two best ever. surfed for themselves not like the 'look at me look at me slater brigade. "cheated"what a retard you are.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 4:06pm

settle down kid

simba

freddieffer's picture
freddieffer's picture
freddieffer commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 6:21pm

There's no doubting AI's ability, nor with the tragedy that his early death was.
But to me, it just raises lots of questions, mostly of an ethical nature?
1. To what extent were his competition results achieved through being affected by drugs? (eg his 'fearless' approach (in the early days) of large Chopes when he'd sit way further inside than anyone else etc, etc)
2. Why hasn't the surfing governing body (both old and current) themselves come clean with the truth about AI's drug problems, and whether drugs enhanced his performance or potentially helped achieve victories - even if this was a retrospective analysis and evaluation? In other other words, speak some truth and gain some credibility and respect. e.g. look at the case of Lance Armstong in cycling
3. Why hasn't the surfing governing body (both old and current) done a lot more, like most other professional sports, to have in place thorough drug testing, and thus ensuring all competitors are 'clean'? e.g. look at the testing swimming does?
4. Isn't it a massive spin and glossing up of AI's life posthumously with the whole gig around 'Pipeline... in memory of AI....' Isn't there a fairly big whack of contradiction with this and the real truths that this film outlines with AI's life?

There is no intent here on denigrating AI. The spin and hypocracy, so it seems, then and now, is breathtaking

lost's picture
lost's picture
lost commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 6:28pm

The "in memory of AI" has irritated me no end since day one. Without acknowledgment of the drug addiction and the problems that caused it is purely a gloss job and marketing ploy.

knB

radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 9:57am

FF > all excellent points ; and highly reflective of an immature "sport", if that's what the professional surfing body wants to hold itself out to be.

yocal's picture
yocal's picture
yocal commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 11:39am

"1. To what extent were his competition results achieved through being affected by drugs? (eg his 'fearless' approach (in the early days) of large Chopes when he'd sit way further inside than anyone else etc, etc)
2. Why hasn't the surfing governing body (both old and current) themselves come clean with the truth about AI's drug problems, and whether drugs enhanced his performance or potentially helped achieve victories - even if this was a retrospective analysis and evaluation? In other other words, speak some truth and gain some credibility and respect. e.g. look at the case of Lance Armstong in cycling.

As someone who has direct experience with family members with Bipolar Disorder, my gut feeling is that the mental states he would get into that helped him to win ruthlessly would be the result of the disorder itself and less likely to be attributable to the drug use.
I can't see any merit in re-evaluating his capacity to win those events

Go deeper Taylor, go deeper!

freddieffer's picture
freddieffer's picture
freddieffer commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 12:44pm

Yocal, you may well be 100% right about AI's peformances being highly correlated to him being Bipolar. I personally don't know much about this territory, and I would be happy to accept that if that is the full truth, and there's nothing else to it.

A few more thoughts.....
I just think the opportunity hasn't been grasped from a governance point of view, that it appears that the AI case could lead the way to significant benefits for surfers, sponsors and changes within the governing body itself. If there's some dirty laundry along the way - then so be it.

It sticks out like dogs balls that the sport of pro surfing needs to be as honourable, credible and truly professional as possible. If surfing is not on the global radar, it will be very soon with the next Olympics with an unprecedented global audience checking it out under the brightest of spotlights. The story above critiquing AI's surfing and personal life begs further exploration, and at the very least, incorporating some changes so that this type of tragedy is hopefully nipped in the bud and/or the welfare of elite surfers is much more constructively addressed, rather than (allegedly) a blind-eye turned by the governing body, sponsors and those close enough to AI to recognise/corroborate the signs that if there are significant health issues, then there's positive/destructive ways to address them, and all can be supportive of a unified plan to hopefully get on top of the issues.

I touched on the case of Lance Armstrong and pro-cycling. It was well-known for many years within pro-cycling that there was extensive silly-buggers with drugs going on that affected/enhanced performance. The Tour-de-France was the pinnacle of the sport, which Lance Armstrong won 7 times during this period where the heavy stench of weak governance and turning a blind-eye dominated. Despite the sustained efforts by Armstrong to block, stall and not cooperate with any investigations, the truth eventually came out. The sport of cycling was never going to become globally credible again until it's 'dark side' was purged, and higher standards of governance implemented.

Likewise to the above, AI won 3 world titles that is the pinnacle of the sport. How much 'circumstantial evidence' is needed before it prompts looking into at a deeper level? It just seems to me that pro-surfing is standing in similar shoes to cycling all those years ago; it just hasn't stepped up to the plate yet with the opportunity right before its eyes.
I hope it does, but I won't be holding my breath.

amb's picture
amb's picture
amb commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 1:54pm

Some good points, and all surfers who compete in the Olympics will be subjected to drug testing. However to compare AI to Lance Armstrong is apples & oranges, one had a health issue the other was dilberatly cheating to gain advantage.

freddieffer's picture
freddieffer's picture
freddieffer commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 2:38pm

amb, they may well be like apples and oranges? But we actually don't know that at the moment.

It got proven in time that Armstrong's use of drugs were physically performance enhancing, and therefore is was a clear cut case of pre-meditated cheating.

What we don't know is the use of 'other drugs' eg prescription opioids and what effect, if any, it has on the mental capacity to effect greater heights of physical performance.

It is said that the effect of opioids (eg heroin and other similar drugs) is like being in a state where the user is 'wearing a suit of armour'. By extension, it seems to me that if a pro-surfing comp is at Chopes in thick 10-12' surf, and one guy in the lineup has his 'mental suit of armour on', and the other competitor is as sober as a judge, then it's quite reasonable and possible that 'fearless surfing' or 'surfing like a madman' is more likely to come from the opioid affected surfer, with plenty of jaw-dropping surfing action going down.

Moreover, in big/heavy/monstrous surf, surfers often use the analogy of 'how big are your balls'! Well, if you've got your 'suit of armour on', they're as big as you can mentally conceptualise them. Period. And this potentially makes a big difference in bigger/heavier surf competition.

This whole territory has not been explored in relation to professional surfing. It might be unlikely and completely fanciful to most. But it is more than plausible.

amb's picture
amb's picture
amb commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 2:45pm

yep fair call, well explained, but where do you draw the line at what drugs are acceptable and not. Or do we ban all drugs including coffe & alcohol?.

freddieffer's picture
freddieffer's picture
freddieffer commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 3:00pm

I don't think pro-surfing has to re-invent the wheel on this. I would think there's plenty of 'off-the-shelf' policies and procedures that other sports have in place right now that could readily be shared and/or easily amended and adopted.

I just think as a pro-sport, there is a need to draw a line in the sand with this territory as other sports have done, then move forward in a clean environment, with commensurate penalties and actions for those who try to gain an unfair advantage.

Maybe a general acknowledgement from the governing body that going forward, some past activities that have involved illegal or prescription drugs are no longer acceptable, and surfers/officials/administrators on the tour must conform to the new policy, or face lengthy bans/penalties/expulsion.

yocal's picture
yocal's picture
yocal commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 3:57pm

I would agree with Amb when trying to compare Armstrong's apples with AI's oranges there. or to put it differently: proven physical performance enhancing drugs vs. a very anecdotal theory that mind-altering drugs improve your performance more than they impair it.

Should drug-use & abuse issues be revealed & discussed in surfing? Sure It would help more than harm to do so, especially ahead of the Olympics if that is where the "future of the sport" is headed.

but to consider in retrospect AI's deservability of his titles based on the possibility that he was artificially able to compete at a more ruthless level (all the while carrying the burden of a mental disorder that in contrast doesn't vanish after a few nights good sleep, and might have him completely debilitated for months at a time) is very dubious.

Go deeper Taylor, go deeper!

freddieffer's picture
freddieffer's picture
freddieffer commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 4:20pm

yocal, I broadly agree with you. I think every sport must look into, and be vigilant with 'drugs in sport', and I've got no problem with looking into whatever needs looking into with the past; without fear or favour.

Having said that, even if this took place, no-one can pre-determine what outcomes such a review might determine. I'm certainly not advocating stripping away his or anyone else's titles or respect or deservability.

But somehow, if there's a dark side to the sport, then it needs confronting appropriately, honestly and with care, respect and wise discernment so that the future of pro-surfing has the integrity that all can respect.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 8:22pm

"1. To what extent were his competition results achieved through being affected by drugs? (eg his 'fearless' approach (in the early days) of large Chopes when he'd sit way further inside than anyone else etc, etc)"

Here's a bit more evidence of that from a few years back:

https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/coaches-supplying-ice-to-play...

You can do anything you like as long as you are winning

And it chews up the kids and spits them out

Wharfjunkie's picture
Wharfjunkie's picture
Wharfjunkie commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 8:49pm

Even though throughout the history of surfing theres stories of people being under the influence of drugs during competitions or free surfs MP is one it's suggested RCJ in Hawaii as well someone may be able to confirm.

Without any admissions of use during competition or evidence and whether what AI may have been using is considered performance enhancing by WADA it's a little wrong to bring the legitimacy of his 3 titles into question.

lost's picture
lost's picture
lost commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 6:25pm

"Wisely sidesteps the drug and alcohol intake" - that's a great great shame if true. It sounds like the blame is conveniently passed onto prescription opioids which we got a hint of in the trailer. I look forward to watching this all the same. Hopefully a more honest account than anything todate and warning for others that follow.

knB

chook's picture
chook's picture
chook commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 6:39pm

nothing short of drugs, finger pointing and sanctimonous moral outrage will satisfy the "current affairs" generation.

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 7:47pm

I've managed to see film as well and I'm still in two minds about it. There are parts off it which are raw and truthful, parts which are dismissive and negligible with respect to responsibility and ownership of the problem. The emotional and feeling part of me was deeply saddened by it. The surfer in me was astounded by his talent and how he could keep it together to win 3 titles. The cynic in me can see an underlying purpose to transfer the brand of Andy the surfer to Andy and his legacy.
In the end, as with all of these stories, whether famous or not, it just seems a tragedy that help wasn't available or received when it was needed the most.

Keano-81's picture
Keano-81's picture
Keano-81 commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 8:08pm

Havnt seen it,I’m a Massive AI fan , nothing in this movie will change the fact that his surfing brought pleasure to millions of viewers.
A small someone who’s been low ,locked in a hospital ward from Drugs,I know the guilt and embarrassment felt ...I didn’t have Millions of people watching or corporate pressure ...Poor bugger must’ve been hurting pretty bad,still a fuckn Legend.

Wharfjunkie's picture
Wharfjunkie's picture
Wharfjunkie commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 9:07pm

Theres no point trivialising this from my understanding AI was a bit of everything but had one big pitfall the problem is if he wasn't gifted as a surfer how would the world view this story?

No disrespect to the man love and respect to him and his family and all families who have suffered through similar circumstances.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 9:11pm

What do you mean he was a bit of everything?

Wharfjunkie's picture
Wharfjunkie's picture
Wharfjunkie commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 7:33am

From what I understand being a champion surfer was one part of him the super aggressive competitor who didn't take losing very well but also gave his friends and fans a lot of time outside of the intensity of the competitive arena.

Then the human side the personal struggles he had that took him to dark places.
It's very interesting yet tragic.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 9:10pm

Absolute madman in the surf, and on land by the sound of it.
It really is just a very sad tale of someone who had so much to look forward to in life but for whatever reason couldn’t shake his problems/addiction/illness... call it whatever you want.
But he’s not the first and won’t be the last.
Very sad for his family

rule62's picture
rule62's picture
rule62 commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 9:42pm

See if you can relate Andy's story in this presentation. Its over an hour long but I think lays out that the situation with mental health and addiction is fucking complex. The treatment of addiction is challenging but the opportunity to "die with addiction not of addiction"can be a reality. My daughter loves to remind me "dad I know your an addict but it doesn't mean you have to be an asshole".

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYHtzR205Eg

clif's picture
clif's picture
clif commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 11:18pm

We he was ever diagnosed with bipolar? Or is it a posthumous diagnosis. If the latter that is impossible. Do correct me if I am wrong.

Also, bipolar does not give people superhuman capacities like people assume. Manic episodes are predominantly debilitating not enhancing. So, there is that too.

Also, there are multiple forms of bipolar. They all play out differently.

It strikes me that there may be a troubling use of mental health/illness here. I hope they don't use bipolar as a scapegoat. That would be concerning given how many people have to deal with this shit every day and and further misrepresentation just compounds myths that make their already difficult life more difficult.

"Don't try. That's very important: not to try." Charles Bukowski

bassnake's picture
bassnake's picture
bassnake commented Friday, 15 Jun 2018 at 7:21am

As a sport pro surfing is 2rd rate, yes I know there will be a large amount of surfers who will howl when they read this. I started surfing in 1970 but have not surfed for years due to a chronic ear cond, yet I still love the sport and follow the pro circuit results, always willing our great Aust surfers to victory.
Drugs in this pro sport is a given, less now I assume due to the increased professionalism, yet we still never hear fa about testing, as do nearly all other pro sports. For a professioanal body to be so beholden to a family for financial support does auger well for the viability and credibility of the sport.
AI was a fantastic surfer as we have all seen, but his legacy is clouded by drug use, lets not hide around his mental ilness issues. Poor bloke suffered what we can never imagine, so bad that he took his life, leaving behind a wealth of good mates a a beautiful wife and an unseen offspring.
For surfing to be a worthy professional sport it needs some more credibility through proper governance. Maybe the great man AI as a surfer would possibly agree, remove the thoughts of drugs as a recreational enjoyment, as we have nearly all indulged to some extent and a lot of us still do enjoy such.
Surfing and its lifestyle and drug use go hand in hand especially in Aust.
Enjoy AI legacy as a bloody brilliant surfer, pro record aside. Treasure the memories of the man and his deeds in the water but also acknowledge he had a mental illness which ultimately brought him undone. Surfing was all the better for him as a surfer, but the sport of pro surfing needs to become more accountable and transparent.

Bass Strait

troppo dichotomy's picture
troppo dichotomy's picture
troppo dichotomy commented Friday, 15 Jun 2018 at 10:56am

Alcohol is banned from Olympic gun shooting events as it calms the nerves and is considered performance enhancing.
Over the years i've only met 1person that didnt drink or smoke.everybody parties!the people that dont party are usually on prescription drugs.the big killer is a mix alcohol+synthetic pharmaceuticals.i feel sorry for the younger generations on thin ice and bad pills!!
I'm a fan of A.I. and Slater,but A.I. had the best style by a mile!

islandman's picture
islandman's picture
islandman commented Friday, 15 Jun 2018 at 11:26am

How the heck can I watch this thing can’t find anything anywhere

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 15 Jun 2018 at 6:41pm

Gotta wait Islandman, we saw an advanced screening but it's not coming to Aussie cinemas for another two months. Available for digital download in about three months.

Long wait but worth it.

dromodreamer's picture
dromodreamer's picture
dromodreamer commented Friday, 15 Jun 2018 at 2:30pm

Bi-polar, Depression, Anxiety all are just labels and the labels are constantly changing. Dm IV, DM V; Psychology unlike 'normal' medical science can't explain everything. Nor can a documentary, sporting governing body, or the government. Peace in one's own mind is hard to find. It's a shit world with a lot of shit people. People just throw stones. And we all have something. Not one of us doesn't. Judge the man. Judge yourself. Hold on to hope that not everyone holds up a rope and wants you to jump in it, though I know that's what Andy thought that people wanted, and he was the people's champion. We got our wish then Huh? From my glass house I say Andy had the curse of being Brave.

evosurfer's picture
evosurfer's picture
evosurfer commented Friday, 15 Jun 2018 at 6:16pm

No doubting Andy Irons was one hell of a surfer and possibly way ahead of his time
a incredible wasted talent and left his family behind way too soon but it comes back
to Andy having self control we all have to make choices I cant see why we blame everybody
from sponsors to the full moon and everything in between in the end its up to the in indivdual. Short and sweet Andy Irons blew it.
Like it or not the final decision is your own Andy blew it.

IF im not surfing im racing

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