With his cheeky smile and shaggy mane of blond hair, Axel Irons is a typical, energetic grommet, bounding around the room charming the entire WHO crew at Sydney’s QT Hotel in Bondi.
Watching the happy, sun-kissed 7-year-old ham it up for the camera is his biggest fan, mum Lyndie, who is in Australia for the premiere of her film, Andy Irons: Kissed By God, a raw and emotionally charged biopic that openly addresses Andy’s struggles with opioid addiction and bipolar disorder. “When he moves, I see Andy,” Lyndie, 37, says of her barefoot son’s striking resemblance to his late father. “He has his exact body structure to a tee, it’s scary. He has the Irons mouth. He is so kind like his dad; he wears his heart on his sleeve, just like him.”
Since arriving in Sydney from their Hawaiian island home of Kauai, the Irons have “been doing all of the touristy stuff’ and sneaking in a surf session every day. On July 24, the duo also quietly celebrated what would have been Andy’s 40th birthday. While she admits birthdays are hard, mother and son marked the occasion “adventuring around Manly [on Sydney’s northern beaches] and being happy. We always put flowers in the water no matter where we are because that’s his happy place."
Born on Dec. 8, 2010, Axel has never celebrated a birthday with his dad, arriving a month after Andy died aged 32 in a hotel room in Dallas, Texas. He was en route to his pregnant wife in Hawaii after pulling out of a competition in Puerto Rico in November 2010. Dengue fever was originally cited as the cause of death, but coroner reports later stated Andy’s death was caused by a heart attack and “acute mixed drug ingestion,” listing Xanax, methadone, cocaine and traces of methamphetamine as the drugs found in his body.
“Axel is the main reason I started to get moving on the movie,” Lyndie tells WHO. “I knew I had to honour Andy in that way. I wanted to tell his truth because I didn’t want to read it anywhere else. It was my job as his wife, and Axel’s mother, to tell the true story.”
For the past three years, Lyndie and filmmakers Steve and Todd Jones, of Teton Gravity Research, have been quietly working on an honest account of the life and death of the most incandescent surfer of his generation, told through the loving eyes of those who knew him best, including his wife; Irons’s brother, Bruce; his parents, Danielle and Phil; and professional surfers Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson (Axel’s godfather) and Kelly Slater, with whom Andy had a fierce rivalry.
The powerful film premiered in Los Angeles on May 2 and Lyndie says she’s overwhelmed by the response. “The amount of people who’ve checked into rehab because of it and the amount of emails I’ve received from people saying it saved their lives is crazy,” she tells WHO. “I didn’t think it would be as powerful as it was. Until now, I kept Andy’s personal life a secret, but it’s time to be open, and it feels really free.”
Heartbreaking to watch at times, one of the strong themes is the intense love between Andy and his devoted wife, whose support never waned, even in their darkest days. “Even though he had his struggles—and he had more than most people—he was a remarkable human,” says Lyndie. “When he loved, he loved and he was such a special soul so all those good days always outweighed the dark days. Looking back, I don’t know how I handled some of the tough times but that’s what you do when you love somebody.”
In one of the film’s most heart-wrenching scenes, footage shows Andy in the grips of his OxyContin addiction, lying on a mattress on the floor while his wife talks about going to the local store and pretending life was great. “It was so tough,” she says, her voice wavering. “Being an athlete, we couldn’t be vocal about his issues ... I didn’t tell one person, I didn’t ask for help. I was just trying to get through every day.” She adds, “My biggest regret with Andy was that I was just trying to get through the opiate addiction part of it, through rehab, but the whole root of the issue was bipolar. If I would have focused more on that, things might have been a little bit different. He was self-medicating because, mentally, he didn’t feel good. I wish back then I knew what I know now.”
Lyndie also wants to take her film, Kissed By God, to junior high and high schools to raise acceptance and awareness for kids suffering like her husband did, and let them know its okay to seek help. “It’s almost given me the same kind of purpose as having Axel,” she says. “This movie is so fragile to my heart—it’s my heart, my love, my everything— and I hope people watch it and have a little more compassion for Andy and people suffering like he did. Life is fragile, so be kind.”
For more from our exclusive interview and photoshoot with Lyndie Irons, pick up the latest copy of WHO on sale now!