Joel Parkinson On Andy Irons, After The Tell-All Documentary

From the current issue of Surfing World:

The film Andy Irons: Kissed By God was four hard years in the making, but its release has lifted an awful weight from the people who were closest to Andy. In the lastest issue of Surfing World, titled: Andy Irons, The Truth Will Set You Free – Surfing World speaks exclusively to those people about how it feels to be set free to finally tell Andy’s story.

This interview is with Joel Parkinson, by Sean Doherty.

SW: When did you guys first meet?

JP: Oh mate… back in the day. Must have been one of the first times he was on the Goldie, I think. We surfed Back Fingal – me, him, Cory, Bruce. Joel Guy was there. It must have been his first year on tour. That was the first time we really hung out. He was 20; I was 17, maybe 18.

What were your thoughts before seeing the movie? How were you feeling about it?

I wasn’t too sure about it; the interviews were so hectic. I was a bit worried I suppose with how much truth are we going to talk? I guess with those kinds of things, people write autobiographies and they either tell it all or some people sugarcoat them and you’re never sure how it’s going to end up. How deep it’s going to go, or whether they’re going to skim across the surface, and that’s what I was wondering with Andy’s… and if they went deep there was a shitload of material there, obviously, and a lot of history. I wasn’t real sure at the time, but I got to see some snippets of the other interviews. The best thing was that I had a chat with Lyndie about how deep we were going with the movie and she said, “Look, tell everything and we can edit it if you’re not comfortable with anything.” That was when it hit me that people were putting it all out, putting the truth out there. It’s great it’s happened.

How was the process of your interview? How long were you there for?

Mine was a good two hours on the beach at Turtle Bay. There were lots of laughs, lots of tears… and actually the more I got into it I was almost a bit angry in a way. You had to relive some parts of his life, and there were parts of it where I felt angry. I felt angry that it ended the way it did. Angry and sad and frustrated that it even happened.

How was watching it for the first time?

Mate, I bawled my eyes out. It was hectic. The first time I saw it, it was the same feeling I’d felt after his paddle out on Kauai when we drove away from the funeral that day. That’s what it felt like. It was hard. Straight up, all that emotion that you’ve processed and moved through was suddenly all there again.

After the Gold Coast screening the other night when you got up for a chat, you seemed to be noticeably trying to lighten the room a bit by telling a couple of classic Andy stories. Do you felt it needed some lightening?

Mate, he was the funniest character you’ve ever met, and we had so many good times. The movie had to go down the road it went down and I understand that, it shows a lot of the dark times, and as much as the dark times were a part of it, too, they were far outweighed for me by good times, the great trips we had, our family on the road. The movie could have shown all the great times, but it would have been six hours long. There were so many great times and a lot of that wasn’t in the movie, but I get it, they had to tell the story fi rst, the real story. A lot of the reasons why he’s not with us today are pretty dark and real and quite hard to hear.

You told the story the other night about telling Andy that Monica was pregnant with Evie, your first child, and how pumped he was for you. And he remembered that clearly.

He was one of the first guys I told. I’ll never forget it. He was so stoked for me, and then I remember him telling me when they’d found out that Lyndie was pregnant. I’d never seen him happier.

Did Andy ever tell you he was bipolar?

He never said it in those words, but I remember him saying, “I just wish I could be like you. You’re level. It’s like you don’t have bad days. My head is like a whirlwind.” It wasn’t like he was telling me he was bipolar, he was saying it was just really hard for him to figure which way he was going each day, one way or the other. It must have been so hard for him to live with it.

When was the first time you were really worried for him?

Far out, maybe Bruce’s buck’s party in Vegas was pretty hectic. He went really hard and he started getting the sweats and the shakes and I said, “Mate, let’s go back to the room for a while,” and he slept and I hung there with him. I was worried about him then and probably in Tahiti when he was having a pill comedown. He was so angry and it was really hard with Lyndie there. He tried to fight G (Graham Stapelberg) and he threw chairs. He was going through this big Oxy comedown and it was really hard to be around. He’d sleep all day and barely come out of his room, and when he was awake he was angry all the time.

Did Andy talk to you much about his addiction and how he was going with it?

We talked about addiction and he was well aware how hard it was to fight the bad stuff. He was well aware of it, but when we were on Kauai with him it was bad. There’d be waves and we’d be like let’s go surf, and he’d surf for just 20 minutes then come in because his mind was fixed on one thing.

Did you know what the pills were?

Nah, us Aussies were hopeless with that stuff, we had no idea what they were. The first time I saw Andy with them I thought they were headache tablets. We had no idea because we didn’t have them here and we don’t have that prescription culture. It wasn’t like America.

Which was the main reason Andy and Lyndie came over here in 2009, and I remember you guys did a lot of surfing during those months and Andy managed to get himself clean.

That was amazing. It was so good seeing him. He was training every day, surfing every day. I remember when he turned up he wasn’t in the best shape. His head was good, but physically he was pretty sloppy. After three weeks training though he kept taking his shirt off in the gym and going, “Yeah, check this rig out, Parko!” He was showing off his new rig and frothing out on it. He had me in hysterics.

And you guys did that Gnaraloo run while he was out here.

We were both just frothing on surfing. One of my big regrets was on that trip, one morning it was just me and him surfing this right solo, by ourselves, absolutely pumping. We had a midnight flight out of Perth that night and we had a 10-hour drive ahead of us and had to get moving by 9am, so we got up at six and surfed till nine in absolutely perfect waves.


It was just me and him on this perfect right, and I can’t believe one of us didn’t just go, fuck it, we’re staying. We’re not going. We could have surfed there all day on our own. I think about that day a lot. When we came in and walked back up that hill and everyone was in a scramble to make the flight and we drove away from a perfect pitting six-foot right hander. It was meant to drop during the day, but even for another couple of hours it would have been worth it. Both of us were surfed out but we could have kept on surfing. I think about that surf a lot.

How did Andy deal with the desert? He was never a camping kind of guy.

Considering his iPod went fl at on the first night, he was okay. (Laughing) He’d lay in bed every night in our two-man tent and every night I’d hear him fidgeting around looking for something and it was his iPod. He’d be clicking it and it was totally dead, it’d been dead for days, then an hour later he’d be clicking it again and it went on night after night. He hated the peace and quiet.

Now that his story is out there, what do you feel will change?

If there was another talent like Andy that came through with the same struggles that Andy had, there’d be a lesson there for sure. Andy’s family who told his story need to be supported and know they’ve done the right thing. If Andy’s story only helps one kid or changes the course of something for someone, then it’s the right thing.

There is a free screening of Andy Irons: Kissed By God this Thursday at The Newport. A not to be missed opportunity for those on Sydney’s Northern Beaches to see this incredible and heart wrenching film about one of our legends and icons.
SW 399 – Andy Irons, The Truth Will Set You Free – is on sale now