Kelly Slater recalls a conversation with Irons from around 2007. "A couple of years ago, he had an awakening in his life about things," says Slater. "We had one real deep talk. He said how excited he was to be feeling everything—to be feeling his emotions and understanding them. For him, that was a new lease on his life."
BUT IF IRONS WAS ON an uptick in 2007, it didn't last. His erratic behavior returned in September 2008, when he went missing during a World Tour contest in France. He surfed badly in one heat and then failed to show up for the next. He finished the year 13th overall but decided not to compete in 2009. "We encouraged Andy to take a year off," says Billabong's Naude, "because he had lost the desire to be on the tour."
Irons told friends that he'd almost been dropped by Billabong. According to Mike Reola, a friend and co-founder of the clothing company Lost, Irons said that "everyone at Billabong wanted me gone when I was off tour" and that "Paul Naude was the only one who fought for me." Irons also told friends that he took a substantial pay cut.
Asked to confirm that Irons had taken a cut, Naude said he couldn't recall, adding that "in terms of redoing his deal, we never had any issues, so I’m assuming everyone was happy."
This year was supposed to be the start of a comeback for Irons. Before the season started in February, he traveled to Australia to work with fitness trainer Wes Berg. But as the year began, Irons was quickly eliminated in the first four events.
Slater, who by that time had become close to Irons, says that Irons had confided in him. "He said, 'I'm having a lot of trouble wanting to be at contests and caring about this.'" Irons told other friends he felt trapped, because he believed that surfing on tour, which he didn't really like, was his only viable career option.
Meanwhile, his roller-coaster life continued. At the Nike 6.0 Lowers Pro surf contest— a non-tour event held last May in San Clemente, California—he surfed "as good as he'd ever surfed," according to Shea Lopez, and tied for third. But in June, when watch company Nixon hosted an annual event on the Fijian resort island of Tavarua, Irons's substance issues resurfaced.
Irons, who was accompanied by Lyndie, didn't surf much during the trip, though when he did paddle out to the island's fabled Cloudbreak, he scored the best rides of the day, tucking into the barrel for ten seconds at a time. Toward the trip's end, Irons began exhibiting strange behavior. "He tried to fight one of his close friends over something weird," says a guest who was there. Irons even called out the fellow surfer in the restaurant one night at dinner. Then, as the group was partying on the last night of the trip, Irons allegedly became violent.