“It’s not what we accomplish in life that matters most but what we overcome.”
Jill’s motherly instincts sensed that Clay was unique and different from his older brother, Shane. When Jill tenderly nursed Clay he would twirl her hair. At seven months Clay abruptly quit nursing without any weaning. As a four-year-old Clay would line seashells in a ridge pattern along the beach. When Clay was five, Jill told him, “Please tie your shoes.”
Clay in a soft tone said, “Mommy I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
Clay is now one of the world’s most creative surfers, known for his ‘double-jointed’ style of turns and spins. His pro-surfer peers are amazed at his unique skills and baffled by his quirks and odd behavior. When Clay travels with his fellow surfers he insists on always having a seat by the window. When nervous he tears chunks of his wavy blonde hair from his head. Nine-time world surfing champion, Kelly Slater, marvels, “Clay is a freak on a surfboard. He does things people don’t even think of. He has his own way of seeing the waves.”
Aspergers has caused Clay to be gifted on water but struggle on land with his communication and social skills. Jill exclaimed, “A few years ago, Clay, while driving with his girlfriend was in a finder binder and terrified Clay ran from the scene of the accident and hide in the woods. Clay’s girlfriend explained to the people in the other car that Clay has autism.” Outside the water, Clay can barely finish a short interview with a reporter. On land Clay is tense and rarely makes eye contact but in the sea he is totally relax and has ease looking you in the eyes.
When Clay is anxious, he flaps his arms. When excited, he repeatedly rubs his hands together. Jill describes her son, “On dry land Clay is like a fish out of water, but in the ocean, it’s like he can breathe. He has an obsession with water.” Asperger has given Clay the ability to zero in on the waves and have a daily routine of eight-hour surf sessions, with no breaks. When Clay’s routine is altered, and he is kept from the ocean, he becomes easily agitated.
Each day, Clay invests an additional eight hours watching videos of his surfing. He replays each wave continuously. These video sessions have empowered Clay to refine his surfing techniques, and through his eight-hours of daily practice, he has learned to maneuver his 6’ 1”, 175-pound body gracefully. Clay declares, “Waves are toys from God.”
Clay was born with a deep connection to water. He swam at just two weeks but did not walk until twenty-six weeks later. He had his first boogie board by age two and began to ride four-foot waves on his stomach. Clay is considered a prodigy. He won a state swimming title at ten. At eleven he signed a pro-contract with Quicksilver team. At age fifteen, he won the men’s open division at the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) championship. Strider Wasilewski, Quicksilver team manager boasts, “Clay has catlike ability to stay up on his board, bending and contorting his body into seemingly impossible positions, and he is not shy about taking huge risks, often with disastrous results. I knew when I first saw a video of Clay that he would change the face of surfing.” Clay Marzo is to surfing what Einstein was to science and Mozart to music.
Clay boasts, “Aspergers is a gift with surfing and the way I see the world.”
Clay, who had difficulty with school due to his learning disabilities dropped out during his junior year. His teachers thought that he had a bad attitude and lacked motivation. They incorrectly concluded that this was the cause of his behavioral issues. One teacher shared that Clay seemed high on dope in class as he often stared off into space and kept to himself. Clay’s career as a surfer has suffered from his inability to connect with his fans and his dislike of sponsors and fan gatherings.
In 2007, Quicksilver decided to produce a documentary on Clay titled, Misunderstood. Jamie Tierney, who was assigned to direct the film during the process of producing the video, noticed that Clay had many characteristics of autism. He contacted Clay’s mother and asked if she would agree to have Clay diagnosed. After two months, Jill finally agreed. In December 2007, Clay was diagnosed with Asperger, and Jamie revised the title to Just Add Water. Clay has received guidance in developing his social skills from other professional suffers.
He volunteers with Surfers Healers, a non-profit organization from Malibu, CA, which exposes children with autism to surfing at camps in the United States and Canada. Autism has been a gift that has empowered Clay to be one of the greatest surfers ever and to change his profession.
2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
This guest post is from Ron Sandison, who did a phone interview with Jill Marzo, the mother of Clay Marzo.