Autism Interview #135: Clay Marzo on Surfing

Clay Marzo is a professional surfer from Hawaii. Clay has been recognized for his unique style and innovative surfing techniques. He began surfing competitively at age 10 and has been featured in several films. This week Clay discussed his Asperger’s diagnosis and how surfing is an expressive outlet for him.

How did you become aware of your Asperger’s diagnosis? What led to the decision to pursue a diagnosis?

My main sponsor Quiksilver asked my mom why I did not conform socially to my sponsors. They asked for a diagnosis.  I was not doing interviews “right.” I did not know what to say and how to act. I did not like people looking or talking to me.

Your surfing has been described as “expressive.” Do you agree with this? If so, what would you say you express when you surf?

I surf and I feel comfortable, alive and peaceful. I can surf better than communicating for sure.

You achieved fame in the surfing world at a young age. What was difficult (if anything) about being in the public eye so young, prior to having a diagnosis?

Everything. I did not like any of it except the movies where I could watch the surfing. I did like that my dad and mom were proud of me and the free stuff I got. I had a hard time with travel and people.

Your biography states that you “didn’t play by the expected rules at surf competitions.” Can you explain?

I did not want to catch a wave just for points but instead because it was a good wave. I do not like to battle for surf or to win. I just want to surf to surf.

A picture of Clay surfing. Clay and his mother, Jill, presented at the 2018 Love and Autism Conference on being authentically Autistic and one of the world’s best surfers.

What do you love most about surfing?

Everything, but being in the barrel is the best part, deep inside the noise and the feeling I get in it.

Is there anything you wished your parents, teachers, or friends would have done differently or understood better when you were growing up?

I did not like school. They were always testing me and making me feel stupid. My mom always helped me, and my dad would take me surfing.

Any advice for surfers of the Great Lakes? (I live near Lake Michigan and we have a surf board but I can barely stand up on it!)

There are a lot of wave pools being built now for people who don’t have waves…. the best advice is to have fun and work on your pop ups on land, getting up and down from stomach to feet, and stay centered on the board.

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