Clay Marzo: Just Add Water

Clay Marzo is the subject of a new documentary, “Just Add Water,” which highlights his career as a surfer while dealing with autism.

Seven-time world champion Kelly Slater calls Maui's Clay Marzo one of the best surfers in the world. Until recently, he may also have been one of the least understood.

Marzo's story will be told in the movie ''Clay Marzo: Just Add Water'' on Friday at 8 p.m. in the Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

The free premiere is being conducted by one of Marzo's sponsors, Quiksilver clothing company.

From the outside, Marzo looked to have the storybook surfing career while growing up in Lahaina. He learned to surf at age 3 at the ''Beaches'' surfbreak near his home. He got his first barrel ride while surfing another Lahaina break, ''Sharkpit,'' at age 6. He won his first National Scholastic Surfing Association national title at age 10.

He was the outstanding surfer at the NSSA nationals when he was 15, and is still the only surfer ever to get two perfect 10-point rides in an NSSA final, when he also won a new Toyota Matrix.

He was on an exclusive surf trip with Slater at age 16. He's traveled the world surfing the best waves in Indonesia, Fiji, Tahiti, South Africa, Australia and Europe.

He was featured in global two-page magazine ads and life-size store displays by Quiksilver, a company that did 2.7 billion dollars worth of business last year.

His surfboard is covered with as many sponsor's stickers as a Sprint Cup stock car.

And, he's had more action footage in surf movies than Sylvester Stallone did in all the Rambo movies combined.

Yet as much as Marzo was comfortable while surfing, he struggled when he was out of the water. In December, Marzo was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a mild case of autism. Asperger's affects about 1 in 5,000 children according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders.

For his mother, Jill, the diagnosis was actually a breakthrough.

"It made me have a whole new understanding of Clay,'' she said. ''Instead of me constantly nagging at him, I learned to accept him the way he was."

According to the Mayo Clinic Web site, Asperger's is a developmental disorder that affects a child's ability to effectively communicate with others. The children exhibit social awkwardness and all-absorbing interest in specific topics.

"School was really hard," Jill Marzo said. "The teachers knew there was something, they thought it was (Attention Deficit Disorder)."

Clay Marzo had attended King Kamehameha III Elementary School, Sacred Hearts, Lahaina Intermediate, Myron B. Thompson Academy and finally, Hui Malama, a private learning center.

"Every single book report from 1st grade on was about surfing. The teachers would write, 'Great job, Clay, but could you please change the subject?' He learned best when it was about surfing."

Clay Marzo was matter-of-fact about the Asperger's diagnosis.

"I felt relief," he said. "I knew it was something, was feeling a little bit strange."

It was Quiksilver's director of surf marketing, Strider Wasilewski, who suggested that the problem might be something other than ADD. Wasilewski had worked with Clay Marzo for six years.

"I noticed that out in the water, he seemed so alive and energetic," Wasilewski said. "When he was on land around a bunch of people at signings or promotional things, he was uncomfortable, not really looking at anybody

"He was misunderstood by our industry. He was not showing up to do his job. He didn't want to be around large groups of people. It was painstaking for him. People thought he didn't want to be there, and that was far from the truth. He loves being a pro surfer."

Marzo indicated he would rather get pounded by a wave at the massive Tahitian surf break, Tehaupoo - which has happened to him - than be with a big group of people.

''His surfing is amazing and his message is even more amazing," Wasilewski said. "It's not just about himself it's about other people in the world who may have the same challenges. He's proving to the world it's not a disability, it's actually an advantage to focus in on the talent he has."

Wasilewski said that proceeds from future sales of the movie will benefit Surfer's Healing, a program where autistic children and their families can experience surfing.

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