Star surfer champions his autism

Want to learn more about autism? Spend time with someone who has autism!

Surfing star Clay Marzo is doing his part by educating his fellow surfers. Clay was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome a few years ago, and he has been informing the surfing community about disability ever since. Marzo’s participation in surfing contests gives his fellow surfers the opportunity to learn about autism from an expert – a person with autism.

Marzo took a break from contests and visibility for a while, but now he is back in the mix. In fact, Clay is one of the most celebrated surfers in the world. He just turned 20, and he’s already won a number of Hawaiian titles. He’s a mainstay on YouTube (a few of his clips have been watched more than 50,000 times) and a story about Clay Marzo in this month’s Outside Magazine describes his obsession with surfing.

While Clay has many of these deficits—he’s easily overwhelmed by other people and often struggles to express himself—he also demonstrates one of the distinguishing features of Asperger’s: an “encompassing preoccupation” with a narrow subject. Some children with the syndrome become obsessed with 19th-century trains or coffee makers or The Price Is Right. Others will memorize camera serial numbers, even if they show little interest in photography. Hans Asperger, the Viennese pediatrician who first identified the disorder in 1944, argued that such obsessiveness can be a prerequisite for important achievement, even if
it comes at a steep social cost: “It seems that for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential,” Asperger wrote. “The necessary ingredient may be an ability to turn away from the everyday world … with all abilities canalized into the one specialty.”

Marzo won the Quiksilver Pro Puerto Escondido this summer, and his victory sends a very powerful message: Significant success in life is possible if you have autism.


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