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Amazing Surfer with Autism Struggles with Celebrity

This guest blog post is by Jamie Tierney, producer/director of Surfer Poll and X-Dance winning films including “Clay Marzo: Just Add Water”, “Dane Reynolds: First Chapter”, “Young Guns 3” and “Letting Go.” He has also produced and directed online shows such as "Surf House," "Iron Yadin," "#Kanoa" and "What Happened to Clay Marzo."

I first met Clay Marzo in 2006, and right away I knew there was something different about him. He was 16 at the time and had otherworldly surfing talent. 11-time world champion Kelly Slater even said he was intimated by his talent after watching him in action on the trip for the Young Guns II film. No one knew exactly what to make of him outside of the water, though. He was incredibly shy around people he didn’t know and exhibited all sorts of quirky behavior. As a kid on Maui, he’d been labeled as “ADD,” “dyslexic,” or “learning disabled.” I thought his incredible focus on surfing and his complete disdain for social niceties was indicative of something else: Asperger’s Syndrome.

Clay was formally diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 18. The journey to this event was a focus of the signature film I directed about Marzo, called Just Add Water. His career was exploding at the time and the sky seemed like the limit for him. He won Best Male Performance at Surfer Poll and his inspirational story was featured on “Nightline,” ESPN, and in Rolling Stone magazine. No one knew whether he would focus on freesurfing or apply his talents to competition, but it seemed like there was nothing he could not do on a surfboard.

“What Happened to Clay Marzo” is a web series that peels back the layers of his story and shows how a guy can go from being one of the most famous and celebrated surfers in the world to getting dropped by his major sponsor and falling out of the limelight in a few short years. Clay is only 24 now and is at the peak of his ability, but he faces an uncertain future in a surf industry that has changed so much since he burst onto the scene.

I’m proud to know Clay and help tell his story. I think it’s bigger than surfing and it has something to say that people from all walks of life can relate to. Clay doesn’t surf for fame, money, or recognition. He does it because he loves it more than anything else in the world.

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The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.