When Clay Came to Stay
By Dave Sparkes | 23 July 2012
SOMETIMES THE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE IS ALL ABOUT PLAYING THE PERFECT HOST
Words and photos by Dave Sparkes
It emerged recently that Clay Marzo would be coming to town. Now “town”, for me, doesn’t amount to much. A few houses, a couple of shops, a few groms, a few stoners, a few lakes, no chicks to speak of (I have one but I’m not speaking of her), a few beaches. But the beaches have very good waves, a lot of the time. And not many people in the water, a lot of the time. So for a guy who is notoriously uncomfortable around masses of humans, it seemed that he would be quite in his element in a place like the little old hamlet I call home. In a way, it has similarities to Clay’s home of Maui, the beautiful and wave-rich outer Hawaiian island. Of course, my home doesn’t have any of the type of world-class, ball-tearers of waves like Honolua Bay or Maaleea, which Maui boasts, but as far as beach breaks go, yeah, ours are world class alright. That seemed like a good thing, perfect for the hyper progressive, state-of-the-art approach Clay has to riding waves. So I was happy he was coming, and I’d be shooting him exclusively. Well, apart from his filmer/minder/agent/aide/friend, Adam Klevin, but more on that relationship later.
Much has been said about Clay’s condition, Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s is a high functioning form of autism. Essentially, it is a brain disorder, which means that the mind of a person with Asperger’s is wired differently to most. Traditionally, they are socially awkward or detached. They perceive the emotions of others in a way that is not well understood by science; it can appear that they don’t really “get” the emotional needs or states of others. There is also considerable evidence that they can focus on a narrow range of subjects in an extremely intense and applied way. In a sense, it is similar to the ability of the classic autistic savant, made most famous by the movie Rainman, based on an actual person, in which the autistic savant Raymond pulls off remarkable feats of mathematics.
Autistic savants are rare, and similarly, Asperger’s sufferers are only occasionally blessed with the positive side effect of freakish talent; Wolfgang Mozart, Albert Einstein and Andy Warhol are all thought to be amongst the fortunate Asperger’s crew. Of course, there is no way of knowing whether Clay would have been a phenomenal surfer had he not been affected by Asperger’s, but it is certain that whatever latent talent he has, Asperger’s sure hasn’t hurt his surfing.
CLAY LOVES HANGING IN HIS SHACK WHEN HE’S ON HOLIDAYS. Photo: Sparkesphoto.com
By chance there was a beautiful swell, and 6-8ft clean, bowly rights swept into the bay. Presently I was approached by a guy who introduced himself as Adam. We
shook hands, and made some small talk (another social nicety that Clay doesn’t much care for). I could see Clay hanging about 30 metres away back in the sand dunes, looking slightly apprehensive. Eventually, as if deciding I’d passed muster, Adam said: “Okay, would you like to meet Clay?”
“Ah, yeah, no worries,” I said back to him, a little bemused.
IF YOUR DEFINITION OF ARTISTIC GENIUS IS THE ABILITY TO CHANGE THE WAY WE LOOK AT SOME ASPECT OF THE WORLD THEN CLAY DEFINITELY QUALIFIES WITH HIS UNIQUE APPROACH TO THE WAVE. Photo: Sparkesphoto.com
So off we went to meet him. We shook hands and he looked distracted, watching the great waves firing off the southern headland, and commenting that they did indeed look good. I was kind of uncomfortable because he was, and because I was trying a bit too hard to be nonchalant and not freak the guy out. We discussed where he felt like surfing, sort of via Adam, who travels around with Clay, filming him and greasing the wheels of social interaction for him. Eventually, after checking those epic rights from a few different angles, he decided he wasn’t into them because they looked a bit fullish. Now, I knew they weren’t, because I live here and I’m onto the deceptive nature of this break, and how “fat” looking waves are actually big, beautiful, round bowls, but I wasn’t going to argue with him! He was a guest, a famous Hawaiian surfer, a major talent who wants barrels, or ramps for huge airs and finners and stuff. Besides, I know from long experience that happy surfers are photogenic surfers.
We ended up down the beach a bit in 8 ft closeouts. I swam out with a fisheye and didn’t get to within 100 metres of him. Most of the problem was the hideous rip, part of the problem was the hideous hangover. He went in pretty soon, thank god, which got me off the hook a bit.
We went and got some food ... and geez the guy can eat. He ate double what the rest of us ate, just demolished a hamburger and a couple of pies, a pile of chips, calamari. The rest of the arvo, we spent looking for more surf, but ultimately copping an onshore wind, which was just plain nasty. So we went back to my place and did some commissioned head shots of Clay wearing various pairs of sunnies from his new eye wear sponsor, Carve. That he didn’t like at all. He was pretty much cringing. He had nowhere to run, no ocean to jump into, just a line up of around 20 pairs of sunnies, a reflector and a camera. It was like getting teeth pulled for both of us, the only respite being the copious native bird life on my deck. He loved that, fed the kookaburras and marvelled at the king parrots and laughed with the lorikeets, and with his comfort and ease I felt better too.
The next day, due to a tip-off I got from a mate, we went an hour north and scored another fine beach break, hollow right barrels in slightly silty water. This wave flies well under the radar, but has a fairly consistent bank that flares under the right conditions. From the dune side viewing deck it looked good to me, and I had my fingers crossed he’d be into it, as I had absolutely nothing from the previous day despite the waves having pumped. He gave it the nod, and I pretended not to be too excited as I loaded my water housing. The rip wasn’t too bad this day, but I still chased him up and down the beach all morning. He got some nice barrels and I got some nice pictures, and with the professional pressure thus eased I was free to resume stressing over my shattered relationship.
On our way back south, and realising now Clay’s penchant for Aussie meat pies (curiously, another Hawaiian surfer, Jamie O’Brien, loves his dog’s eyes too), I steered the boys into a locally legendary bakery, and scored massive kudos when Clay was all over the pies like stink on a Frenchman. Sweet. Things got even better when I casually mentioned that I had a friend on Maui, a photographer named Eppes Sargent. Clay’s eyes lit up a bit at that, as they were good mates too, and I could sense a non-verbal thumbs up in Adam’s eyes too, as if he was silently saying: “good one Sparksie, now you’ve got it!” In a rush of good fellowship and enthusiasm, I busted out a plan for an arvo session at a fun left back near home. I thought it might be right up Clay’s alley, based on footage I’d seen of him destroying some of his local lefts on Maui.
When we rolled up to check it, the wind looked less than ideal, and I felt a bit deflated. At this point I really don’t know if I was amping to get photographs, or just amping to win Clay over. He has that sort of effect on you, as if you want to gain his approval, make him happy. Perhaps it is a subtle result of his social detachment, like when a girl isn’t quite into you and it makes her irresistible.
We drove up the beach a bit, but the waves were only so-so. Suddenly, Clay pointed, frothed, and hooted. Back at the first left we’d checked, the wind appeared to have switched, and a clean, green 4-5ft bowl reared up and wound down the bank. There was no one out, and I hadn’t seen Clay so excited before. He went out and went crazy, but according to Adam, not making anywhere near as many insane moves as normal. But he made some that had me shaking my head in wonder. His surfing has an intensity, a flair, that I’ve never seen before. He has something of the Kelly double-jointed acrobatics, something of the Dane Reynolds ultra skill, something of the Gabriel Medina dynamics. But it is all his own unique act. Asperger’s enhancement, or just plain incredible ability, I don’t think it matters. When you see him come screaming off the bottom of a wave, you find yourself on the edge of your seat, waiting for the inevitable demolition job on the lip, and you’re not thinking about how he does it, or why he can do it. You’re just watching him do it. And that’s enough for me. X