By Connor Buestad
Michael Jordan used to stick out his tongue when he was in the midst of creating basketball brilliance on the hardwood; Clay Marzo tends to rub his hands together as fast as he can before he shreds apart a wall of water on his surfboard. Different idiosyncrasies, same mind blowing talent.
“Just Add Water”, released in 2008, is a surf film that is visually stimulating, audibly pleasing, and mentally challenging. It gives you a glimpse into the life and times of 21-year-old surfing genius Clay Marzo, a person who lacks rudimentary social skills while at the same time possessing otherworldly surfing ability.
Marzo “suffers” from Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high functioning Autism. The condition prevents Marzo from functioning successfully in most social situations, while at the same time allowing him to focus on one activity abnormally long and with great intensity. Marzo’s activity of choice is surfing, of course, and his mental focus coupled with his naturally athletic talents make for a surfing ability we’ve never quite seen before. An absolute terror on the face of a wave, Marzo’s body remains in perpetual movement. His surfing style is a series of spins, airs, barrels and breakneck speed. Never stopping to think about what’s next, just doing it.
Out of all the surf porn I’ve watched over the years (oops), it is rare to see so many accomplished pros gush over one man so supportively. Whether it’s Tom Curren, Dane Reynolds, Kelly Slater, or the late Andy Irons (RIP), they all have that look in their eye when they talk about Clay. Irons, a champion surfer who suffered from self described “inner demons,” was especially fond of Marzo’s go-for-broke, mind-turned-off style of surfing. Early on in the film, Irons fondly describes Marzo by saying, “I’ve never seen someone surf so much. This kid is really surf-psych-grom.” If you don’t know what “surf-psych-grom” literally means, I’m not exactly sure myself, but you can tell Irons is stoked on the kid and his penchant for surfing out of his mind.
More than featuring excellent surf and music by the world’s best, “Just Add Water” also explores Aspergers to a depth where you really begin to understand Clay and his troubles dealing with life on land. If it were up to Marzo, he’d spend every waking moment out in the surf, away from the pressures of society of which he is fundamentally not equipped to deal with. A newly minted poster boy for the sport, companies are out to shape Marzo into the next Michael Jordan of surfing, following in the footsteps of Kelly Slater. Trouble is, Marzo’s condition prevents him from carrying a 10 minute one-on-one conversation, let alone a Quiksilver marketing campaign.
Because of his social handicap, Marzo is left open to varying degrees of criticism by those who fail to understand him and his eccentric ways. Described by some as a stoner, or a lazy asshole, it is easy to write off Marzo as someone who doesn’t care about the world around him. Within this film there is certainly a case to be made for this argument that Clay is a selfish, flaky surf junkie who won’t give you the time of day. At the same time, it is hard to dismiss the characteristics of Aspergers and the debilitating effect it can have on one’s social ability. Whether you fancy yourself as a surfer, a music lover, or simply an inquisitive mind, I invite you to give “Just Add Water” a whirl and see it through to the end.