Stab Magazine | Stab Reads: Clay Marzo, Just Add Water (A Biography)

Stab Reads: Clay Marzo, Just Add Water (A Biography)

Story by Jamie Tierney I’m proudly not objective about Clay Marzo. I’ve known him for 10 years, we’ve travelled all over the world.  He’s a likeable cat in the water. And, is one of the most unconventional and inform surfers today. He piques interest. If you’ve ever had the fortune of surfing with him you were […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Story by Jamie Tierney

Clayzo_BookI’m proudly not objective about Clay Marzo. I’ve known him for 10 years, we’ve travelled all over the world.  He’s a likeable cat in the water. And, is one of the most unconventional and inform surfers today. He piques interest. If you’ve ever had the fortune of surfing with him you were probably at some funky, shallow slab with no name.  It was just you and Clay. He was sitting 50 feet deeper than you and gifting you any wave you pleased.  That’s because he’d be taking off on waves never thought makeable, with his knife so far under the lip that you start questioning the laws of physics.

He’s one of those obscenely talented, anti–hero, elusive types that surfers have gravitated towards since the days of Miki Dora, Michael Peterson, Tom Curren, Andy and Bruce Irons. The kid’s hard to hate; quiet and aloof. He lets his surfing talk for him.

The folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hired Bob Yehling to write a book about Clay’s story as young pro surfer dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome: Just Add Water. It’s the same name as the documentary I directed about Clay in 2008. But, the biography is a separate entity. “The book is way more detailed than the movie,” says Clay, who told me he’s stoked on the project. “Bob came over to Maui. We hung out. He got to know me and my family. Then he went back home and started writing.”

The issue here, was that the publishers wanted the book to echo Mr Marzo’s voice. Anyone who knows Clay is well aware of his aversion to talking about himself. So how do you get an incredibly shy, soft-spoken and famously inarticulate person to tell his story? I dug into Bob, to find out.

Stab: What did you know about Clay before writing this book?
Bob Yehling: I’ve been following Clay, off and on since he won the NSSA Men’s Nationals in 2005 with a perfect score. Clay always stood out to me because of his incredible surfing ability, his originality, and the way he didn’t march to anyone else’s beat. Like everyone else, I heard of the Asperger’s diagnosis when I watched the documentary Just Add Water.

How’d he strike you initially? I met Clay in Fall 2012, when we got underway with the book. My impression was that he was quiet and very much to himself. He’s great to hang with as long as it’s either about surfing, food, or basketball. He’s funnier than hell when he gets going. He has a very calm and gentle side, and that came out often during our time together.

clay news paper

Clay is definitely a man of few words. To write the story in Clay’s voice in itself is a crux! Were you afraid you couldn’t pull it off? Thanks for reminding me of the three weeks of cold sweats in Maui! (laughs) This was the most challenging work with a subject I’ve done in my almost 40 years as a professional writer. We had to convince a man who doesn’t speak much to take us through his life’s events, feelings, plusses and minuses. Yes, I was worried. Some days, Clay would be quite talkative. On others, he wouldn’t say a word… at all.
So, I wrote it as a biography and quoted Clay liberally with his own insight at the start of each chapter. His intelligence is keen and astute. I’ll never forget him driving me around Maui’s north shore. Rapping for a solid two hours about wave directions and preferences, bottom conditions, wind pockets, currents. It was broken down from cove to cove, point to beach. He’s like a lifelong oceanographer, with far greater wave knowledge.

Clay Marzo

Stalls like this only make so much sense… Photo: Brent Bielmann

What were some of the interviewing tricks you used to get him to open up? The first time we met at his house. He had on the Lakers’ channel, which happen to be my favorite team. Then he put on the Quiksilver Pro from France, and we went back and forth for an hour. Dissecting the surfers and their strategies. We established a good rapport instantly, something I later learned does not happen with Clay often.
As for interviewing tricks, I always talked about something other than surfing first, then food, or the Lakers. If we were off to the surf and it was good, then I sat quietly and watched him amp up, his idiosyncrasies when he’s excited: rubbing hands, pounding the window while driving, etc. were sometimes better than words. If he was quiet, I was quiet. If he talked, I engaged in conversation and we rolled tape. I also left behind a second recorder, and Clay would go into his bedroom and talk into it. Since he’s so comfortable being alone, the material from his self-taping was a lot of the time better.

Clay’s story branches beyond the realm of surfing. Why? I think it’s the fact that he’s a world-class athlete who is on the autism spectrum, the highest-functioning end, but still on the spectrum. Also, millions of people were exposed to Clay through Just Add Water (the documentary) and the media blitz that followed the movie and his Asperger diagnosis. His story is deeply inspiring.


What are you doing to promote the book and how will Clay be involved? We’re going full-throttle. Clay opened our signing tour July 15 in Lahaina, and we’re signing in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Santa Monica and Huntington Beach July 25-30. He’s also handling phone interviews and on-site press, with me backing him up. So he’s very involved. While he’s in Western Australia with his girlfriend, Jade, I will be signing at bookstores, surf shops and other venues coast-to-coast for the next several months. Clay will jump in again for a limited tour later in the winter.

Clay’s been through a lot over the last few years. How has he come through it?  Where do you think he’s at in his life and career right now and where do you think he’s headed? As Clay has gotten older, his ability to deal with crowds of any kind; in the lineup, a tournament, a public event, keeps shrinking. He’s not wired at all for regular social engagement. On the very positive side, Clay has been in a wonderful relationship with his girlfriend, Jade Barton, for several years. He is very happy in his personal life.
I think Just Add Water is going to reawaken some eyes in the industry who will remember what a valuable asset he is to any company as a freestyle surfer who goes his own way, has his very distinctive personality and traits, and puts his entire soul into every wave. I see his sponsorships increasing, and even going a little more mainstream.
I also think this biography will make him an even bigger spokesperson for how much people on the high-functioning end of the spectrum can achieve. I think Clay might find himself with a much greater profile in the autism community. One he’s already helping by giving lessons to autistic kids in Surfer’s Healing events, which Israel Paskowitz runs.

Just Add Water Signing Schedule

July 25 — Witt’s Carlsbad Pipelines, Carlsbad, CA, 10 a.m.
July 25 — Barnes & Noble, Encinitas, CA, 2 p.m.
July 28 — Rock Star promotion, Huntington Beach, CA, 1 p.m.
July 28 – Barnes & Noble, Santa Monica, CA, 7 p.m.
July 30 — Jack’s Surfboards, Huntington Beach, CA, 11 a.m.
August 10 — Tattered Cover Books, Denver, CO, 7 p.m.
August 12 — Left Bank Books, St. Louis, MO, 7 p.m.

(Check Word JourneysClay’s site or the Just Add Water Facebook for continuous signing updates.)

You can purchase Clay’s biography, here.


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

How Surfers Get Paid, Episode 3 

Nike has entered the chat.

Oct 5, 2022

Unlocked: Leonardo Fioravanti’s Stab Edit Of The Year Entry 

Watch 'The Cut' now, and baffle at the quality of both the waves and the…

Oct 4, 2022

The Pro Surfer Who Filmed A War Documentary In Ukraine

Damien Castera's got a story to tell.

Oct 4, 2022

Honest Review(s): O’Neill Hyperfreak Fire

Pushing the Limits of Wetsuit Tech for Men & Women

Oct 3, 2022

How Much Would You Pay For A Session Like This?

A cost-per-vision breakdown of Kian Martin and Tai Buddha's latest strike mission.

Oct 2, 2022

Ongoing Dialogue: Jack Freestone And Album’s Matt Parker On How They Get Sparks To Fly

"Nowadays, a standard thruster feels pretty alt to me." -Jack

Oct 2, 2022

Davo’s Death Strikes At Surfing’s Core

The underground icon battled demons til the end. His untimely demise is yet another cautionary…

Oct 1, 2022

Macaroni in the Pot

Jaleesa Vincent and 200 Lefts in the Mentawais

Oct 1, 2022

Introducing A Brand New Travel Series (With A Familiar Name)

Watch the first New York episode of Stab & Red Bull's No Contest Off Tour.

Sep 30, 2022

Leandro Dora: Pro Surfer, Businessman, Punk Rock Festival Organizer, Spiritual Mentor, And World Title Winning Surf Coach 

Meet one of the most beloved and effective individuals in the athlete's zone.

Sep 29, 2022


You’re Gonna Click On A New Oscar Langburne Video

Style that can't be denied.

Sep 29, 2022

Long Read: An Angel At My Table

From Stab Issue 15, October 2006: Chris Davidson has one more shot at the big…

Sep 28, 2022


Watch: Kalani David’s Last Dance

A final surf part from the Hawaiian surf/skate prodigy.

Sep 28, 2022

Taylor Steele Won’t Let Surf Filmmaking Die Without a Fight

Movies shown, filmmaking advice, punk rock at the 2022 Solento Surf Festival.

Sep 28, 2022

Wait, Are We Going To See Moana Jones In The Olympics At Teahupo’o?

Team USA (women) and Japan (men) should be able to choose anyone they want to…

Sep 27, 2022

Donald Brink and Matt Biolos Win Mick Fanning’s Electric Acid Surfboard Test

And we had a party in Oceanside to celebrate.

Sep 26, 2022

Kanoa Igarashi and Kirra Pinkerton Answer Call Of Duty, Win Medals Of Honor In 2022 ISA World Games

Teams Japan, USA, and France move into Victor’s Village.

Sep 26, 2022

The Best Euro Surf Trips That Mightn’t Be On Your Radar

Want to know which less-trodden nation offers the most potential?

Sep 26, 2022