Editor’s Note: INSPIRED is an ongoing series where we feature uplifting stories of ordinary people overcoming unthinkable adversity by harnessing the restorative power of the ocean.
Video Credits: Shot and edited by Spencer Sarson.
My surf story isn’t that different from a lot of other people I grew up with. But being four feet tall, I was closer to sea level than most. And this perspective has provided me with adventures and a view on life that I would not trade with anyone else.
I first started learning to surf on a boogie board. I was small enough to be able to stand on it and the lifeguards would sometimes bust me because they thought I was surfing in the swim section. My first actual surfboard was given to me when I was 11 years old by a kid who was moving away for college. After a few years of riding that board, I started getting better, and a few years later I was ready for a board that would be a better fit for my size. My dad found a shaper in San Diego, Joe Ghio, who was really interested in shaping a custom board based on my measurements. Since my arms were a lot shorter, he wanted to make sure I would be able to get as much of my arm in the water as possible. But since I weighed a lot more than a kid my height, we put a lot more meat on the board as well. I still have the first board he shaped for me and ride it all the time. Having a board shaped to fit me was very empowering. It was a major stepping-stone as I now had the right equipment needed to seriously start progressing in my surfing.
I never felt like I was different than anyone else out in the water. This was mostly due to the fact that my friends always included me and treated me like just another guy in the line up. I think the reason why I’ve always been comfortable at the beach is because of that acceptance. My friends watch out for me, just like I do for them. I remember one time wiping out and getting pinned down for over a minute. When I popped up, all the guys were racing toward me, screaming: “don’t do that again!”
Surfing is simply what we did. A regular weekend consisted of surf, eating a breakfast burrito, surf, eating a regular burrito, surf, going to the movies, sleep, and repeating it all on Sunday. We would spend all summer down at the beach, either camping at San Elijo, or surfing all day before going home for a family barbeque. We would watch surf movies and try to replicate the moves and talk about big surf trips we wanted to go on. Now we have GoPros and make our own surf movies. You always look like a better surfer if there is a bit of music in the background.
Growing up surfing has helped me maintain a healthy lifestyle and a continuously positive outlook on life, which is something I like to share with others. Last summer I had the opportunity to partner with the Little People of America association and the Surf Diva Surf School to put on a surf clinic specifically for people with dwarfism. Just the expressions on people’s faces coming out of the water that day was enough for me to realize the success of the event. On top of that, this event allowed me to show others like me that there are activities that might seem out of reach at first, but with enough effort and creativity, there are waves that can be ridden. This is important to me because if little people are out there surfing, running marathons, getting their PhDs, being doctors, teachers and artists, then that becomes the reference point for a young person with dwarfism who is wondering where their life will take them.
I’m stoked to have the opportunity to pass on the fun of surfing to others and am thankful for having had the experiences of my own. Something I’ve always loved about surfing and the ocean is that when you are in that moment of riding a wave, none of the distractions you face from the outside world matter. When you are paddling into a wave, it’s not about your size, or what you look like, or what other people think about you. The ocean doesn’t care about any of those things. The wave is going with or without you. It’s up to you to decide to be on it. And sometimes, it also means leaving a lot of that excess stuff behind.
To learn more about Little People of America’s initiatives, visit LPAOnline.org.