If your lungs were useless, would you be circling big Mex swells?
How good are your lungs? I get under three feet of whitewater and my little balloons feel like they’re going to give out. The spectre of drowning has always been the turkey vulture circling around me. And I’m healthy as hell, give or take a few sleeper viruses.
A week or so ago, an old pal o’ mine, Hans Hagen, who is the executive director of the the Mauli Ola Foundation, pointed me in the direction of the North Carolina surfer Jacob Venditti. The Foundation is a not-for-profit that uses surf to deliver good times to anyone living with a genetic disease. And Jacob, who is twenty four, has the incurable disease cystic fibrosis. Means his lungs work at thirty or so percent.
Hell of a thing. Let me describe. He wakes up in the morning and has to cough-start his lungs. Fills himself full of medicine. Finds it tough to hold down a job ’cause he has to go into hospital for extended stays four times a year, three weeks at a time, while they pump him with antibiotics through a PIC line. A plastic tube goes through his bicep, shoulder and into the heart. Thick as a straw.
And, soon enough, maybe in five years, Jacob’s going to need a double lung transplant.
Anyway, Jacob, who doesn’t want to give in to the disease and live a sedentary life as a couch-inflating Fortnite warrior, made it his goal to ride a big Mexican tube this past summer. He’s been surfing since he was eight, grew up at the beach, but try putting those paltry lungs to work at a Mex beachbreak. They’ll squash a healthy stud.
“It’s tough for me,” he says, even if he has been hitting Mex for the past seven seasons. “And it’s been getting harder every ear. It’s especially hard to paddle back out, getting worked by the waves and not blacking out.”
This year he hooked up with the Mex-based American Brian Conley, the same mad cat whom BeachGrit employed to sling Lakey Peterson into a thousand waves for 540 practice.
It meant Jacob could hit a swell that would’ve drowned him.
“Ten-to-twelve-foot backs,” says Jacob. “I was down there on a solo mission and this swell came and on the biggest day, Brian Conley stepped me off onto a really nice one. I didn’t stop smiling for a week afterward. It was pretty heaven, man.”
Jacob, understandably, is now an ambassador for Mauli Ola.
“They go around the whole US teaching people with genetic diseases how to surf. Not just kids, anybody who shows up. It’s about encouraging that natural therapy, which surfing is. It can adds years to your life. They’ve backed me since I met ’em six years ago. They know how much I love to surf and they said, ‘You’re the only person with your condition who can surf real waves. We want you to be the poster kid of our Foundation. So that’s what I do. I want to help and inspire other people, man. I think that’s what I was meant to do.”