Joe Surf: 'The disease can't stop us from surfing'

The stereotype of a typical surfer surely has evolved from the days when the pot-smoking slacker Jeff Spicoli ordered a pizza delivered to Mr. Hand's history class in the movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

We can thank people like some of those featured in this space each week, guys like the Eco-Warrior James Pribram, or surf apparel businessman Dean Quinn, or Soul Surfing School operator Chris Williams, or founder Sean Collins.

The image of surfing, and those who surf, has changed for the better, and there was yet another example of why that has happened last Saturday at Three Arch Bay in Laguna Beach.

The event was called Surfing with Diabetes, an all-day event put on by the PADRE (Pediatric Adolescent Diabetes Research Education) Foundation. Teenagers aged 13 to 19 diagnosed with Type 1 (insulin-dependent juvenile) diabetes were able to participate in a variety of activities, highlighted by surfing instructions from Scott Dunton, a former professional surfer who also has Type 1 diabetes.

Also part of the day were kayaking, beach games, diabetes education, raffles and simply lounging on the beach. It was PADRE's seventh annual Surfing with Diabetes event.

Ryan Martz is the program manager for PADRE and came up with the idea for the event after meeting Dunton at a diabetes summer camp when Dunton was a teenager more than seven years ago.

"He and I developed a great friendship," said Martz, 29. "He was a pro surfer, and together we wanted to make a difference. His passion was surfing, so we thought, 'Why not do a surf camp?'

"Seven years ago, we had 35 kids and we offered a day of surfing at the beach. It's grown to 75 kids participating with 45 volunteers and staff members. And we get a lot of donor support, so it's really grown."

Those donors include Obey Clothing, Dana Point Jet Ski & Kayak Center, Rainbow Sandals, California Interior Plants, Volcom, Sanuk, XS Energy Drink, Body Glove, Best Buy, Surfco Hawaii, Rip Curl, Quiksilver, Ransom Surf Wax and Toes on the Nose.

California Interior Plants is run by the Tachovsky family, which has a home at Three Arch Bay and offers PADRE access to that private stretch of beach for the event.

Dunton comes from his home in Florida to help with the event.

"Anytime I have the chance to help kids realize that living with diabetes isn't the end of the world, it's a good one," Dunton said. "And doing that by spending the day at the beach with almost 100 of them, playing games and surfing and giving away free stuff, what else could you ask for?"

Martz said most of the kids had never even been on a surfboard before Saturday, but that makes it all the more valuable.

"There was one kid who said he quit football when he found out he had diabetes," Martz said. "He said he couldn't manage the disease and also play football. But on Saturday he said, 'If I can surf, why can't I do football?' It really changed his mindset.

"We want the kids to know they can live a healthy, active life with diabetes. The disease can't stop us from surfing, getting great jobs or going to school."

Martz knows this because he himself has Type 1 diabetes.

"I've been living with it for 16 years," he said. "When I was diagnosed at age 13, there was nothing like this (event). I really struggled with the disease. I didn't have the moral support. That was the biggest drive to get something out like this, for people like myself."

Dunton tells the kids the disease couldn't stop him from becoming a professional surfer. He just found a way to do it.

"I had to pay attention to my sugar levels before I went out and had a little bit of trouble sometimes figuring out the carb levels in those random meals in Third World countries," Dunton said. "If anything, it inspired my surfing because I wanted to be the first person on the World Tour with diabetes because so many people said it couldn't be done."

Dunton surfed on the ASP World Tour for five years before "chasing a girl and starting a family." He's now married to that girl with a young son, Ty, and is going to school to become a flight paramedic on helicopters.

"I guess it's a new way to get that adrenaline rush, and another way to help people," he said.

Martz said the kind of support the kids receive at events like Surfing with Diabetes is immeasurably beneficial.

"A lot of kids are new patients and they had never met other kids with the disease," Martz said. "It was over at 7 (p.m.), but none of the kids wanted to leave. So many kids met other kids who live in the area. They exchanged phone numbers. One kid said he didn't know a program like ours existed. When you meet someone else with the disease, the support is there."

Other events held by the PADRE Foundation include a fashion show at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa every May, a Harvest Carnival in October ("Halloween is a difficult time because they can't have candy," Martz said), and a holiday party during the Christmas season. They also have more than 100 diabetes education classes a year.

For more information on the PADRE Foundation, go to

JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at

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