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Some words of wisdom as we look toward brighter horizons in 2021

By Jake Howard

After that last crazy lap around the sun, I think we’re all looking to kick off the new year on a good foot. I’m not a New Year’s resolution kind of guy, so I’m not going to bore you with any false promises. And I’ll spare you my rant about electric bikes—for now.

Instead, I’d like to share some words from my friend Alex Corson.

“The stoke is on and always will be.”

That’s Corson’s mantra. I think it’s a good one to start the year. I was lucky enough to have Corson slide into my life a couple years ago through work with the Positive Vibe Warrior Foundation.

A 21-year-old autistic surfer from Ocean City, New Jersey, he’s certainly taught me more about what it means to be part of a surf community than I’ve taught him.

You see, Corson isn’t just a kid with autism who’s ridden a surfboard once or twice. He’s all about the surf life. And he’s an advocate for people like him with autism and other disabilities.

His passion and the purity of his stoke have garnered the attention from surfers around this great country. From world champs such as CJ Hobgood, to YouTube star Ben Gravy and, more locally, the Gudauskas brothers, they’ve all rallied to Corson’s side, supporting him and elevating his cause.

“It’s so pure and comes straight from the heart,” said Dane Gudauskas.

Staying stoked and keeping the vibes up is the name of the game in 2021. Photo: Courtesy of Kevin Voegtlin

When I first met Corson, he’d just teamed up with the Carlsbad-based company Matunas to create “Blue Wonderland,” his signature surf wax. The proceeds from the sale of the wax were donated to Faces 4 Autism, and still are to this day.

Corson and his wax have been featured by prominent publications around the country, and he’s evolved into an inspiring public speaker. Even USA Surfing got on the Blue Wonderland program, offering surfers the use of the wax at some of its contests in 2019.

But Corson’s story isn’t just about one person overcoming tough odds and staying stoked.

During a time of profound change and hardship, the regular “life updates” that he emails me every few weeks have been a bright spot—a reminder that, ultimately, riding waves is better when we do it together.

Winning contests, riding the biggest wave or punting the highest air matter little in the grand scheme of things. Surfing runs much deeper.

In Dana Point, the Paskowitz family and their organization, Surfers Healing, have been doing amazing work for years getting autistic kids in the water. I get chicken skin just thinking about what they do. Hopefully, their mission can continue in earnest this year.

Last year, while our country was reckoning with issues of social justice, I did an interview with surfer and activist Danielle Lyons Black. We discussed equality in the lineup and how to make the sport and lifestyle more equitable for everyone.

Overwhelmed by the myriad of challenges we’re facing as a society, I asked her what was one thing people can do to make the beaches and ocean more accessible.

“I think the best thing that people can do is try to be hyper-focused and find something that they’re passionate about,” Lyons Black explained. “Find that niche that actually is meaningful to them and find a way to contribute through that.”

So, as we march into a New Year with new horizons in front of us, tap into that passion. Be an agent for meaningful, positive change in your own way.

Whether it’s helping somebody experience the joys of surfing for the first time, organizing a beach cleanup, or whatever fits your fancy, if 2021 is going to be better than 2020, we’re all going to need to lift each other up—just like the surf community has done for my friend Corson, because, as he always reminds me, the stoke is on and always will be.

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including Picket Fence Media, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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