Clay Marzo is one of America’s best surfers and Asperger’s syndrome may be the reason why.

Marzo, 20, began surfing as a child and by age 14 won the sport’s top amateur title. But everyone always knew there was something a little different about him. As a boy he struggled in school and in interacting with others and always felt most comfortable in the water.

Many people found him rude, stuck up, lazy, dumb or shy, his mom says, simply because they didn’t understand him.

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A diagnosis proved elusive, however, until 2007 when doctors confirmed that Marzo has Asperger’s syndrome. The diagnosis brought relief and also helped explain why Marzo is so talented at surfing, but struggles with simple things like shaking hands.

“All I can do is surf and say hello and good-bye,” Marzo tells ESPN. “I don’t really talk. I don’t have much to say.”