Interview: Jacob Venditti

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The night was as wild as a hare at Turtle Bay. It was a fundraiser for the Mauli Ola foundation — an organization that teaches kids with cystic fibrosis how to surf — and who doesn’t love a reason to party? Adult beverages were moving faster than the rip on a big day at Off The Wall and excitement was thick in the air. From Kala Alexander to John Florence, Donavon Frankenreiter to Eddie Rothman, the banquet hall was decorated with stars from all walks of surf. But glowing brighter than all of them was a 20-year-old kid from North Carolina, Jacob Venditti. Jacob has cystic fibrosis and he absolutely charges. He was the evening’s keynote speaker. While he was on stage, Jacob had to stop several times to in order to weather storms of standing ovations. And after his speech, upon returning back to the table and receiving proud hugs from his close friends and family, a stranger approached Jacob. “My son was just diagnosed with cystic fibrosis,” said the man, with a tear streaking down his face. “People like you give us hope.” —Brendan Buckley

SURFING Magazine: Can you explain a bit about cystic fibrosis? What is it and how does it affect you?

Jacob Venditti: Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease. Both my parents are carriers of the gene, so it was inevitable that I would have it. My lungs [and other organs] are incapable of regulating mucus with sodium chloride, and so the mucus builds up. As a result, I can only really use 60% of my lungs. That makes me easily susceptible to any type of infection or virus. And it makes it difficult for me to breathe. The best way to describe it is that it takes me the same amount of energy to run one mile as it would for a healthy person to run two. Basically, I have to work twice as hard at everything I do.

What are some good ways to cope with the disease?

Being in salt water and breathing in salt air is, in my opinion, the best thing you can do. I’m very fortunate to have grown up by the beach, because most kids with the disease are in the hospital two or three times a year and have to stay in for weeks at a time. But I’ve only been three times my whole life. So that shows the difference it makes growing up near the beach and around the ocean. One symptom of cystic fibrosis is really bad congestion, and going surfing alleviates that so much. It’s almost like physical therapy for me.

How did you get connected with the Mauli Ola foundation?

They came to my hometown of Wrightsville Beach to do a fund raiser and take kids with CF surfing. I had just released that edit [see above] from Mexico and my friends introduced me to the guys. They were so amazed when I told them that I have cystic fibrosis and I surf. It was such a cool experience and they decided they wanted to get me out here for the fundraiser, which has been so fun. I plan on helping out with the organization as much as I can.

What are some of your goals with surfing?

More than anything, I want to surf big waves. I’d really love to surf some of the outer reefs here on Oahu. I paddled out to one of them last year, but I got spooked and basically just hung in the channel — it was really big. This year, though, Kala is hooking me up with a Patagonia vest. So I just want to keep on pushing in that direction and hopefully I’ll be able to get a few bombs.

Learn more and to donate to the Mauli Ola Foundation.