Joey Jennings shares his love of surfing with kids who need a boost.
Written by Nancy Sokoler Steiner | Photographed by Vincent Rios
Years ago when Joey Jennings was in elementary school, there was another
child in his grade who had severe autism as well as an autoimmune disorder.
The other students shunned the child because of his differences. But not
Jennings; he was curious.
He befriended the child, and they enjoyed playing basketball and soccer
together. Jennings continued to watch over his friend in elementary school
and middle school.
Today Jennings is a private surf instructor based in Palos Verdes. Although
he teaches children and adults of all abilities, he has married his love
of surfing with his talent for connecting with children like his former
classmate, who have special needs.
He started surfing at age 3, and he eventually competed on the Palos Verdes
High School surfing team. “When I’m surfing, I’m completely
in the present moment,” he says. “Time stops, and I’m
A while back, a psychologist contacted Jennings about working with two
siblings with special needs. He was already working with psychologists
and psychiatrists who referred child and adolescent clients so he could
help them pursue outdoor activities. “Some of the kids have screen
addictions, and I take them surfing, skateboarding, swimming or hiking
to introduce them to new passions,” he says.
Jennings didn’t want to say “no” to the psychologist,
so he got the kids into wetsuits and onto the boards. “When I got
into the water with them, something clicked. I realized this was something
I wanted to do,” he says.
One of the two children, 8-year-old Payton Boyle, quickly took to the new
activity. “When I saw his face light up, it lit me up,” Jennings says.
“Payton was born at 27 weeks with many health challenges,”
says his mom, Lisa Boyle. “Joey was super patient and kind. He took
Payton through the surfing process in a systematic way.”
Payton, now 9, can’t wait to resume post-COVID-19 lessons. “He
can’t get enough,” says Boyle. “Surfing has given Payton
a great learning tool for self-discipline. Seeing him focused and enjoying
the sport is amazing.”
Jennings’ niche grew as Boyle promoted him on a Facebook group for
special needs families and the psychologists continued to refer clients.
He began coaching local children three years ago and officially started
his business, Surf with Joey, last year. He’s worked with more than
500 clients, including 100 with special needs.
His affinity for his young clients has led to close bonds and heart-to-heart
conversations about life. “They tell me, ‘You’re not
just a teacher. You get me.’”