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Left, returned missionary Jordy Collins displays world-class surfing talent. Right, Collins is lifted atop the shoulders of his WestCliff University surf teammates after he helped the school claim its first-ever California state title in 2023. (Photos courtesy of Jordy Collins and WestCliff University)

Returned missionary Jordy Collins reclaiming elite surfing form on the Pacific waves

SoCal native drew upon his unique surfing adventures to help share the gospel in landlocked American Heartland.

By Jason Swensen

23 Aug 2023

For the first six months of his mission in Missouri, Elder Jordy Collins did all he could to hide his pre-mission identity as an elite surfer.

He was focused entirely on being a full-time missionary. Put the distractions and victories and adventures of an earlier life on hold, he told himself.

Just be Elder Collins.

“But then one day I felt a chastisement from the Spirit telling me, ‘You need to share your story — just because there’s not a surf culture here doesn’t mean your story cannot impact people’,” he told Church Ball Magazine.

“I repented that day. I promised the Lord that whatever He needed me to do — or however He wanted me to tell my story — I would do it.”

A day later, a local stake president in Missouri called the surfing elder to say that he had learned about Elder Collins’ unique athletic past. He invited Elder Collins to speak about his surfing and missionary experiences at a youth fireside.

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Elder Jordy Collins is welcomed home by loved ones last fall after serving in the Missouri Independence Mission. Collins has returned to competitive surfing since his return. (Photo courtesy of Jordy Collins)

For the remainder of his mission —  even while serving in a landlocked region of America’s Heartland — Elder Collins shared with his investigators the dual joys of tackling big waves and living the gospel.

“It was so helpful for the people in my mission — and for myself — to be able to share my story.”


Return to the Pacific


Much has changed for Collins in the past year.  He concluded his labors in the Missouri Independence Mission and returned home to Southern California. And now he’s a  husband. Collins and Vivian Bush were married last month.

He’s also back in the water almost every day with a surfboard under his feet.

“Life is awesome,” said the newlywed. “It’s funny, because I was always that guy that never wanted to go on a mission. And then, I was that guy that never wanted to leave my mission because I was having so much fun. 

“But now I’m having fun integrating all the things I learned on my mission into my everyday life.”

The Church has sent out plenty of, say, elite football and basketball players into the mission field. Many of them then returned home and continued to excel in their sport.

But what about returning to elite surfing following two years of missionary service in a region almost 2,000 miles away from the Pacific waves?

“There was nothing I could do in my mission to replicate the paddling that I have to do in surfing and other things,” Collins said. “My body was so rusty when I returned. For the first few weeks of surfing, my body was in pain everyday from just reactivating my muscles and getting back into the groove of things.”

But surfing, he added, is like riding a bike. The muscles remember the technique — albeit reluctantly at first.

“I’ve been home from my mission for about nine months, and I can honestly say that I feel like I’m surfing better now than when I left for my mission.”

But Collins is quick to add that he is a different person than when he left for his mission. His confidence in the surf has returned in full. But he has also matured. He’s gained perspective. He is a returned missionary and a husband.

“I used to be so competitive,” he said. “If I didn't make the heat I would get angry. I would blow up and splash the water. Now, I try my hardest to make it and play a good heat. I’m still going to compete, but if I don’t make it it’s not my top priority anymore.”

Serving  a full-time mission far from the surf, added Collins, is proving beneficial to his athletic career. Mission lessons serve him well on the water.

“A mission is a 24-hour-a-day calling. It can be a grind. It’s a routine that you have to prepare for mentally every single day. But on a mission, you also learn you can do extremely hard things. 

“Serving a mission taught me that I can do difficult things, even when they are not in my comfort zone.”


A child of the surf


At the age when most toddlers are still trying to master walking upright on terra firma, Little Jordy Collins was already entirely comfortable in the seawater.

His father, Daren Collins, was a skilled surfer.

“My dad would take me out on the tip of his surfboard when I was 2- or 3-years old,” remembered Collins. “I couldn’t do anything by myself, so he would hold me and make  sure I didn’t drown until I was old enough to start surfing on my own.”

The Pacific’s salty waters were a second home for Collins, a quintessential California kid. 

“Even before I started surfing, my family went to the ocean every day to blow off steam and tire us kids out.”

By the time he was in first or second grade, Collins knew he wanted to be a pro surfer. His dreams became his reality when he reached his teens.

“Surfing was just something that I fell in love with from a very young age,” he said. “Being in the water was something that always grounded me. I felt like I was connected with God out there. It feels more natural to be out in the water than anywhere else. And I love the angles and challenging aspects that the ocean throws at us.

“I feel like the ocean is always teaching me life lessons every time I go out there because no two waves are the same. You never know what you're going to get with tides and swell and wind. I find something new in it every day.”

As a youth, Collins would become one of the top young surfers in the country, competing in Hawaii, Mexico, the Atlantic Coast, Brazil and other surfing hotbeds.

Now he’s back in the uber-competitive world of elite surfing, squaring off against other talented guys who did not step away from the sport for a couple of years.

“It’s been going really well,” he said. “I’ve mainly been doing the competitions around California as I ease back into things… It feels good to be back in the saddle.”


Looking ahead


In missionary-like fashion, Collins hopes to continue to share his unique, adrenaline-fueled story by making surf movies and creating  progressive internet content. “One of my favorite things to do is just make surf videos. That’s something I want to do forever.”

Competitively, Collins is a member of Westcliff University’s surf team, where he recently helped lead the Warriors to its first California state title and, later, a third place finish in the national collegiate competition.

“Our kids are calling [Collins] the GOAT of college surfing — and so far, he’s living up to it,” said Westcliff head surf coach Kyle Rouse. 

Beyond college surfing, “I just want to take surfing as far as I can,” said Collins. “I want to keep being true to myself — and as long as it feels good and I feel like God is calling me to do it, then I’ll keep competing.”

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