Exceptional kids


Many types of people live in Malibu from glamorous stars to the regular Joe, but below the radar, attending local schools and hanging out at the beaches, are the children of this coastal city. Maybe it’s the air, or just genes, but featured below are three kids who push the boundaries of what they can do, showing their creativity and their physical talents.

Malibu’s karate kid

Jordan Simon, at the age of 9, not only has a black belt in karate,

he recently took first place in the Pacific Jewel Nationals.

By Betty Bailey/Special to The Malibu Times

Having the discipline and determination to earn a black belt in the martial arts is quite an achievement. When you accomplish that by age 9, it’s nothing short of extraordinary. Nine-year-old Malibu resident Jordan Simon has been there and done that.

Jordan’s interest in karate was sparked six-and-a-half years ago when he spotted Joey Escobar’s Studio at Zuma Beach.

“I drove by this karate studio a couple of times and I wanted to know what it was,” Jordan said.

When his mom, Lisa, took him for a closer look, his curiosity quickly turned to passion.

“This is probably the most focused and disciplined boy you will ever see,” Lisa said. “There has never been a day in all these years when I’d say, ‘Let’s get ready for karate’ and he didn’t want to go.”

At age three-and-a-half, Jordan signed up for afternoon classes and private lessons with Escobar’s fiancée, Ginger Bonnet.

“I wanted a strong female role model for him,” Lisa said. “Ginger’s beautiful, athletic and has her black belt. When he’s growing up, I want him to have that respect for women.”

Karate has proven to be educational for the entire Simon family, especially for Jordan’s father, Gregg, whom Jordan said, “has never missed a practice.”

“It’s been interesting because I never knew anything about karate,” Gregg said. Now, in my head, I think I’m probably at least a red belt. I think I’ve memorized that much.”

Jordan, who entered his first local tournament at age 4, practices Tang Soo Do, a traditional Korean form of karate. Although he is learning to use a wooden stick-like weapon called a “bow,” Gregg said the sport focuses on respect.

“I think the fighting will go by the wayside,” he said. “Jordan’s more of a showman. The show is what he’s all about. The kids are taught from the first day they walk into the studio that respect comes first. They respect each other on sort of an adult level. That’s the best thing about karate. It addresses some things that other sports don’t.”

The test for black belt includes sparring, breaking wood and writing an essay.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re 9 years old or 69 years old, you still have to master that test,” Gregg said.

Both Lisa and Gregg say, after Jordan earned his black belt, they wondered how they could help him retain his enthusiasm for the sport and keep him from burning out. They decided to let him join the dozen or so kids in his age group who compete on the national black belt circuit.

The Webster Elementary School fourth-grader has placed first in every tournament he has entered the past several months, including the Pacific Jewel Nationals, which took place last weekend in Portland, Ore.

“It was beyond beautiful,” Lisa said. “It’s a huge national tournament. For him to get a first is so big.”

What’s the trade off for achieving such accomplishment at age nine?

“Play dates,” Jordan said, who’s had very few of them since preschool.

“It’s hard for a child this age to understand this type of commitment,” Lisa said. “He would often have to say, ‘I can’t. I need to get ready for karate.’ “

Despite the lack of play dates, Lisa said Jordan has made some close and supportive friends.

“At a very early age, I think he’s found some life-long friends who accept him for who he is.”

As for the future, Jordan, who also plays club level soccer and baseball, has two goals.

“I would like to go to the Olympics and win a gold medal and bring it back,” he said. “And I’d like to be on the Paul Mitchell team. Their team is very organized.”

When asked about his long-term plans, Jordan said, “I’ll train and train and train until I’m 30. Then, I’ll find a wife.”

By Ryan O’Quinn/Special to The Malibu Times

When I was 9 years old, I went outside to play. I’m sure that the parlance hasn’t drastically changed, but what happens when kids go outside today, certainly has.

For C.J. Keossaian and Will Ornelas, who live in the Point Dume Club in Malibu, they get home from school like any other 9 and 10 year old, run to see who’s home first from school, and then things get a little crazy. They don’t race to play with Stretch Armstrong or a Rubik’s cube or even to the latest “jump off a building on rollerblades” game for the Playstation 2. Instead, they do it themselves. That’s right, Will is the designated cameraman and C.J. does tricks on inline skates or a skateboard or whatever else is lying around that would make even Tony Hawk say “that’s cool,” or better yet, “that’s crazy.”

For instance, they may fashion a ramp with cinderblocks and plywood, lash a bungee cord around the front and rear of a skateboard and strap C.J. on the board while Will films him flying through the air with the board adhered to his feet-ßjust like a video game. This particular feat is called Bungee X and only one of the extreme sports that the daring duo has made up.

I first met the enterprising twosome at Papa Jack’s Skate Park in Malibu. C.J. was the only competitor on inline skates in a park full of competing skateboarders.

“You have to meet my camera man,” C.J. said.

I turned to meet 10-year-old Will with a digital video camera capturing the whole thing for posterity.

“We make movies,” C.J. said.

“Yeah, DVDs of extreme sports,” Will added.

After investigating further I found these boys are not only atypical in their after school activities, they are mini-entrepreneurs as well.

Whether at Papa Jack’s or in their own driveways, C.J. performs tricks, Will tapes it and then takes it home to edit the footage. Will says his cousin taught him how to edit the video and add text on his home computer. He then burns the video on a DVD and C.J.’s 13-year-old sister, Megan, does the artwork for the cover. The boys regularly watch the films with pride while sitting on the couch and providing commentary throughout.

C.J. got his first set of inline skates when he was 2 years old.

“He insisted on a pair when he was 2,” said C.J.’s mother, Terri Keossaian. “It’s the best way to teach a kid to inline skate; have them go around on the carpet.”

The Keossaian’s were living in Seattle, Wash. at the time and, as if by fate, hundreds of miles away Will Ornelas got his first camera at age 2 also.

“My son doesn’t leave the house without a camera around his neck,” Will’s mother, Carol Ornelas, said.

Cut to six years later and the boys meet for the first time at the local ice cream truck in their neighborhood. They were vying for the last of a particular ice cream and knew they had something in common.

It was Will’s idea to start shooting C.J.’s antics. They started with digital pictures for a homemade magazine and then moved on to DVDs. The next phase of their venture is to start a Web site. They want to put their video on the Internet and have fellow thrill-seeking youngsters check it out and post their own adventures.

“It will be for ages 10 and up,” C.J. said, who was not yet 10 at the time of this interview.

C.J. said he first became interested in extreme sports at age 4 by looking at his dad’s motocross magazines. He got a skateboard at 5 and his first dirt bike at age 7. His father, George Keossaian, a contractor by trade, built a ramp for C.J. to try his hand at what he saw in the magazines.

“There are certain kids who have to do this,” Terri Keossaian said. “My husband understands because he was like that when he was that age.”

The Keossaian’s lived in the San Fernando Valley before C.J. was born and decided to return to California four years ago.

“Part of the decision to come back to Southern California was our kids’ love of the outdoors,” Terri said.

Although the extreme playing takes up much of C.J.’s and Will’s time, they are both certain that college is in the future.

“I want to go to college and get good grades and stuff,” C.J. said. “That’s the only way I can get into professional inline skating. I want to keep going all the way.”

“I want to go to college and get degrees and get more cameras,” Will said.

Additionally, C.J. plays the clarinet at Point Dume Marine Elementary School, and Will is working toward a black belt in karate.

Among his role models, C.J. mentioned Matt Lindenmuth, the first person to pull a double back flip on inline skates, and Carey Hart, the first to do the same on a dirt bike.

“Whenever I see videos on professional inline skaters, this is how they all started out,” C.J. said. “This is how their whole career started; their friends filming them doing little videos.”

These little videos, however, are not unlike what one may see on MTV or ESPN’s X-games or other shows about extreme sports. The only difference is that the star, director, production crew and narrator are about 20-years-old if you combine their ages.

“I could see them coming up with a concept for their own TV show,” Terri said.

Before finishing the interview, the boys insisted on taking me to a special place where they like to practice. We went to the back of the clubhouse in their neighborhood and watched as they climbed on top of swing sets, did back flips and jumped off the roof together on the count of three.

“He’s a good kid. He likes to push the envelope,” George Keossaian said of C.J. “Whatever it takes, I’ll support him. College comes first though.”

C.J. and Will have another eight years or so before they need to worry about SATs and college applications. For now, they are just happy jumping over garbage cans on bikes, jumping over each other on inline skates, sliding down a steep grassy hill on a body board and just about anything else that you can (or can’t) think of. Occasionally, C.J. enlists Will’s help in pulling gravels out of his back or setting up another ramp, but you can be sure they are always having fun and Will is always there to capture it for posterity.