Dan was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at 13 years old. As he got older, the effects of his condition became more prominent: “When I got into my 20s, I had to stop driving at night and then altogether. I suddenly had really rapid sight loss, so it threw me into the blind world pretty quickly.”
His love for skateboarding was significantly affected: “I grew up skating as a little kid, since I was around seven, I loved it, but going through my blindness put a stop to that.
“When my vision started to deteriorate, I stopped altogether. I would occasionally try to cruise down the street, just something small, but in my eyes that’s not what skating is. My passion for it was ultimately gone.”
It took Dan several years to adjust to his sight loss before he could even consider getting back on the board. “Once I did, getting on the skateboard was more of an experiment, to explore ‘Can I actually even do this anymore?’ ‘Will I even enjoy it?’ I ended up building a little skate box in my backyard and seeing what would happen,” said Dan.
Now aged 30, Dan shares how it was thanks to the incredible reach of social media that he was able to get back into the activity he grew up loving: “The skating community got in touch with me through social media after videos of me skateboarding gained quite a bit of attention online and they encouraged me to keep pushing myself.
“It made me realise, it’s not just me who’s excited about this, there are other people out there who are just as into it and are motivated to skate again too. The skate culture definitely helped me to continue to push myself and it still does today.
“People’s perception of me changed once I lost my sight and I was trying to accept who I was becoming and how I was changing, so skating helped me hold on to some kind of identity that I still had and that’s pretty cool to me.”
Dan describes how tennis courts are a comfortable place for him to skate and can be useful for people with sight loss as the lines on the court can be used as a guide.
When not on the court, Dan adapts to his surroundings by using common objects found on the street: “When I go out to other spots, I have to line up objects such as mailboxes or trash cans with the obstacle I’m skating towards to give myself little reference points.
“I can’t actually see if I’m more than a couple feet away from something, I can’t see it until it’s too late. My cane helps me ensure that something like a ledge is there and helps me know when to jump. The cane is super helpful for reassuring me that the object is there.” (Watch Dan successfully execute a skateboarding trick in this YouTube video.)
Dan explains how skateboarding with sight loss can also be frightening, but he manages to pull himself through:
“It’s a big reason I think why we skate, why landing the trick is so gratifying. It’s the thrill and it’s a big part of why I do. Challenging yourself or stressing yourself out can help you grow as a person.”
He doesn’t do this only for his own enjoyment, but to also make a difference to the blind and partially sighted community. Dan is in the process of trying to get a skate park built that is designed especially for people with sight loss so that they can express their creativity: “I want to bring schools and kids together and introduce them to the world of skating. Something outside of a team sport like football, and more independent like skateboarding, where you can be more creative.”
Changing the perceptions that society has about people sight loss is something he’s passionate about: “Even through doing crazy things, whether that’s jumping out of a plane or sledding.”
If you’re interested in getting involved with skateboarding, Dan's advice is to reach out to the sight loss community: “I’ve got a lot of help from just talking to others.
“You can reach out to me on social media too; I talk to everybody who messages me. Being part of a community is a big factor. It helps knowing other people.
“Keep pushing and don’t be afraid to challenge or scare yourself. To all of the parents with blind children, let them do what they want to do, they’re just kids. If they want to skate, let them skate.”
Photo credit: jenkemmag - YouTube channel