Let’s jump into this thing. Give us a little back story of where you grew up, when you started skateboarding, how that happened.
I grew up in the mid-west in Michigan, just in little suburbs. I really got into skateboarding, actually through snowboarding. I used to snowboard a bunch, and then I read an article that said skateboarding can help your snowboarding in the summer. So then I picked up the board, and then it just kind of took over, you know? And that’s kind of how I got into skating.
Was there people in your home town that you would skate with and look up to?
When I first started skating, I would just push it around really. And I didn’t really know anybody else who skated. And then I moved to a different neighborhood in middle school that actually had a group of skaters. That was the best. That’s when I started everyday, fell in love with the culture and really got to experience skateboarding for what it is.
Most people who know you as the “Blind Skateboarder,” but you weren’t always blind. You were skating before?
No, I used to be just a skateboarder, before I was a blind skateboarder. I knew that I had this disease since I was 13. It’s called RP or Retinitis Pigmentosa.
How did you find out?
I just went into to a routine eye exam, just to get glasses pretty much, and then the optometrist noticed something that was a little bit off. Then I got passed around through specialists and eventually diagnosed with this disease. I really never let it bother me, I didn’t really stress on it as a kid, you just keep busy with other stuff, kid’s stuff. I mean in the back of my mind I always told myself, “I’m always gonna skate”, whether it’s just mini-ramp or like … I remember thinking alright I’m just gonna be a Rodney Mullen skater, I’ll just be a freestyler or something, like however I get to stay on my board. It really didn’t start affecting me until I was in my mid to late twenties is when I had to stop driving, and I actually started to consider myself a blind person. Thats when it had a real effect on kind of who I was, and what I did in life.
Did it like come in stages, or did it gradually progress the whole time?
It was pretty gradual at first, and then five or six years ago is when I lost a big chunk of vision in my left eye, and then that vision got even worse and I lost all the vision in my left eye. And that was pretty rapid within like a year, year and a half. Maybe even less than that. There were a couple of times where I woke up from a nap and I realized like “oh shit” I lost a lot of vision, you know what I mean, like a drastic change. So that was pretty heavy. Dealing with that and just working in the kitchen, fucking washing dishes at the time, and just thinking “damn, I don’t know if I can do this”.
Did you keep skating the whole time?
No, there was a good chunk of time where I was not a skateboarder. It was the furthest thing from my mind. It’s kind of crazy to think about that time. I was like fat and shit, haha. I literally thought, skateboarding, that part of my life is done. Fucking definitely went years without even stepping on a board, and it’s really only been two, three years since I really started actually what I would consider being a skateboarder again. Out in the streets and stuff, which it still feels new to me honestly.
What were you doing at that time in your life?
I was living out in California, and then I moved back home to Michigan. Pretty much just hanging out with friends, going out to the bars every night, and just dealing with life stuff with my kid and figuring all that out. I started to go to school again. Just a really weird time when I think back to it.
What brought you back to skating?
Man, I don’t know. For whatever reason I just started thinking about it again, and I was filming all these Instagram videos of me doing random shit to show people that just because I’m blind, I’m still like the same person. Playing darts, or ping pong, or something like that, beer pong, all these random videos. And then I was like, you know, I always love skating, it’s the best. So like I just built a little bench, and tried to do a front board on the bench, and that was pretty much the spark that reignited the passion or the flame or whatever. It just slowly grew from there. And I didn’t even jump right back into it, just slowly started skating more and more. It was pretty hard, because none of the friends that I hang out with skated anymore. They used to but they’re not motivated to go skate or anything. But then I kind of got aligned with a younger generation. It just motivated me to really get back out like in the streets, and just remember how much I love it, how rad it is, finding spots, and figuring out what I can do is the best.
How does going out skating now feel different for you?
It’s definitely different, I’m starting to get over it, but for a while I kept trying to skate how I used to. I just can’t, you know, I can’t fucking skate rails, and skate the things I used to skate, like weird random obstacles, that’s kind of gotten a little bit narrower. I have to be a little bit more selective as to what I can skate. So that’s a hard thing. Sometimes I get bummed. A lot of times I feel awkward because I have to be close to the objects, or going a little bit slower. Everybody else is thrashing together, and they’re starting way behind me, and sometimes it’s like I’m separated from the crew. That’s definitely a different side of it. I’ve gotta be in my own little zone, my own little world. But at least when I’m trying to get tricks!
What was the hardest part of trying to relearn it? You you had to create a whole new process right?
Yeah, that was definitely the hardest part. It still is. It’s more mentally challenging too. It’s way more stressful. But kind of makes it worth it a little bit more too.The process is just slow, walking out whatever the area that I’m skating. Using my cane to feel everything, and then starting with the most basic trick, even if it’s just like standing next to a ledge, ollieing onto to it, not moving and then warming up to it. Figuring out the timing and where I should start, but most spots usually have some landmark that I can use to tell where to start or when to stop. That’s really the process. It’s just pretty much the same as any skater, just figuring out what trick feels right for the spot, and what I think would feel good and look cool.
Is there anything else you use at spots to figure them out? Like cracks?
Yeah it’s always cracks, but any object like a trash can, a pillar, somewhere to start from or to give me orientation. Cracks are huge to help guide me. What else? Sound, even like just help with orientation, if there’s a street on the right when I’m standing towards the obstacle, I can hear it on my right side or something like that. A weird sound, a buzzing of a light, or it could be anything, you know? Or my friend Steve who films with me. I can always find him, hit him with my cane. There’s been multiple times where I’m like looking for something, and he’s like “Dude. Dude, you hit me right in the head.”
You’re back in school now right?
Oh my god dude! Don’t remind me. Fucking, I’m in school. I’ll be done after this summer with my masters.
Is a Masters Degree something you always wanted to get?
It’s really for my mom. It’s my back up plan. It’s good to have though when I get older and just skating gets harder. It’s for Vision Rehab Therapy. So it’s for working with blind people. It’s good to have that background too for when I do events with kids, and like teaching skateboarding to vision impaired or blind people.
You’ve been doing more like public speaking, and events with visually impaired kids, and adults, to start skating. How did all that come about?
I kind of got into myself, just started with random interviews online and then I was thought maybe I should like go speak or something. Speaking somewhere isn’t as fun as when I actually go and speak in front of kids and then combine it with like the hands on, like actually skating with them. That’s the best, and that’s what I get the most enjoyment out of. It just feels good to work with the kids. It’s so cool.
I feel like kids that are visually impaired like might not be inclined to even take up skateboarding at all. There’s not a whole lot of resources for them try it besides just going out and trying, which seems pretty dangerous.
It is such an independent thing, which makes that more challenging as a blind person. And then there’s the fear factor, parents who already don’t want their kids skating, and then compile that with their kid has a visual impairment… They’re gonna be terrified to let them go out and try that. So it’s cool when I meet parents who are down with it, and they see oh, this is actually fine, and my kid enjoys it.
You have plans to start a nonprofit to do outreach work to get more visually impaired kids and people skating, right?
Yeah. Keep Pushing Ink. I want to get the actual facility and a park up and running that is more accessible than your standard park. So the process is gonna be figuring out what are the best things, you know, from my personal experience. Whether it’s like tactile ground, or things hanging from the ceiling that will kind of brush your shoulder or your body to let you know where you are, or for those who are low vision like LED lights within objects, speakers within objects to give them orientation. Contrast between the ground and objects, and then like your basic ramp to roll down that’s got a hand rail on it that you can hold to. Or kind of a slightly padded room to get used to standing on the boards, and what else? Those rollers where you can kind of hold hands and pump the rollers with somebody, and get used to what it actually feels like to cruise around. That’s the goal. Work those other organizations to show people these kids are interested in this and they want to do it. Give them more options cause there’s not as many options for a visually impaired or blind kid as there are for sighted people.
You just went up to Calgary and you did a thing in The Skateboard Collective, and Nine Times. How did that all come together?
Everett who is a part of The Skateboard Academy reached out to me because he heard about my foundation and the adaptive skate park, and he just reached out talking about doing an event at the Compound park in Calgary. We got volunteers and teachers of the vision impaired to help. Everett killed it, all the kids were all able to get their hands on a board, and feel a board, and ride a board, and actually experience skating. There was the one girl who was so hyped, just like screaming “I love skateboarding!” It was rad. It was definitely one of the cooler events, and it was super successful. Hopefully we changed a little perspective there. I got to play the game of skate with a kid who was blindfolded. He fucking killed it!
A lot of people ask this question. How you use Instagram? People are very confused by this. It’s all you running that thing, right?
Yeah it’s just me. It’s a typical screen reader. I use an iPhone, and all Apple devices have an accessibility feature called Voice Over, and it’s a type of screen reader. I touch on the screen and it reads it back to me. And then there’s gestures and different things you can learn to help yourself to navigate through a web page, or Instagram, or email, or a text message. Technology has been fucking good for the blind. Also there are things that aren’t accessible, even certain things on Instagram, certain features, When they have updates everything changes and I have to relearn. You can probably tell by some of my videos when I’m like pointing at something random, and I’m not filming the right thing.
What’s like one of the most common questions that you get at the skate park or on the gram or just anywhere that people see you?
“Are you blind?” Yes I am. That’s probably the most asked thing. Like “what’s that stick for, man. Are you actually,” and it’s like, “Yes”. Yeah.
Do you think people will always just assume that if you are skateboariding, the stick is a prop?
Yeah, exactly. I’ve gotten all kinds of things. I used to run a lot. I remember running in the park, and some dudes like, “is that like tracking your distance or your miles.” I’m like no, man. I’m blind. You get everything under the sun, but the skateboarding’s random. People are just like tripped out. Yeah I get some pretty good reactions.
So lets talk about how much work went into your Actions Realized board. It was kind of a long process. A whole lot of development went into the prototypes and the boards finally came out. What happened?
Ah. I don’t know what took so long. I don’t if it was Christian, if it was the wood shop, if it was Jim. No, I’m kidding. The braille dude. The braille just got mixed up. A couple of typos or errors in the printing press, and it got pushed back a little bit. It’s because most people don’t know how to read braille, and it’s going through so many hands.
Totally. We were bouncing photos back from each other, and I think one of the hardest parts was there was no one who skated that could read braille who knew what it said and where.
Yes, exactly. Like what’s the nose, what’s the tail, what does that even fucking mean? Technically the first board, the braille was actually in the wrong place. There were no typos. It was just the placement of the nose and tail callouts. I had five people on my end look at it. Braille’s tricky, and then you got a lot of people that are braille snobs, and who will be like, that’s not correct, that doesn’t say this, that doesn’t say that.
What was the response after that thrasher part like for you? Did your phone blow up?
Oh yeah. The Insta blew up for sure. Broke that 100k mark, and you know, a bunch of people just reaching out, like parent’s who’s kids are vision impaired or blind just stoked on it. And then a bunch of other people who are just kids themselves, or adults who have visual impairments reaching out who are skateboarders. And then people who like just, you know, “Dude I haven’t skated in 15 years. You’ve got me hyped to skate.” Stuff like that it’s super rad you know. I’m super stoked, I was stoked on it. Crazy. It’s just cool to be talked about on Thrasher, really it’s dope. I have a question for you? What was your first impression me?
Of you? I remember you showed up to meet us at the skate park and you felt out how deep the transition was and I was kinda tripped out on that. I was like, “Oh, this is crazy!” It’s always a little awkward when you throw someone new in the van no matter what. But you just blended right in real quick.
Yeah, I have to feel shit out. I can’t just look at it.
You mentioned that people treat you differently. When we first met I would try to help you with everything, walking down the street, finding the van. It wasn’t until later that you told me “hey, I know where all this stuff is, I’m blind all the time.” It was pretty funny.
When I meet new people there’s a learning period or learning curve of like, “how much should I help?” Yeah, people just don’t know how to even how to approach me or talk to me a lot of times, you know? When I’m in the skate park, people don’t come up to me. Unless they know me. They pretty much just stay out of my way. Like it’s rare for someone to be like, “Hey! Man! What’s up!” You know? You have to come up and introduce yourself. Last time I was in the airport this lady was stressing out helping me. I get assistance when I’m going from gate to gate and this lady passed the escalator, I’m like, “Wait, did we just pass the escalator? I gotta go down the escalator to leave.” She was like, “Yeah, yeah, the elevators right over here.” I was like, “Isn’t the escalator right there?” And she’s like, “Yeah, but, yeah…The elevators are easier.” And I’m like, “No, the escalator’s right here.” She was literally gasping as I got on the escalator, like, oh, oh my, oh! So stressed. I’m like, “Chill! It’s okay.” Just let me do my thing and I have to run into things, fucking literally run into shit and figure out where I am.
It’s almost like skateboarding in a way?
You gotta fall. Right!. You gotta fall down. And figure it out first. Exactly. People don’t understand like, oh, what the hell? He’s jumping around? Is he alright? And then you land one! And it’s like, oh. I get it. Yeah.
How was L.A. the last time you went?
It was super fun there. We had a bunch of little prop canes, and blind folds and watching a bunch of kids run into each other. I got hit by a bunch of canes. And then just like meeting all the boys like Ernie and Zion and all those guys, fucking that was super rad for me. I mean those guys are the shit so … I think everybody had a good time.
Has anyone recognized you now that, after all the stuff that’s come out about you?
Yeah, for sure. Lot of skaters. Especially when I’m like in The D. When I’m down in Detroit, I’ll get, “Dan The Man!”, quite a bit. Skateboarding’s a tight-knit culture and shit. “Dude! I saw you on Thrasher! Fucking sick.” Signing my signature is a weird thing. Dude, I almost forgot! This lady hit me up who works for the Smithsonian and the National or the American History museum for the Smithsonian. They wanna include a braille deck in the adaptive sports collection. At the fucking Smithsonian. I’ll have like one of my old skate canes in there and like one of my first Real boards I got for my first box where I started putting the little rolled up sticker with the grip tape.
No way! I gotta make sure I hold on to one. That’s crazy!
I know! The lady had bought one. They keep asking me for another one, though. I think they might need another one.
So what’s next for you, Dan? What’re you working on?
I just finished a Jenkem park edit. I’m just working on the next part. Trying to get that Real part! When I’m done with school, man, I’ll be fucking 100% skating!
So cool Dan. I think we got enough interview stuff.
Perfect. Sounds good, brother. I’m gonna skate at this park.