Skateboarding is one of those sports I know very little about but have always been fascinated with the culture and people. I do remember when I was living in LA and just started dabbling in photography (film), I used to take the bus to various skateparks and photograph skaters, I know, it sounds a little weird. But even since, I still find myself stopping when I see a group skating a section downtown or when I deliberately detour my bike commute by Millenium skatepark as a spectator never having the gall to jump on a board.
Recently I was put in contact with Everette, an ex-school teacher who at one point created his own skateboard class where he once taught. We met over coffee and I was curious about his story, possibly doing a photo project around skateboarding, and what he’s been doing since leaving the Calgary Board of Education. He then mentioned pro blind skateboarder, Dan Mancina. My eyes wide, then asking him to repeat and confirm that there are blind skateboarders. In hindsight, it was ignorant of me to even think that the visually impaired could not skate. Hell, there are blind photographers, so why not blind skateboarders? I asked if I could possibly photograph Dan when he came to Calgary in the coming months as he was scheduled to teach a skate workshop to a group of visually impaired youth.
Dan casually greeted his audience as he walked across the gymnasium floor with 50 or so elementary school kids curiously staring. He shared his story and offered some great words of wisdom to his audience. At the request of a teacher during the Q&A portion, he was asked to show the students a trick a which point did a kick-flip first try. Thunderous cheers and clapping followed. Dan lost his sight to a degenerative eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa; he was given the diagnosis at the age of 13 and was told over time, he would slowly lose his ability to see. I won’t attempt to tell his story as this video by RedBull will give you some great insight into his story and how he still skates without the use of his vision.
On the day of the shoot, I was lucky enough to see Dan work with the group of young visually impaired youth who have never stepped foot on a skateboard let alone even put their hands on one. Accompanying Dan were other volunteer skaters that were then each paired with a child with some form of visual impairment, helping them build their confidence to a point where some were able to stand on a board unassisted and a couple even brave enough to take their chances on a ramp. To see how it all went down, here is a great behind the scenes look how it all went down. Also, CityNews and CTV news covered the event too.
Ideally, I like to interview my subjects and have a conversation, however, on this day everyone asked for Dan's attention and I decided to back off with questions and let the guy do his thing; I could tell he just wanted to skate once the event wrapped up. Watching Dan navigate a skate park was humbling in itself. He would walk the perimeter of the park, waving his white cane on the ground from side-to-side, memorizing the layout in his head. He did several laps before settling on a starting point and getting on his board. After each trick which he attempted several times, Dan returned to his starting point with the help of his white cane, touching the wall ten feet to his right and where the ramp meets the pavement directly behind him. His accuracy was within six inches each time.
If you've never actually tried skateboarding, it’s not hard, it’s unbelievably hard, and seeing a group of people do this without the use of their sight was immensely humbling. Watching Dan and the rest of the kids gave me perspective. From the day I met Dan, there has not been a day since that I don’t think about my vision and what I would do if I lost it. I truly believe anyone regardless of impairment, physical disabilities or lack of confidence can skate. Come spring, this 35-year-old is going to be trying a new sport and it’s all because of Dan Mancina.