A skateboarder from Royal Oak, Michigan, challenges our perception of what’s possible for the visually impaired.
On January 15, 2022, legendary blind skateboarder Daniel Mancina showed the world there’s no obstacle he can’t overcome when he claimed the record-breaking longest 50-50 grind on a skateboard (IS2)glides a remarkable 6.85 m (22 ft 5 in).
Although the 35-year-old pro skater is known around the world as the “Blind Skateboarder,” there was a time when he was just a skateboarder.
Mancina grew up in suburban Michigan and snowboarded during the winter season as a young boy.
After reading in a magazine that skateboarding was a good way to work on his snowboarding skills in the summer, Mancina, who was only 13 at the time, invested more time in his skateboard.
Having never tried his hand at this sport before and not knowing what it really means to be a skater, he just rolled the skateboard around.
It wasn’t until he moved to a different neighborhood during his middle school years and met a group of skaters that Mancina really began to appreciate skating.
“I met a group or friends who skated and they’re all my friends to this day,” Mancina said.
“That’s when I fell in love with skating and it took over my life.”
However, at the age of just thirteen, Mancina was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa during a routine optometric exam.
Retinitis pigmentosa is a rare genetic eye disease that affects the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye, often resulting in legal and total blindness.
Mancina tried not to let the diagnosis affect his childhood, but the degenerative disease eventually began to rob him of his sight.
Although the progression was insidious at first, he rapidly lost vision in his left eye over the course of just a year and a half.
Thinking his time as a skateboarder was inevitably coming to an end, his passion for skating began to wane and years passed before Mancina dared to step foot on a skateboard again.
Taking some time to deal with personal matters and his deteriorating eyesight, Mancina put his beloved sport on hold.
A few years later, reflecting on the passion he once had for skateboarding, he decided to build a small bench to try and film himself executing a frontboard.
The video was shared by the Tony Hawk Foundation, now known as The Skatepark Project.
It was precisely this moment that reignited Mancina’s enthusiasm for skating and motivated him to get back on the streets and challenge himself to skateboard despite being unable to see.
Rather than trying to skate like he used to, Mancina had to accept that he would no longer be able to skate rails or atypical obstacles, and he had to be more selective about what he could realistically approach.
Mancina turned his disability into a pretty impressive skill by developing a new skateboarding process where he would walk through the areas he would skate and use his stick to feel everything.
“I rely the most on my white stick, which I use to scan my surroundings and find obstacles as I skate,” Mancina said.
“As a blind skater, I need to take the time to feel obstacles and understand them well before I start skating.”
Before Mancina lost his eyesight completely, he still had a glimpse of vision in his peripheral area and used lights at night to orient himself.
He also used shadows to his advantage, allowing him to see a contrast between light and dark.
But as Mancina lost the rest of his sight, he continued to adjust his process, performing basic tricks like standing next to a ledge and ollying on it while steadily warming up for it.
Over the years he’s also learned to rely on his other senses to determine which trick feels right for a given spot and what he thinks would look cool.
“My favorite trick changes all the time,” Mancina said.
“I get obsessed with one trick for a while and then kind of move on to new ones. My favorite thing to do, though, is skate flat bars.”
Mancina has also found that he can use some of the most everyday objects as a guide.
Garbage cans, pillars, and even cracks in the ground provide a starting point or help Mancina find his way.
Contrary to popular belief, the celebrated skater admits that he doesn’t focus his time on training as a professional skateboarder, but on being consistent and having fun.
“I like having the freedom to do what I love,” Mancina said.
“Skating every day helps me stay connected and being able to travel the world and skate new spots is the biggest thing.”
Mancina also believes that having his efforts recognized by some of his most admired brands has had a huge impact on his career.
“Getting my first box of planks from Real was a powerful thing for me,” said Mancina.
“It helped me believe in myself and motivated me to keep pushing.”
Mancina also credits his lifelong idols for much of his success.
“Real’s Jim Thiebaud and Adidas’ Paul Shier are two people who believed in me before me,” Mancina said.
“I owe them my skating career and they motivate me to keep going.”
Mancina recalls being fascinated as a child by many of the Guinness World Record holders he met in the books and was naturally honored to be recognized for his achievement and featured in it Guinness World Records 2023.
“Everyone loved it; I hung the plaque at the skate park where I completed the title,” Mancina said.
“It inspired me to keep moving forward on my board and in life.”
Although the amazing athlete has achieved other incredible feats such as: a master’s degree in visual rehabilitation therapy, he won’t be hitting the brakes any time soon.
In fact, he says there are so many things he wants to try that it feels like a never-ending pursuit.
He hopes to work on improving his current record title, adding that he knows he can skate longer rails.
Meanwhile, Mancina is also currently working on building a fully adaptive skate park.
“Once it’s built, I’ll be hosting skate workshops for visually impaired and blind kids to introduce them to the world of skating,” Mancina said.
“I’m also working on having skateboarding in the Paralympics. The goal is 2028.”
Social media has also allowed Mancina to discover and connect with other adaptive drivers. an experience he describes as nothing short of amazing.
Mancina urges those interested in skateboarding to “just get out there and skate,” regardless of the obstacles they might face.
“Never let others define you and what you are capable of,” he said.
“Only you know what you’re capable of, and often you’ll surprise yourself if you try.”