Dan Mancina Interview

Heelflip, Los Angeles

Dan Mancina cannot see. One might think this would exclude him from certain activities, such as skateboarding, but quite the contrary, he excels at it. Is sight not essential for skateboarding? Apparently not; Dan is single-handedly challenging our perceptions of what’s possible for the visually impaired. And in the past few years a lot of people have taken note of this, which in turn has garnered him quite the list of sponsors. And maybe you’ve seen him in a recent adidas edit, seen his Actions REALized video, read his interview on Jenkem, or heard him on a podcast – well I’ve seen/read/listened to all those things and I was still left with a lot of questions. Like: how is he so good at skating flatbars (one of the scarier things to skate in my opinion) when he can’t see them? How has his life changed since becoming a sponsored skateboarder? Does he know his Real teammates’ trick selections? How is he so prolific on Instagram? And the list goes on.
When Zander sent us these photos of Dan I immediately got excited about interviewing him. Finally Dan could answer some of my queries, and he did, but I also learned a lot more.

Photography by Zander Taketomo
Interview by Will Harmon

I’ve heard that you started skating quite young, and then I know you first learned about having Retinitis Pigmentosa when you were 13, but this eye condition didn’t affect you for a while right? You knew your vision was not like others, but you could still see is that correct? 
Yeah 100%, I was still driving and doing everything up to my mid to late twenties. Up to then there was little to no effect in my day-to-day life.

And you moved out to Cali (from Michigan) after high school and worked at a skate shop…
Yeah me and a few friends moved out as soon as I graduated. We lived in like Culver City, Santa Monica, Venice, that whole area and I got a job at this skate/surf/snow shop called ZJ’s, which was super rad. I learned a bunch about the real skateboarding industry and I went to ASR (trade show) and all that stuff.

Yeah I read another interview with you and I remember you saying you were bummed on the skate industry once you got a taste of it. What did you not like? 
I was just naïve, I came from a small Michigan skate scene that was super tight and everyone was nice and it didn’t matter what kind of style of skating you had. Then when I moved there to LA some people were kind of harshing some of my friends for like just their style and the clothes they wore. I was just naïve and I didn’t realise it’s a business too you know what I mean?

Frontside bluntslide to fakie, Detroit

Like these companies have to stay open somehow and so yeah, that kind of turned me off. And I always say I probably should have moved to Nor Cal, I probably would have fit in better. But all in all it was still really cool; I had a blast. It was sick to actually see pros out skating for the first time and the level of skating out there is super dope.

Do you remember the first pros you saw in person back then? 
Back then no, but I remember the first pro I saw when I was a kid. It was Keith Hufnagel in Chicago and I didn’t even know what a pro skateboarder was back then I was so little. I remember he ollied over this hubba and he was signing autographs at the end. And my stepdad was like, ‘I think that guy’s like a (famous) skater or something?’ Ha ha.

Was this at a demo? 
No, he was just out shooting a photo.

Little did you know you’d ride for the same board company as him years later…
I know! Rest in peace Keith.

Huf forever.
I met him again about three years ago at Tampa Pro. So this time I actually got to meet him and shake his hand and stuff. But other than that I used to always see Jeron Wilson out there. I loved his skating and he had my favourite DVS shoe of all time!

Yeah I had a lot of pairs of those in 2004/2005. 
Yeah the ones with the Velcro strap!

Ok so at this time, in your twenties, I know you quit skating for a bit and also you became a dad.
Yeah it was a whole whirlwind of stuff… Not being stoked on skating and me just being a little bitch and then having my son and realising that I had to get my shit together. I moved back to Michigan with my lady and then we ended up splitting up so it was just a hectic time in my life at that point.

And at this same time wasn’t your vision deteriorating as well? 
Yeah right in that year or two years is when my vision got really bad. It was shitty; that’s when I lost a big chunk of my vision, I became blind in my left eye. And then it just kept getting worse, I still wasn’t skating really, but I was doing the Instagram thing of making random funny videos.

Yeah I saw one of those. You do beer pong and shoot a basketball through the hoop. I think Jenkem embedded it in an interview you did with them. It was pretty amazing all the stuff you were doing. 
Yeah that was my first skateboard-related interview, that Jenkem one. That helped a lot… It inspired me to take skateboarding a little more seriously and I started doing it a little more and then I actually started to enjoy it again.

So doing these Instagram vids in a way inspired you to start skating again.
Yeah, I remember it was fall here, and in the Midwest that’s the best time to skate, so I built this bench and I filmed a front board on it and that got shared through what was then the Tony Hawk Foundation, it’s now The Skatepark Project, but then that’s when Jenkem hit me up.

Frontside boardslide pop-over from the dirt, Los Angeles

And then I filmed like a little line like a crook and a nollie heel or something like that. People were stoked on that so I kind of realised: I think I can do a bit more. So I kept skating and I decided that I wanted to film a full street part. Then I hit up Jim Thiebaud, because Real were always my favourite boards to ride and he freaking sent me a box! Then I was like, ‘oh wow this is really dope!’ So I was getting boards from my favourite company and then I went to work filming a part. I said that I wanted to film a part every year for the next five years. So it kind of just snowballed from there but the really big thing that gave me faith was getting boards from Jim. That was huge.

That’s a huge validation right there. 
Yeah just having someone believe in you was a big part of it. That’s kind of how I felt.

And so what was the adjustment like skating again with vastly impaired vision?
It was a big learning experience just having to change how I looked at obstacles and how I skated them. You know I used to skate way different. I used to love skating rails and I liked skating transition quite a bit and I had never really messed around with ledge skating or anything like that. And now that’s become my favourite kind of skating because that’s what I can progress at the most.

Not too different than becoming an older skater, less rails and more ledges and curbs!
Yeah ha ha. The curb epidemic! Everything has lined up just right! But yeah going back to your question about the adjustment, at that time I had a little sliver of vision off in my peripheral and I would use lights at night to guide me to things and different style of obstacles, like shadows helped a lot where I could see a contrast between light and dark and that’s when I filmed my first full part as ‘a blind person’. And then I lost the rest of my vision, I was totally blind and that was scarier than going into what I was skating before. I was like, ‘man am I going to be able to still like do the stuff I wanna do and progress? Is this gonna hold me back?’ And I filmed another thing for Jenkem actually, like a little skatepark edit

I remember watching that, it was really sick!
That was my first time skating with literally no vision. That’s when I started using my little hand technique where I bend down and touch the obstacle. And then at first I didn’t want to use my cane as I thought that was weird. And then I was like, ‘ah I gotta reach down and touch this thing and maybe that’s even weirder. I don’t want to do this,’ and now it’s just become normal, that’s what I have to do. And actually I can be more technical now with that technique.

And so did you start skating again with your old buddies or link with a new crew? 
I have two old friends that still like to skate every day and they don’t live in Michigan anymore. But I hit up one of my buddies whose brother still skated and he had a group of friends that were skating a lot and still filming so I linked up with their crew. I met my friend Steve and he films all my shit out here. Shout out to Steve Regish! He’s the best and meeting him was super crucial too to progressing and just being in the streets. And yeah so I slowly began to film with him and we filmed a VX part and he’s just been my dude ever since. He’s been filming Michigan videos forever; I think he’s had a video out every year for the last 11 years in a row.

I spoke to Steve and I asked him if he approached filming you any differently, and he said he did at first, but quickly realised that you were no different than any other skaters, you had your specific spots just like anyone else. 
Yeah I used to think that it was different like, ‘oh I gotta find this specific spots for me,’ and Gabe Morford actually was like, ‘that’s everybody!’ (Laughs)

Ollie up to frontside grind, Detroit

Yeah it is!
Everyone’s just got their spots that they like and want to try stuff on. It’s gotta be a little different, but Steve knows me the best, he knows what I like to skate. Paul Shier, he’s got me down pretty good too. He knows what I can actually do shit on.
I mean, imagine me in the van with the Real or adidas dudes, I’m not skating 90% of the spots they go to. I feel weird about that; that’s always a self-conscious thing that I’ve got to get over. Those dudes are so good; I don’t feel like I belong.

I think every sponsored skater has those feelings.
And then I wanted to ask you about mapping the spots out in your head, as I know you go and feel all around the spot before sessioning. You must have an amazing memory no? 
Yeah that’s just day-to-day blind stuff. I can go into a restaurant that I haven’t been to in a year and like I know the bathroom is somewhere over there. So I kind of remember stuff like that. With skating I’m kind of in my little 10-15 foot spot. I start really close to an obstacle so I’m maybe one or two pushes away, because for most things that’s how I have to skate them. It’s weird in the streets with getting to an obstacle and using things to guide me to it. Every spot seems to have like a crack or a weird ledge or something like that so I can use that to help me figure where my starting point is and then get to whatever it is I’m getting to.

Ah I see…
I mean the hardest things to film are lines; those things are just so hard to get. A long distance to get something to something is crazy. So for the most part my lines are a flatground trick and then a trick on an obstacle. And it’s rare you find a ledge that’s 100 feet long where I can just skate it and guide myself easily. That’s the biggest thing I miss, throwing my board down and going to the corner store. That’s what I used to love; cruising the streets in Cali and popping off curb cuts and stuff but I can’t do that so much anymore but you know you just figure it out. A lot of things aren’t accessible for me to skate like, ‘man if it was 20 years ago I would have loved this spot but I just can’t do it.’

Yeah you’ll experience that getting older anyways. 
I do wish I went blind when I was 18 because I would have been jumping down more shit for sure!

Well your flatbar skills are incredible. I mean you do some pretty tech stuff on them… How did you master them like you have?
I’ve always loved a round bar. I liked 50-50ing round bars and round rails growing up. I don’t know they just feel the best. 50-50ing round bars is just the best feeling to me. And it’s something that I can get more technical on. I can’t jump down rails so it’s like, ‘how am I going to progress as a skateboarder?’ So ledges and flatbars are the most accessible thing for me. Bars are usually longer when they’re in the streets and ledges are usually like 8-foot long and that’s too short for me. By the time I find it and figure it out I’m already past it. I always just loved the round bars; square ones are so hard for me to lock in.

Pop shove-it 50-50, Detroit

What about the slams? You take some gnarly ones; didn’t you break your collarbone
Yeah in Puerto Rico this past February. I’m just about healed up here, but I’m still a little stiff. That was my gnarliest injury; I had never broken anything before that. I was doing this taildrop into this steep bank, it’s on my Instagram, and I just stuck at the top. What I was taildropping off of came to a point like a triangle, so my tail couldn’t lie flat on the top so I had to push my board down and I couldn’t like tail pop off of it. So I just stuck and my hand kind of hit the ground but I didn’t brace and so it went straight to the shoulder and I felt it pop. So I had to fly home the next morning with a broken collarbone because the hospitals there were just insane. So yeah I’ve just been recovering from that. I hate getting hurt. When I don’t skate for three or four days I get set back more than the average person I think.

So how often do you skate?
Every day I can. Right now it’s every other day at the moment because I’ve been getting sore as I’m just getting back into it. But yeah I have a good flatbar in my backyard and I’m gonna get a ledge put in. The flatbar is 18-feet long, but that’s still a little short. So I’ll have that in the backyard because it’s hard for me to go a lot of places because I got to Uber everywhere. So it’s
like 60 bucks to go skate the park!

Do you break your canes skating a lot? 
Yeah I go through those a lot. I try to buy cheaper ones.

Do you have a separate one for skating?
Yeah for sure, it’s a little shorter than my normal cane and a cheaper material. They’re usually aluminium ones so they get bent and crooked and I have to bend them back. You go through the tips, the end of them, so you replace those. I’ve broken one the first time I skated with it, but they usually last about three months.

So it’s almost like changing up your worn out skate shoes? 
Yeah exactly and it’s weird you have to break them in too. They’re real stiff and awkward at first and it feels heavy, but yeah
I throw a bunch of stickers on them… I’m still waiting on the cane sponsor though!

So how has your life changed since getting sponsored by Real and adidas? 
Everything’s changed as far as having companies believe in me and that’s helped me believe in myself more and push myself. I feel that I’m just at the tip of the iceberg of what I could do. But like I said, I wish I was 18 and I had 20 more years of really hard skating. (Editor’s note: Dan is currently 34 years old) But yeah I’ve just been stoked and I really want to push myself in my actual skating. Other than that it’s a dream come true, the childhood dream of what I always wanted to do. To full-time skate is amazing but also both super boring sometimes because all my friends are at work!

A lot of pros and sponsored skaters go through that. No one to skate with on Tuesday at midday: everyone’s working! But also now it’s kind of your job to get clips and stuff right? 
Yeah it’s a little more pressure. I find myself putting a little more pressure on myself and I get more pissed out there, but it’s good.
I got a part coming out with the photos from this soon. And then I have a second part I’ve been working on and building up.

So how has your experience been with the skate industry this time around? Because I know you were a bit bummed about it before when you lived in Cali. 
It’s been nothing but good man. It’s been all positive. I mean I just got aligned with the right people like Jim (Thiebaud); he’s the greatest.

He is the best human isn’t he?
Yep! Him and Paul (Shier) are the two greatest humans and Jim just makes me want to be a better person you know what I mean?

Yeah I agree. 
I just want to do my best for those dudes.

And then I wanted to ask this, you probably would have remembered Dennis Busenitz’s skating from when you could watch his video parts, so what is it like hanging out with him now compared to the rest of the Real team whose video parts you’ve probably not ever seen? 
Yeah I feel so shitty, but I have no idea who 90% of the skaters are nowadays or what they skate. It’s only the people I’ve been on trips with that I kind of know their skating. It’s super weird and awkward, I hate it, but the OGs are the best you know! It was cool to meet Dennis; it was still intimidating. He is the definition of skateboarding; it’s what he is.

On your HoneyDew podcast interview, which I listened to the other day, you said you didn’t touch people’s faces and shit, like that was a stereotype sighted people have about blind people, or it at least you never did it, but then what I thought was cool is that Zander (Taketomo) said that you feel out the spot even though you couldn’t skate it. He mentioned Bobby Worrest skating this rail in Detroit. 
Yeah every spot we go to I always check it out just to see how gnarly it is. Like with the Real dudes, the first time they came to Detroit Hermann (Stene) 50ed this big doublekink and hearing that, like I had never even heard someone skate a rail like that so that was fucking dope. So yeah I love to know what the spot is, I always check it out and sometimes I feel the spot because maybe I might be able to skate it in a different way you know what I mean?

I might not have Bobby’s pop but maybe I can hit something underneath it or something, ha ha.

When I look at your Instagram it seems that you’re doing a lot of things you’d think a blind person wouldn’t do (skiing, ice skating, fishing, ice fishing). Is this stuff you were into before you lost your vision or new hobbies?
Some are new; some are old. When I first lost my sight I was trying to search for what a blind person can do or does. Even as far as going to school at a university and finding a job. And after becoming more independent and comfortable with myself and blindness and having more self-confidence and getting cane training and O&M (Orientation and Mobility) skills I realised that I just needed to search for what I wanted to do. Because otherwise you’re not going to be happy you know? So it’s just showing my life… A lot of blind people just do whatever they like to do. It’s not any different than anyone else in life really and that’s what I try to show. I try to show that through what I do. I’m not special or anything, I just want to do me. You shouldn’t treat me any differently or anything like that so that’s the main message.

I like the skit you did with Steve (Regish) about watching sports with a blind person. You seem to have a good sense of humour about it all. 
I try to be as light-hearted and laugh at it as much as I can because it is stressful, it is annoying 90% of the time so when you can laugh about it that’s good. There’s a bunch more skits coming too!

Nice. Other blind skaters, you know a few right? 
Justin Bishop, he’s the best. Him and another blind skater Nick Mullins, who actually grew up really close to me, they’re all coming in town for Go Skateboarding Day and we’re all gonna be shredding together.

That sounds sick. 
Yeah we should have some good videos and stuff to share.

Have a lot of other blind skateboarders reached out to you? 
Yeah dude tons! They’re all over the world. There’s a sick guy in Spain @the_blind_rider (Marcello Lusardi), who’s one of the first ones I saw, him and Nick, those dudes rip. And another guy in Japan who kills it. But yeah that’s another cool thing with the gram, just getting in touch with people like that.

And I know there are voice capabilities on smartphones that can read all the captions for you.
Yeah I run everything through that. I run it all and I always message people through that. So feel free to hit me up
(@danthemancina), it is me! My Twitter and YouTube accounts it’s all ‘danthemancina’ across the board.

And you do your own podcasts as well right? 
Yeah the podcast is pretty fun. It’s called Insighted with Dan Mancina. I gotta get more guests on there, but I’m learning. I’ll have Justin and Nick on there when they come in town.

Dan Mancina. Los Angeles, 2021

On your Insta you have a lot of informational stuff about being blind like how you cook and stuff like that. Is that a way to answer all the questions you get? 
It’s from all the questions. I’m just trying to shed some light and really just keep pushing that message of like you know… People don’t think I can do the most basic things, you know what I mean? So just keep pushing that message of yeah I’m just an average person, yeah I have to do things a little differently, but I think people enjoy them you know?

It’s quite educational. I mean for myself I don’t have any blind friends so I’ve learned a lot through your Instagram. 
Yeah going into the blind world I didn’t know anybody. Same thing, I never grew up with anybody that was blind and that’s how most people are: they have no idea or any kind of reference.

You went to grad school for Vision Rehabilitation Therapy is that correct? 

Do you do some teaching now? 
Yeah I’m certified to do all that stuff, but I’m just strictly skating right now. And those are a lot of the things I share, the informational stuff, it’s stuff I’ve picked up from my studies and through my life. I was starting to do a bunch of workshops with visually impaired kids and skating, so I used it then, but I don’t work as a VRT (Vision Rehabilitation Therapist) in the field in the traditional sense.

It’s something I guess you could fall back on though…
Yeah skating doesn’t last forever so that’s why I finished school so I’ll have that one day… It’s a cool laid back field that pretty much teaches everything about independence. If someone needs help like trying to figure out how to change the oil on their lawnmower or learning how to cut the grass we develop skills and ways to do everything around the house.

And you’ve started a foundation to make one of the first adaptive skateparks is that right? 
Yep, Keep Pushing is my non-profit. It’s from when I first started skating realising that all the skateparks I’ve been to I could only skate certain things in it. And like I said the ledges are often really short. So the idea is to build a park. I have plans and everything and I’m just starting to raise money for it. I have a little piece of land I bought next to my house and I want to build it there. And then I’ll fly kids out who are visually impaired for a long weekend and I’ll teach skating and also use all that VRT stuff I learned too to just stoke them out and teach them how to live independently. And then from there, whenever people are building parks I could consult on that. Like, ‘hey you could do this to make it more accessible,’ a couple simple things. And we’re trying to get the first full-on public adaptive park built in Florida. I’ve been working with New Line Skatepark Design firm on that.

Taildrop, Los Angeles

That’ll be sick.
That’s why we did the raised braille board for Real. The proceeds went to the foundation. And I think we’re going to do another one this winter, we’re trying to figure it out.

So a couple new parts coming out, the foundation, anything else in the pipeline? 
I’m just trying to keep the street parts going as long as I can, keep progressing and there’s a bunch of stuff I still want to do. And then the big thing this year is to try and get that park built in the yard for Keep Pushing and then yeah just looking forward to things opening up and to travel man. I’m also on the USA committee for adaptive sports and we’re trying to get skateboarding into the Paralympics in 2028. So that’s why I’ve been doing the contest stuff a bit more, which is super stressful! I’m just trying to grow that and get more blind skateboarders out there and keep working towards that goal.

At this point I thanked Dan for taking the time to do the interview. He was really appreciative and told me if I needed anything else just to hit him up. It struck me how much of a nice person he was, very easy to talk to, kind, forthcoming and I felt like we could have gone on for another hour as there was so much to talk about. ‘Just DM me, I’m here,’ he said. And then I thought about how amazing it was that social media is what got him back into skating once he became visually impaired. Instagram is a platform that he can’t see, he uses it differently than the rest of us, yet it’s one of his primary forms of communication and main outlets to appease his many fans and followers. Skateboarding is not all about visuals, you can hear it and feel it; it’s a full body experience. Thank you Dan for reminding us of that.