My name is Kai Owens, and I have an aggressive form of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). RP is a form of vision loss that causes night blindness, blind spots known as scotomas, and loss of central acuity and peripheral vision.
After being diagnosed in the third grade, I began learning braille, typing, and screen reading computer software – and I decided that no matter what happened, I wasn’t going to let it stop me from doing what I wanted to do.
Ever since I was a young kid I have been extremely involved with board sports and action sports. I loved skateboarding and skimboarding, and eventually picked up surfing. I began to find ways to continue with these sports no matter what would happen with my vision.
In the summer of 2016, I was very into skimboarding – a board sport that consists of running toward the waves, dropping your board and sliding out to the waves to perform maneuvers such as turns, airs, and wraps. Around this same time, I heard of a skimboarding camp that was put on by a world champion skimboarder who had grown up on my home beach of Tybee Island. This skimboarder, Austin Keen, became a huge mentor and helped me to reach my goals.
I attended the camp and it solidified my love for skimboarding and board sports. Austin continued to help me advance my skills and eventually helped me get a sponsorship from the company he rides for, Exile Skimboards.
Throughout this time of learning – before and after I met Austin – I had developed ways of skimboarding that would rely on my vision less and keep myself and others safe.
I created a jersey for myself with the help of my family – it says “Blind” on the front and “Blind Athlete” on the back. This allowed me to run down the beach for waves without having to worry quite so much about little kids running in front of me. I also began to figure out patterns in the waves using my hearing and limited vision.
I have now begun training on my skimboard completely blindfolded to prove to myself I will be able to skimboard even if my vision continues to deteriorate. And, I can proudly say I am the only sponsored visually impaired skimboarder in the world.
Through skimming, I began meeting and making friends with professional skimboarders such as Jack Tenney and Casey Kiernan. I now have an Instagram where I post all my adventures – you can follow me at @kai.owens.
It also acts as a community of athletes and friends – because wherever I go, there are always amazing people to meet and skim with.
Check out Kai’s moves in this video:
VIDEO DESCRIPTION: Kai – wearing a black wetsuit, black sunglasses, a yellow sun visor and a yellow jersey that says BLIND on the front and BLIND ATHLETE on the back – enters the frame from the left, throwing his skimboard into the waves and quickly jumping on it. Once on the board, he has control and rides the wave for several seconds before slowing down, spinning the board with his feet and coming to a stop in the surf. As he finishes, he throws his right arm up in victory.