Do You Know Who I Am? He’s My Friend, Justin Bishop.
The blind skateboarder who is so much more than that.
These days many people know, or have at least heard of, the blind skateboarder from Las Vegas, Justin Bishop. I’ll never forget walking on the pier in Huntington Beach with Justin and a few friends and overhearing someone behind us say, “Look, that’s Justin Bishop. He is a blind skateboarder from Las Vegas.” It was official, one of my best friends was becoming a well-known part of the skateboarding world. It felt surreal since the Justin I have known for so long is a goofy, sometimes crazy, guy who I have seen change so much in the past decade or so that I have been friends with him.
When I think of Justin, I think of seeing him grow from a carefree teenager who needed glasses to a secure man who has nearly lost his vision completely. Throughout the years, being Justin’s friend has sometimes been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Watching him go through all of his ups and downs created feelings of never being completely sure about what I should do or say. I couldn’t relate to his struggle, but I always felt for him. Although watching one of my best friends slowly lose his vision over his adulthood was difficult, Justin always makes me laugh, and I can confidently say I am very proud of who he is today.
I can’t remember exactly when I met Justin. I’m sure he would be disappointed to know that the exact instant we met doesn’t stand out in my mind, but the early days of our friendship are memorable. I knew of Justin because we went to the same high school and I would categorize him as “one of the cool kids.” My boyfriend had been friends with his younger brother for years and during the years after graduating high school we would hang out at Justin’s house.
Getting to Know Justin
To be honest, many of my early memories with Justin include getting way too drunk from drinking alcohol that was way too cheap in a house that was way too dirty. Imagine four young roommates living together in a house with beer pong and tons of trash bags in the garage because no one wanted to pay a trash bill. You get the picture. Justin’s house is where I learned to play King’s Cup, realized I am loud when I drink, and had my first puking from drinking incident even after I assured everyone that I do not puke. I also gained confidence in my singing voice when I sang along while playing Rock Band and everyone was so impressed that I became the permanent lead singer of our “band.” They are some of my fondest memories and I felt cool having a cool friend like Justin.
Another memory that stands out was when my boyfriend and I were having a party at our house. It was for my birthday and I was somewhat passed out in my room but the party was still going on. I suddenly heard Justin yell, “Do you know who I am? I’m Justin Mother Fucking Bishop!” The next day, we all changed our Myspace profile names to Haley Mother Fucking Peterson and etc. Remember, I’ve known Justin a long time and Myspace was our only form of social media. So I guess I can say I, as well as everyone else at my party, knew who he was before he gained notoriety from becoming a blind skateboarder.
Learning About Justin’s Vision
I had known that Justin had a vision problem, but I didn’t realize how serious it was until the day he said he wasn’t going to be able to renew his driver’s license because he knew he wouldn’t pass the vision test. I was surprised at how matter-of-fact he was about losing his driver’s license. I felt so sad for him because I realized he would soon be starting to lose his independence. He worked at Vans at the mall and soon he wouldn’t be able to get to and from work on his own. He always loved skateboarding and I knew that soon that would become extremely challenging as well.
Eventually, I found out that Justin would most likely become completely blind by the time he was in his early thirties. This was quite a ways into the future at that point, but it always surprised me that he didn’t appear to be too worried about it. I know that if I were in his shoes I would have probably lost my mind, constantly going over all of the things that would be harder in my life once my vision was gone. He may have had anxiety over it too, but it rarely showed at that time in our lives.
Time passed and life went on as it always does. My boyfriend and I got married and Justin was a part of our wedding, making sure everyone had a great time. He got into and out of many relationships, most of them being pretty serious for a guy in his twenties. Sadly, many of his relationships were affected by his vision impairment. It seemed many of his girlfriends had trouble reconciling with the fact that he would be blind one day. It was very overwhelming for them to accept, especially with so much of their lives ahead of them.
We would go out and I would worry about him when we were in dark bars or walking around outside at night. He would assure me that he could still see a little bit and his disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa, affected his peripheral vision, so he was okay. He said once he had been somewhere a few times he could remember the path he took. Sometimes he would hold on to my shoulder so I could guide him.
I always felt like he didn’t want to be a burden to any of his friends. I would, and still do, always offer to pick him up and drop him off, but I could tell he felt a little uncomfortable with making people go out of their way for him. I assured him that it was no problem and I would rather have his company than one less trip of picking him up.
Trying to Find His Way
There was a time when I got the impression that Justin was a little lost in what he wanted to do with his life. I knew he felt a bit powerless to his disease and he struggled with what he should do on a day to day basis. Obviously, many career paths are much harder without vision and he knew that. He would get into stand up comedy from time to time and work different odd jobs, but he was definitely lacking a clear direction which I think created anxiety for him.
As the years continued, Justin and I would become closer and more distant depending on what was going on in our lives. I always felt for Justin because I could tell he was a little depressed and isolated. He had moved to North Las Vegas, so my husband and I rarely saw him. I was teaching full time and my husband was working a nine to five schedule as well. Oftentimes, Justin would go out later than our schedules would allow and we didn’t see too much of each other for a while.
Changes for the Better
Eventually, Justin moved back to our side of town and we started spending more time together again. I had my first child and he was all about it. He got engaged and my husband was one of his groomsmen. I felt like he was starting to be more of his old self again, fun and carefree.
Another awesome development in his life was a new job as an ABA therapist at Sport-Social here in Las Vegas. Sport-Social is a place for children with autism and other disabilities to learn about sports and the arts in a safe environment which in turn benefits the child’s social skills immensely. Since Justin was a skateboarder who was losing his vision, this gave him a way to relate to the kids. Even though he didn’t have the same disability as most of the kids he worked with, he could use his disability to explain how he has to work through struggles but can still enjoy skateboarding that he loves so much.
After beginning to work at Sport-Social I saw a huge change in Justin. I could tell he really loved working with the kids and he loved being able to skateboard more. He was like the old Justin I always knew but even better because it was clear that he felt he had an important purpose in his work.
A year or so passed and my husband, my son, and I spent time with Justin often. We celebrated together at his wedding while I was expecting baby number two. Then, things changed as they often do. After being married for about six months Justin told me that his marriage was over. My heart broke for him as I saw how hurt he was by the whole situation. I was happy he had his job and his skateboarding to keep him focused and fulfilled, but I was definitely worried about him.
However, as they say, when God closes one door, he opens a window. A few months later, Justin introduced us to a new love interest, Carol, and she seemed to be a perfect match for Justin. I won’t lie, I was a little concerned about how quickly he was moving on, but I could see Carol truly cared for Justin and he seemed to be the happiest he had been in a long time.
Justin, the Blind Skateboarder
As time passed, Justin continued working at Sport-Social and became more involved with skateboarding on his own again. In the beginning of 2019 he worked with Not Impossible Labs to complete The Absurdity Project. The project developed technology to allow him to skateboard the way he used to when he was a teenager and still had his vision. You can learn more about the project and see a documentary describing the process if you click here.
In the documentary he explains that he missed being a sponsored skater. A couple months later he signed his first contract as a blind skateboarder with Electric Eyewear. This sponsorship was followed by a contract from Zappos.com and the skateboarding company Nixon. Justin also gained product sponsorship from Nike SB, Element Skateboards, Bronson Bearings, Independent Trucks, Two Blind Brothers Clothing Company, and Ambutech Canes.
The Sky’s the Limit
Since then, things have continued looking up for Justin. He is now engaged to Carol and their future looks bright. I think the fact that he found a partner who believes in him and is willing to help him along the way has made a huge impact in his life. I don't think he feels embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help from Carol. He does a good job balancing his independence with leaning on her as one should do in any healthy relationship.
Nowadays, I have never seen him so motivated to do everything he wants to do. In the past, I think he felt scared and hopeless. Now, as cheesy as it sounds, he can do anything he sets his mind to. He has gotten into fitness and actually joined my gym, Burn Boot Camp, that we both love. He is motivated around the house to organize his things and make the house he shares with Carol inviting. He co-hosts a podcast called Childhood Hero where he discusses who guests consider to be their heroes. He even started making his own whiskey! He doesn’t let his vision impairment keep him from doing anything.
As I said before, being friends with Justin can sometimes be an emotional roller coaster. Seeing him go through his ups and downs has been challenging at times, but mostly a fun experience that has made a huge impact on my life. Justin is an unofficial part of my family, especially now since my kids are obsessed with playing his video games and learning how to skateboard from him. Justin always brings the fun and I consider myself blessed to have such a great and unique friend in my life.