LOS ANGELES – Coco Atama is a lifelong skateboarder and self-described “adrenaline sports junkie.”
And Atama is blind.
But Atama does not let it get in the way. The 27-year-old deftly uses a white-and-red cane to navigate around obstacles in a skate park, a process that involves learning the layout and then carving a path like any board rider.
“Skateboarding is a performance. It’s a display skill that you can show off to those around you and showcase your individuality,” Atama said.
The 2018 National Health Interview Survey said more than 32 million American adults reported experiencing vision loss.
Blind people often face a stigma that “blindness equals uselessness,” according to the American Foundation for the Blind, a belief that “has prevailed so long and so firmly in western culture that its traces have yet to be fully erased.”
Atama was born with perfect sight, but started to go blind at age 12. As a result, Atama can’t see much detail beyond light shadows with the occasional splash of color.
In a 2021 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, one in four adults with vision loss reported anxiety or depression. Atama said skateboarding, along with acting, comedy, music, making videos and dancing, keeps them going.
“It would take me losing my sight, and dealing with a large amount of depression because of it, for me to actually get serious about skateboarding,” Atama said.
Atama has been to many skate parks, but on a recent day, was trying out a new one in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Skaters varied in age from kids to 30-somethings.
Atama caught the attention of some skateboarders. They watched with curiosity as Atama used the cane, swishing it from side to side to feel around the course.
When the cane bumped into a wooden box laid on the concrete, Atama took note of it. Atama then caromed off the side of the box and stuck the landing.
A skateboarder who goes by the name Sauce happily assisted Atama.
“Nobody stopped to even help. I was like, ‘Bro, like, what? You need help?’ I was like, ‘I got you,’ and now meeting him, I’m just like, ‘You’re a light,’” Sauce said.
The skater said seeing Atama perform is “dope” and feels inspired to skateboard as well.
Atama is about more than skateboarding, having starred in a 2022 stage production titled “The Braille Legacy,” about how Louis Braille invented a system of reading and writing for the blind. Atama played Braille.
“It was my first time, my first lead role in a musical. It was my third lead role overall in the world of theater. I honestly say that was my ‘Hamilton’ for that time,” Atama said. “The Braille Legacy” debuted to sold-out crowds in Los Angeles in June 2022.
Atama said showcasing the story of Braille to a new audience was scary but exciting.
Criticism and ridicule don’t faze Atama, who encourages others to be true to themselves.
“You are the only you you’ve got, and if somebody makes fun of you, if somebody’s judging you, if somebody hates on you, that’s a good thing because you know what that means. It means that they hate or disrespect or dislike or are annoyed by the purest most you!” Atama said.
On social media, Atama shares their skateboarding life with others and only wants to make people smile.
Atama’s vibrant life underscores how to fit in.
As the American Foundation for the Blind puts it:“Blindness today slices across every stratum of society. It encompasses the same proportions of the wise and the foolish, the gifted and the stupid, the efficient and the fumbling, the aggressive and the diffident as any other random sample of the population.”
Atama’s living proof.