The Healing Power of Surf and Snow After Blindness

(Devon Raney | Photos courtesy of Patagonia Books)

Vision-impaired snowboarder Devon Raney will discuss his forthcoming book Still Sideways: Riding the Edge Again After Losing My Sight (published by Patagonia, hardcover) on Friday night, December 13 at 7pm in the Bend Patagonia store, 1000 NW Wall Street.

The event coincides with Mt. Bachelor’s Dirksen Derby (December 13-14), a snowboarding contest Devon competes in.

Devon is a lifelong surfer/ snowboarder who suffered 85 percent vision loss after a surfing accident off the northern coast of Oregon. Still Sideways is about the healing power of surf and snow — as well as Devon’s choice to forge ahead in life-altering circumstances. Featuring often-hilarious portraits of his everyday life, his book shares his journey back to the passions that have always defined him. Many of Devon’s stories are based on local Oregon adventures — surfing, cycling and boarding throughout the state. He lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

At 33, Devon was living a charmed life and on course for a career path seemingly paved in gold. The weekly agenda of this lifelong surfer/snowboarder revolved around his love of board sports. Construction jobs gave him the flexibility for as much surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding as he wanted. And at home, he and his wife were raising their young daughter to inherit their shared passion for outdoor adventure.

But life as Devon knew it was about to change. While surfing off the northern coast of Oregon, Devon crashed headfirst into the sand. The impact triggered a rare form of blindness (Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy) and Devon suffered 85 percent vision loss.

His upcoming memoir Still Sideways: Riding the Edge Again After Losing My Sight (Patagonia, February 4, 2020, hardcover; audiobook by Penguin Random House Audio) is the story of an outdoor life on both sides of blindness. With just 15 percent of his vision intact, Devon no longer sees faces, recognizes people, reads, builds houses or drives. He manages his environment using peripheral vision and changes in light and movement.

As a visually impaired athlete who continues to live for surf and snow, Devon uses adventure to restore hope, create stoke and inspire others through action. On the mountain, Devon developed a style of tandem snowboarding where he relies on the dark contrast jacket of a rider who leads him down the slope. He still snowboards at an elite level, and continues to participate in events such as the Dirksen Derby and The Banked Slalom (Mt. Baker, Washington). In 2013, he undertook a 75-day, self-supported tandem bike ride where he and a cast of fellow surfer/cyclist friends towed surfboards from Bainbridge Island to Tijuana, Mexico, stopping wherever the waves were good.

“Devon’s story is a testament to the power of board sports as common ground as much as it is a story of perseverance,” says Colin Wiseman of The Snowboarder’s Journal. “He embodies the joy of sliding sideways.”

Devon carries himself through daily life and sports in a way that few people are even aware of his vision loss. He has a unique ability to take in the beauty of life and his surroundings (even sunsets) when he can’t make out the details. Through it all, Devon has even come to see his impairment as a gift in light of the downfalls of the social media era. His interactions are mostly in-person or by phone, and he is forced to live in a way that cannot be consumed digitally, refreshed or re-watched.

Featuring often-hilarious portraits of Devon’s everyday life and the slew of colorful characters he has lived in tandem with since his accident, Still Sideways shares his journey back to the full-throttle lifestyle and passions that have always defined him. Told with humor, candor and authenticity, the book intersperses a gripping narrative of Devon’s incredible decade and flashbacks of formative experiences from his youth and young adulthood.

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