I spoke with ‘The Blind Surfer’ about becoming the most popular YouTuber in surfing

Pete Gustin, also known as The Blind Surfer, is officially the most popular YouTube surfer. Photo: Pete Gustin/Instagram

Few years ago, I was alerted by a new YouTube channel called The blind surfer. It was an interesting premise – surfing is hard enough to learn when you can see – so I called him to see what it was all about. And what I’ve found is that the surfing, even though that’s what the channel is all about, isn’t the most interesting part of Pete Gustin. And it turns out I wasn’t the only one to find The Blind Surfer interesting. The channel has just exceeded one million subscribers, making it officially the most popular YouTube channel in the surfing sphere, a position that was until now occupied by Jamie O’Brien. Gustin’s rise to one million subscribers happened incredibly quickly. So quickly, in fact, that the folks at YouTube contacted him to see what exactly he was up to.

“They don’t really know what makes the algorithm work,” Gustin told me over the phone. “They built it, but they need to gather real-world data to understand exactly what’s going on. They called me and they said ‘what are you Do?’”

A little history on Pete, just in case you haven’t already heard. Pete’s show isn’t so much about surfing as it is about showing people that, to use an old cliché, anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Surfing is the vessel of the message, and it works very well. He also happens to have a job that almost guarantees you’ve heard his voice. Gustin has been the voice of Super Bowl commercials and countless network television promotions. He voiced advertisements for The walking dead, Archer, Family Guy, and Spongebob, to name a few. Recently, he landed a gig as the voice of Optimus Prime.

Gustin wasn’t always blind, although he went blind the day he was born. He has what is called macular degeneration, in which central vision deteriorates over time. When I first spoke to him in 2020, he could still see blurry shapes and dark shadows up to three feet away, but over the past two years even that vague vision has faded. Now he has almost no sight.

“When I started the chain, I could actually walk the sidewalk on my own, most of the time,” he recalls. “A person here or there may miss me because I had blind spots, but for the past three years I’ve had to hold hands with Banana (Banana is Pete’s nickname for his wife) or walk in right behind Josh and Brooks and having them break the way (Josh and Brooks are working on the channel with him) I’m learning to use a cane now The world is really, really closing in on me I can’t see anyone’s face anymore. I can’t see myself in a mirror.

Gustin’s show, as I said, is about showing people that anything is possible. Throughout his journey of sight loss, he managed to keep smiling and roll with the punches in a way that I guess is uniquely his.

“People sometimes ask, ‘Do you want your sight back? Then you couldn’t be the blind surfer!’ I do not have want to to be the blind surfer,” he laughed. “I would like to be just a surfer. But you are given a situation and you make the most of it. I see my daily life as a lottery ticket with everything I do. Like with dubbing: I could getting a huge blockbuster movie The breakups that come my way at my voice acting level can be huge Learning to play Optimus Prime was huge for me. Here are the things I wake up to in my head: ‘This could happen today! Every day, I wake up with a possible golden ticket. But then, you know, every day I go down the stairs and accidentally drop my cell phone and spend five minutes trying to figure out which stairway it landed on. These moments don’t just happen once a week, they happen multiple times a day.

Pete’s outlook on life is, I think, what draws people to his channel. He managed to bring surfing into the non-surfing world in a way unlike anyone else. Where Jamie O’Brien presents an idyllic life, full of non-stop adventures, travels and perfect waves, Pete Gustin presents the obstacles, then shows how he manages to overcome them. Jamie’s channel could be seen as vicarious entertainment while Pete’s is perhaps a bit more inspirational. Both are valuable in their own way, but Pete’s niche probably has a larger potential audience than the relatively small group of grassroots surfers Jamie is likely to attract.

“Just discovered his channel recently,” Jamie wrote via text message. “He is doing great things. It’s very inspiring.

Another fascinating part of Pete’s channel is his unflinching honesty about his situation. Although he’s optimistic about it, he’s quick to say it’s extraordinarily difficult. He does not hide that he would prefer to regain his sight, but he sometimes fears that this will take something away from the viewers.

“Are you OK?” he wondered. “Like, should I want to live my whole life fighting wrestling? I don’t think they understand that I’ve been struggling with this for a long time, and if it’s something that made me who I am… okay, cool. Now can I get my sight back? I fought the struggle. I learned the lessons. I feel like if this was a movie, once I finally got it all done, someone would be like, “Great, now you can see.” Now you can live your life. It was a learning lesson. I wish I could drive myself to the grocery store. I wish I could see Banana’s face. Hope this doesn’t take the shine away from anyone.

When Pete said that, I told him that I thought there was no way it would diminish what he’s achieved, not just on his YouTube channel, but in his life in general. I told him that I thought honesty was attractive to everyone. Pete laughed.

“I feel like mine is the surf channel without surfing,” he laughed. “I don’t think everyone has that kind of story to tell. There are so many lessons I learned from this trip. I could write books upon books about what I learned. Everything I learned in there…it became so important. I didn’t expect any of this.”

Personally, however, I think Pete is selling a little short. But that’s another part of the appeal of his story: just like the folks at YouTube, he doesn’t quite seem to understand why the world wants to know about him. It’s more than an algorithm. More than surfing. More than a blind man discovering his life. It’s a story of perseverance, dedication, and finding a way to make her life as beautiful as possible despite whatever she decides to throw at her. And it’s good entertainment.

Follow Pete Gustin’s story on YouTube and Instagram.

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