From the Mag | The Quiet Sea

Kieran Grant

The Quiet Sea

Kieran Grant’s Silent, Watery World

Lori Griffith

When Kieran Grant paddles out, he does so silently. The crashing waves, his brother Fisher's voice, his paddle parting the water—he can't hear any of it. It's a silent journey.

Now 23, Kieran—one of the Southeast's best SUP surfers—was two when he was diagnosed as deaf. His parents, Mike and Zoe, decided to forego sign language and get Kieran and his sister, Abbie (also deaf), cochlear implants. These implants provide a sense of sound to a deaf person by way of bypassing the damaged areas of the ear and directly stimulating the auditory nerve, unlike a hearing aid. This type of hearing is drastically different than what a person with normal hearing experiences and processes, but it allows them to associate the signals being received with sounds they remember. Kieran and Abbie spent years in speech therapy after surgery, ultimately making it possible for them to communicate with the hearing world.

Unable to wear the implant in the ocean, Kieran's water world is soundless. But he loves shutting off the auditory overkill, and in most instances, it works to his advantage. "I like the quiet when I'm surfing in competitions or racing," he says. "I may be missing some things, but feel like I can focus more without the noise."

Fisher, 19, definitely counts it as an advantage and is often amazed at his brother's focus. But the silence doesn't always help. In one race, Kieran missed a buoy and couldn't hear the crowds and other racers yelling at him to get back on course. Still, he doesn’t consider his lack of hearing a liability. "If you view something as a disability, that's exactly the effect it will have on you," he says. "I like to think that all of my other senses are twice as good as other people's. I remind myself of this and my attitude improves."

The Grant kids were raised on the water in Melbourne, Florida. Mike is co-director of Central Florida Eastern Surfing Association and taught the boys to surf young. They eventually began competing in state surf competitions. During heats, Kieran relied on his family for signals and his watch for time to gauge when his heats were ending.

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Fisher started standup paddling first. After watching him on the podium again and again, Kieran had to give SUP a try. There's a closeness and cohesiveness between the two, with Fisher often assisting with communication issues, seamlessly completing sentences for Kieran. "Sometimes I rephrase a question being asked, when I know Kieran's having difficulty understanding," Fisher says. "I can always tell by a certain look in his eye, like he's asking for help."

Communication is a particular frustration for Kieran, especially in public places. On a recent live webcast at the Standup World Tour's US Open in Huntington Beach, he found his first interview intimidating and stumbled. He was ready after his next heat win. "(Announcer) Rocky Cannon, who knew I could use a bit of help, did a great job of looking me in the eye with his questions," Kieran says. "I did a lot better and felt a lot less stressed."

As good families do, the Grant's opened doors for Kieran, continually telling him that anything was possible, whether on the water or land. "If you're told that enough, you start to believe in yourself," Mike says. "Kieran was raised that way, believes it, and has proven himself over and over again."

Kieran works as hard off the water as he trains on it, doing yard maintenance to pay for travel. On a road trip to California for the NSSA Nationals and US Surfing Championships, Zoe and her boys spent three weeks in a pop-up camper overlooking the breaks at San Onofre. "Kieran did it all: loading, driving, setting up our camper, building a campfire, cooking steaks and changing a flat tire on the side of the road in Mojave Desert. He has boundless energy."

Last year, Kieran was one of only 30 paddlers—including the likes of Kai Lenny, Zane Schweitzer and Connor Baxter—invited to the inaugural Ultimate SUP Showdown in Hawaii. He's also becoming a frequent competitor at Standup World Tour stops.

Unfortunately, events are expensive for young competitors so along with Fisher, he'll continue to work for his travel, knowing full well that in order to "blow up" in this sport, you have to "show up." And he’ll likely find success. But he won’t tell you about it. He doesn’t have to. His talent in the water speaks volumes.

This Feature originally ran in our Winter 2015 issue.

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