Sky Brown is most comfortable with the wind in her hair and a skateboard at her feet. In those moments, when Brown leaves ground level, she transcends what humans think they know about age and gravity.
“She is fearless in a way that is scary if you’re an outsider,” said Tony Hawk, who mentors Brown.
Brown, 13, became the youngest Great Britain athlete to win an Olympic medal when she took bronze in the women’s park skateboarding event at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but her thirst for challenging norms remains unquenched. Brown plans to compete not only in skateboarding at the 2024 Games in Paris, but also in surfing, her other passion.
“That sounds like a hard thing, but yeah, I’m going to try,” Brown said. “(That’s) my best dream right now.”
Brown spoke with a group of reporters last week after being nominated for the 2022 Laureus World Comeback Athlete of the Year award, along with gymnast Simone Biles, diver Tom Daley (Great Britain), cyclist Mark Cavendish (Great Britain), cyclist Annemiek Van Vleuten (Netherlands) and motorcycle racer Marc Marquez (Spain).
Brown has a compelling case for the award. In June 2020, the then-11-year-old prodigy was hospitalized with a skull fracture, a broken wrist, a broken hand and a black eye suffered on a gnarly skateboarding fall from high in the air.
When she woke up in the hospital, Brown was not focused on her pain or her bruises, but her future: She wanted to get back to the skatepark.
“It was actually hard for my parents to let me get back on my board,” Brown said. “My dad saw it in real life, and my mom was sleeping in the car when it happened. (My brother) was watching from behind. It was a super hard time for my family, but for me, I was just so excited to get back.”
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Sky Brown (@skybrown)
A post shared by Sky Brown (@skybrown)
Brown does not have much practice in sitting still. Her mornings start on the water, where she surfs for two to five hours per day, depending on the quality of waves. Then, after going to school and finishing her homework, Brown, who is of British and Japanese ancestry and lives in Southern California, will hit a local skatepark with some friends.
She was fully healed by the Tokyo Games, and since coming home with the medal, she’s often swarmed by fans in public. For an athlete focused on empowering even younger girls, the attention is encouraging and validating.
“Her future,” said Hawk, “is very bright.”
Perhaps the most notable aspect of Brown’s post-Olympics life is that not much has changed. Her parents still implore her to clean her room and limit her screen time, and her mother hides vegetables in her dinner. She often giggles when she speaks and is extra polite to adults.
To the untrained eye, she might look like a typical 13-year-old girl, hanging with her friends at the beach or the skatepark. But then Sky Brown will lift off, with her feet firmly on a board, her hair blowing in the wind and her body painting a picture in the sky.
Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.