Some of the youngest athletes at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics will be skateboarders born decades after the historically anti-establishment sport first emerged in the empty swimming pools and sidewalks of Venice Beach, Ca.
In the U.S. we have a long track record of captivation (verging on obsession) with young female athletes performing superhuman feats, especially in gymnastics. But this summer, we will be introduced to an entirely new image of girl athlete, from a sport that prides itself on being unconventional and transgressive.
Making its Olympic debut, the skateboarding competition is divided into two events: Street and Park. The Street course includes stairs, rails, curbs, and slopes. The Park course has deep bowls with smooth vertical walls for tricks with more arial height. Athletes specialize in one or the other, and right now three of the top six overall ranked skaters on the women’s side are youngsters just 12-14 years old.
These three young skater girls are poised to compete for Olympic gold while transforming our concept of what a world-class athlete is.
Fourteen-year-old Misugu Okamoto took up skateboarding at age eight and has been on a vertical trajectory, both in the park and in the rankings, ever since. In 2019 she went five for five in international competitions and has placed first in four of the last five Olympic qualifying events.
Now sitting at the number one spot in the World Skate rankings, the Japanese born and raised teen is looking to win the first ever gold medal in Skateboarding Park in her home country this summer.
Okamoto first got hooked on skating when she began joining her brother at a local skate park. It was there that she began training with a family of pro skaters known as TRIFORCE. Just before finishing sixth grade, Okamoto left home to live full time in the TRIFORCE household so that she could train with her coaches six days a week. If it were up to her, it would likely be seven, but the park where they practice is closed on Mondays.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Misugu Okamoto (@misugu0228)
A post shared by Misugu Okamoto (@misugu0228)
Similar to half pipe in snowboarding, park skating is all about landing the most difficult tricks. One of those is the 540, where the skater rotates a full 360 degree plus another 180 degrees in the air before landing.
Okamoto’s 540s have carried her far in competition thus far, but now that many skaters are conquering this high-level trick, her coaches know she needs to keep pushing the envelope to stay ahead of the pack. And Okamoto feels the pressure. When the Olympics were postponed due to the pandemic, there was no relief in thoughts of extra rest. As she told Dew Tour early in the shut down, “I feel pressured from the pause. It means I need to progress more, now that there is time.”
When Olympic action gets underway this summer, the world will get to see what tricks Okamoto has added and if it’ll be enough to win her the gold.
One of the latest phenoms to come out of Brazil is 13-year-old Rayssa Leal. Although she only just began to appear on pro event podiums, her introduction to the global skate world came at age seven, when Tony Hawk reposted a clip of her heel flipping down a set of stairs in a fairy costume.
In the years since, she has proven she is way more than just a viral video, and in her first international competition she skated her way onto the podium, earning 3rd place at Street League World Tour London 2019, the first Olympic qualifying event for Tokyo. A few months later, she became the youngest skater to ever win a Street League Skateboarding event when she took first place at SLS Los Angeles at just 11-years-old. Yes, ELEVEN years old.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Rayssa Leal (@rayssalealsk8)
A post shared by Rayssa Leal (@rayssalealsk8)
With podium finishes in all but one Olympic qualifying event, Leal is sitting solidly at number two overall in the World Skate Street rankings. The youngest of four Brazilian women in the top ten Street rankings, Leal is hoping to add Olympic medalist to her growing list of accolades.
Chances are good that in the not-so-distant future, Sky Brown will be a household name. Similar to Leal, videos of Brown as a little kid on a skateboard went viral starting when she was just four-year-old. Now twelve, Brown has a YouTube channel with 266K subscribers, almost 800K followers on Instagram, an official music video, and a book. She loves to surf, is learning to play guitar, wants to be a dancer, is into clothes and make-up, and also just happens to have insane skateboarding skills that back up all the hype and media attention. The smiley TikTok loving teen is currently ranked third in the world in Park skating.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Sky Brown (@skybrown)
A post shared by Sky Brown (@skybrown)
After Brown suffered a horrific fall in May 2020 while practicing on Tony Hawk’s 14 ft. ramp, her parents would have been fine if she never wanted to skate again. But in the days following the accident that left her with multiple skull fractures, a broken arm, broken fingers, and lacerations to her lungs, Brown’s love for the sport revealed itself to be stronger than ever. Within a few weeks, she was back on her board and was as determined as ever to get back to pushing the envelope in the air.
As Lucy Brown, head of Skateboard Great Britain, described her to ESPN last summer, “She’s in the category of women and girls that are going to be sort of achieving ‘NBDs’. That’s what we call ‘Never Been Done.’ She’s going to be one of the first girls to land a 720. She’s going to be a girl that’s going to push it with tricks that haven’t been landed by women yet.”
With skateboarding on the global stage this summer, the world will get to see just how far this fearless youngster is ready to push it.