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.”

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.

Japan dominated the women’s skateboarding park competition, taking home gold and silver in the event. Sky Brown, the 13-year-old sensation from Great Britain, captured bronze.

Sakura Yosozumi, ranked number one in the world, topped the competition with a score of 60.09. Kokona Hiraki fell a point behind Yosozumi, taking home silver at just 12 years old.

Both Brown and Hiraki are the youngest athletes in their respective delegations.

For the first time at the Olympics, a gold and silver medalist are each 13 years old.

Momiji Nishiya of Japan won gold in skateboarding’s debut at the Olympics, while Rayssa Leal of Brazil took home the silver.

Japan’s Funa Nakayama, 16, won bronze.

The two 13-year-olds shared a moment after their record-setting performance, in which Nishiya posted a final score of 15.26 to best Leal’s 14.64.

After the win, Nishiya said she is “simply delighted.” Leal now believes she can “convince all my friends to skateboard everywhere with me.”

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.

Misugu Okamoto – Park

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.

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.

Rayssa Leal – Street

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.

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.

 Sky Brown – Park

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.

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.

Minna Stess is a member of USA Skateboarding and is on track to represent Team USA at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The 14-year-old prodigy talked to JWS about training in quarantine and what she’s looking forward to in 2021.

You started placing in skate competitions when you were eight years old. Now, a few years later at age 14, you’re the youngest skater on team USA. How did you develop so quickly, and how do you handle the pressure of skating with adults now?

I don’t know. When I was eight, I was just having a lot of fun. I was just skateboarding for the fun of it. I’m not really sure. I don’t remember much, to be honest. I remember having fun, but that’s all.

It’s kind of weird to think about it, but I don’t know. I’ve been friends with a lot of them and some of them are older too, so I’m just making friends with people that are a little bit older than me. It was not that weird, it’s not like I’m so young. I mean, it’s everyone just skating. So we all have something in common, especially to talk about. So it’s not really that weird.

That’s awesome. I can imagine you’re still in school, probably doing online stuff with the pandemic, but how do you balance that while competing at the highest level?

Where I live there’s an independent study school, which basically means I go in once a week to get my work. And then the next week I come back with that work and I do that all over again. So I can travel pretty easily, I don’t stay at school, I just go one day. Especially with online now, it’s just Zoom calls, while before it was just going on for like an hour. But yeah, it’s pretty easy travel and stuff.

Skateboarding is making its debut at this summer’s Olympics. What do you think that means for the growth of the sport?

I think it’s really cool. I mean, hopefully it stays in for a while. This is the first year they’re going to have it, but I think it’s really cool because I don’t think a lot of people see real skateboarding. They only see skateboarding as being for people who do drugs and stuff. I feel like there are those stereotypes, and I think it’s really cool to try to get rid of the stereotypes, and show what skating actually is. It’s just having fun and just competing.

You were on track to qualify for Tokyo 2020 before the games were all pushed back. What does that timeline look like now for 2021?

Right now, I think they’re talking about having a competition in March. But from what I’ve heard, a lot of it is based on vaccine progress from whatI know. That’s what they’re saying, but nothing’s really set. I would assume they’re trying to get contests but I don’t know. At this point I have no idea anymore.

I read that you have a skate park set up in your backyard, which is awesome. This must’ve been super helpful during the pandemic. 

Yeah, it’s very nice to have somewhere in my backyard where I can just go out there and skate. All my friends have been asking me like, “Oh, can I come over to your backyard and see you skateboard?” But all the stuff in my backyard is kind of small, so I can’t do everything. But I can at least do most of it.

And how about working with your coaches? Are you able to see them at all or do you do Zoom sessions? 

One of my coaches lives in Southern California. I saw him at the start of summer, but not really much anymore since the pandemic has been getting worse. But I do use some Zoom calls with the USA skateboarding personal trainer. And the training for that. And then in my town too, we have a trainer, his name’s Brandon, which I work with. But I had to stop for a little bit because I sprained my ankle so I couldn’t really do much.

How are you feeling now? Are you getting back from that injury?

Oh, yeah, I’m fine now. But it kind of stopped me for like a few weeks. I had a boot because it was a pretty bad sprain, it was doing something stupid too, so…

I feel like that’s the theme of 2020 though, you never know what’s going to happen. Do you feel a lot of pressure when competing at qualifier contests? 

Yeah, definitely, because I don’t really know how many contests we’ll do. Maybe one or two, which is not that much.

What is your mindset heading into those contests when they happen?

I don’t know. I just try to do the best I can. Right now, for me, it’s hard to have a mindset when I can’t really know when it’s going to happen, so it’s weird. But overall I am just going to have fun with it which is the most important thing anyways.

You obviously have a very bright future ahead of you at such a young age. What are your ultimate goals in the sport?

Right now, definitely just make the Olympics. And I don’t know. I keep saying this, but just the timing right now is just terrible. It feels like I’m stuck in like… I don’t know. It’s like I’m just stuck in a specific time. And everyone is, but I hate it so much. So right now I’m just thinking about getting out of this moment and competing at the Olympics.

Mariah Duran is an American skateboarder who will be competing to represent the USA next summer when skateboarding makes its Olympic debut. A two-time X Games gold medalist, Duran spoke with Just Women’s Sports about her current partnership with sports technology company Orreco, which is helping athletes better understand the effects of their period on their athletic performance.

(To read an overview of the partnership, click here.) 

How did you first hear about the Wasserman and Orreco partnership, and what was your reaction? 

My agent actually hit me up about it and briefly told me what it was about, how they basically study the female body in athletes and want to educate their partners on how their systems work. I was really interested because it’s something that we don’t really dive into very often in the skating world or for female athletes in general. We’re always compared to guys, especially in skating. It was really cool to just be talking to somebody who’s comparing me to other females and going off of that evidence to try to help me have the best performance in my sport. That was really cool and eye opening for me. And it kind of just made me more aware of everything.

How knowledgeable were you already about the science regarding how the menstrual cycle affects athletic performance?

Honestly, I only knew about as much as I’d learned in school. After that, it was just me experimenting to see what works for my life and my training. I never really knew why it worked or why it didn’t work. More so, I didn’t really have a full understanding that we have completely different systems than men which affect our training and recovery. I was always under the impression that it was for one week of the month, and during that week, you’re just not going to be at your A game.

As an athlete, you have so many other barriers to get over, but as far as understanding the female body, what really stood out to me was that there’s two different systems, and one is not broken. We’re not weaker than a male. We’re just two different things. And I’ve used this analogy before, but it’s like we’re two different cars. One’s an automatic car and the other one’s a manual car. We have to shift into different gears to get where we’re going, but we’re still going to the same place.

That’s a great analogy, I never thought of it in that way either. Yulin [Mariah’s agent] had mentioned that you discovered a correlation between one of the biggest injuries you had in your career last year during a contest and just being unaware of your cycle and how that affects performance. Can you talk about that episode, and how things could have gone differently? 

Totally! So last year I had a stress fracture in my tailbone. It was in a contest and it was one of my worst injuries because it was kind of just a freak accident, but it was due to a lot of fatigue and just a hard week of contests. Those things just happen, but it was also something where, had I known how my body reacts throughout not only just one week of the month, but through the entire month, I probably could have been more prepared and more aware of my body, which could have prevented the injury.

Before I started working with Orreco, I skated with my brothers, and I just had this mentality to push until you can’t push anymore. Mentally, that’s the thing that has gotten me as far as I have. But now understanding the physical being of a woman, I think I can take some smaller steps that will help myself avoid fatigue.

And if you are menstruating then you know what to do for your body, you know what to feed your body so that it can keep going at the pace you want it to go. And I think that for me, it was kind of just a lack of education, but I also just never really knew that there was even something to be learned about this. It was kind of always something that I thought, Oh man, maybe it’s just me. I don’t see any of the other girls slamming hard, you know what I mean? And it’s not spoken about much, so it’s really cool to just learn and teach other people by passing on the word.

You’re actively taking the chance to educate some of your female friends and teammates on the subject, but what do you think needs to happen to bring this conversation into the mainstream?

I’ve always kind of believed in just leading by example, because it’s kind of hard to force education upon people who don’t really understand it or aren’t curious. But if I can somehow incorporate this in my skateboarding and people can see the benefits, they’ll be curious and they’ll ask questions about how I’ve gotten where I am.

Leading as a role model, and just bringing awareness—because it’s something that’s not really spoken about, especially as a female. I don’t really discuss how I feel except with my brothers, because they’re my brothers. I’ll tell them if I’m menstruating or whatever, but as far as everybody that I’m competing with or whatever, it’s a harder or more uncomfortable conversation for others to hear that or whatever. So I would like to bring a little bit more awareness, even if it’s small, and leading by example is one way to do that.

In addition to injury prevention like you mentioned, how else has Orreco changed or impacted your training specifically?

It honestly just made me more aware in my training of what I’m putting my body through. Because skateboarding is such a hard thing to regulate, I would say. It’s not like any other sport. In basketball, you could have training in the morning and practice in the afternoon. But with skateboarding, it’s very sporadic. There isn’t a set training schedule. You pull up to a skatepark and you yourself are accountable for how much you want to push yourself. For me, I’m my own coach and my own player. I have to hold myself accountable. And working with Orreco has helped me adapt to certain situations and understand that I’m not always going to be able to push myself the same way every single day of the month. I’ve definitely underestimated rest the past two years, and now I’m taking it into consideration.

Orreco reminds me to get more fuel during the day, and get an extra two hours of sleep during the week, and put my phone down two hours before bed and turn off the TV. And I can feel the difference in doing these little things. And understanding why it works, it’s easier to follow through. And for them to be down to be on this journey with me is awesome. It’s perfect because it doesn’t really interfere with anything. It’s more of just understanding this is my lifestyle and okay, this is how you should be fueling, resting. And it doesn’t interfere with the creativity of my craft. I still have freedom to try to train when I want, to go skate when I want, I just have to do certain extra steps to just help my body recover, be ready. So that’s really nice.

So separate from Orreco, I wanted to chat with you about what the rest of the year looks like. I know you’re working towards the 2021 Olympics, which is super exciting because this is the first year that skateboarding is in the games. How have you been preparing? 

Honestly, having the Olympics postponed was a blessing in disguise for me personally. The past few years have been an insane amount of traveling, insane amount of contests and also just other projects aside from getting ready for the Olympics. I never really had the time to take the time to understand where I’m at in my level of skateboarding and also what I need to do to help my body prepare for the Olympics. It’s weird to say, but having this whole pause made me just realize that I literally have gotten into skateboarding before the Olympics was even an option. So it’s kind of nice to know that the Olympics isn’t everything to me, but it is definitely that matters. And I want to prepare for that moment, but I also want to enjoy the journey. It’s weird to say, but just being present is the most important thing you could do for yourself. Each day counts.

It’s kind of one of those things where it’s like, I don’t want to put so much pressure on trying to predict how the future is going to be, because I really don’t know. And this year was an example of that. It felt like the world shut down overnight. I just have to control what I can control. Lately I’ve just been creating training routines with some of my trainers, through Zoom of course. It’s definitely nice because it’s just very simple and very effective for me.

So I’ve just had a lot of time to just work on myself physically and just kind of just be present. I don’t know what the future holds. I definitely know that I’m working towards the Olympics, but I also know that I’m just working every day. So I think that that’s like the main thing that I’ve just been telling myself is to stay present.