NAPA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 03: 14-year-old Olympic hopeful skateboarder Minna Stess trains at a skatepark on June 3 2020 in Napa, California. Stess hopes to make the U.S. Olympic team in skateboarding, which will make its debut at the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021, after the Games were postponed this summer due to COVID-19. ( (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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.

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