She may not have earned a medal, but she was still all smiles. After all, she had just made history.
In her first X Games appearance, in the semifinal for the Women’s Skateboard Park contest, 11-year-old Sky Brown became the first female skateboarder in X Games history to land a Frontside 540, throwing her tiny 4-foot-5-inch frame into two-and-a-half rotations on her board. She ultimately placed fifth in the contest, but to hear it from her, she was just stoked to be participating.
“I just want to be the little girl having fun and just doing these crazy tricks,” Brown says. And she refuses to rest on her laurels; now that she’s stomped the Frontside 540 in practice, she’s already thinking about trying a 720. And then a 900.
She won’t be this little forever, but otherwise, she is exactly who she wants to be — the ethos of fun infused in every crazy trick defines her skating. It’s hard to miss the megawatt smile Brown sports seemingly all the time, from when she’s cruising the bowl to giving interviews before practice to interacting with fellow competitors.
“She just exudes this positivity, so she’s been on all our radars,” says Brandon Graham, who does play-by-play for all X Games skateboarding events. “But to see her on the X Games stage, to see her in her very first semifinal and land a trick that has only really been done once before in competition, that 540, flawlessly, and to get into the final and almost earn a medal is as impressive as anything I can remember from someone that young.”
Brown was inspired to pick up a board by her dad, but no one in her family could have predicted the zeal with which she would take to the sport. “My dad would skate every day with his friends, and I would always take his board because the skateboard was like my favorite toy,” Brown says. “And then I watched a YouTube and tried it and I was like, I need to do this! So then I was on it every day and I got better.”
Brown began skating in earnest when she was 3, and she credits trailblazers Alana Smith, Leticia Bufoni, and Lacey Baker with inspiring her to pursue it professionally. However, when those women were coming up, becoming a pro who could support herself on sponsorships alone was at best a dream. These days, especially with the approaching 2020 Summer Olympics, which will include skateboarding for the first time, skateboarding is truly a viable pro women’s sport.
Brown’s bubbly personality and skateboarding prowess set the internet ablaze when her dad, Stu, uploaded a video of her skating at 5 years old that eventually gained upward of 1 million views. At age 7, she turned pro, and soon enough, Nike SB was onboard — Brown’s dream sponsor since she “was, like, a baby.” In 2016, when Brown was 8, The Birdman himself, Tony Hawk, shared footage of Brown throwing down everything from kickflips to backside boardslides.
All this exposure led to the opportunity that truly kick-started Brown’s career: In 2016, she became the youngest female skater to compete in the Vans US Open Pro Series in Huntington Beach, California. That same year, when she was competing in a UK-based contest, she met professional skateboarder Lucy Adams. As chance would have it, later that year, skateboarding was added to the 2020 Olympic Games, and Adams named the chair of Skateboard England and Skateboard GB. Then Brown was offered another opportunity to make history: become the youngest-ever British Olympian.
And initially, she wasn’t going to accept.
“We weren’t going to do the Olympics because my parents thought it was too much pressure,” Brown says. “But then Lucy Adams was like, ‘Oh, you can do it, there’s no pressure, just get out there and have fun.’ And that’s kind of like the way I skate.”
While she’s shrugging off the pressure, Brown understands the weight her potential Olympic appearance would carry and what it could mean for the future of the sport — and future female skateboarders.
“I feel like there will be more people doing the sport because they watched it in the Olympics and they’ll be like, ‘Oh I want to do that,’” Brown muses. “I want to be in the Olympics because I want to inspire girls to just get out there, because I feel like some girls are too scared to do what they want to do because they’re like, that’s a boy’s sport, you know? But if I go out there and I’m the youngest, I hope they’ll just look at me and be like, ‘Maybe I can do that, too!’”
Indeed, Team GB isn’t the only nation hoping youthful female skating talent will help it secure a medal next July. Around the world, young women from Japan’s Cocona Hiraki (10) and Momiji Nishiya (11) to Brazil’s Rayssa Leal (11) to the USA’s Brighton Zeuner (15) have been progressing rapidly and have signed on to their respective national teams. (The International Olympic Committee, or IOC, does not have a set age limit for Olympic competition, leaving it up to each individual sport’s governing body. World Skate has not set such a limit.)
Qualifying for either Olympic skateboarding event (street or park) is an arduous undertaking; each skater is competing in a circuit of sanctioned contests around the globe that will determine their world ranking. There are 20 spots for men and 20 spots for women in each discipline, with 80 skateboarders qualifying overall. It’s certainly possible that at the end of the series of competitions, Brown won’t be among the skateboarders Team GB sends to Tokyo. But as of this article’s publication, Brown is ranked ninth in the world and first among British women’s park skaters. She’s well on her way.
You don’t have to be around Brown long to know that audiences around the world are going to fall in love with her when she’s splashed across the Olympic broadcast. She’s gracious and enthusiastic when she talks about her family, her skating, her 7-year-old brother, Ocean. When her voice rises with her enthusiasm, her shoulders follow, reaching her ears as she grins. That she’s a natural on TV is undeniable. Brown captured the hearts of an entirely different audience when she was crowned the first winner of Dancing with the Stars: Juniors in 2018. “Even people who don’t follow skateboarding have probably somehow fallen down a rabbit hole of some of the amazing things she’s done, from her YouTube channel to doing Dancing with the Stars,” says Graham.
Making such a big splash in the sport at such a young age has led some to throw around terms like “prodigy” when they talk about Brown. But such a heavy word doesn’t seem to do justice to the reason Brown skates (or surfs, for that matter). She wants to win, of course; who doesn’t when they’re this talented? Brown’s family continues to support her in that pursuit, traveling around the globe so she can compete in contests. (When she’s not in school, that is.) But the family’s bottom line is that skateboarding should be fun. And the look on Brown’s face when she’s flying around on her board says it all.