July 2016. A cloudless Southern California sky looms over the Pro Park Course for the Vans Pro Skate Park Series. Here to compete in the final Global Qualifier competition are some of the top female skaters in the world. There's Lizzie Armanto, the first female skater ever to complete a full circuit on a 360-degree ramp. Kisa Nakamura, X Games gold medalist. Brighton Zeuner, the youngest champion in X Games history. The past, present, and future of women's skateboarding have assembled at Huntington Beach. At stake is a spot in the Vans Park Series Pro Finals event, skating with the best of the best. The skaters range in age from early adolescence to early 30s, but in a sport that embraces youth, there is one who stands out beyond the fresh-faced potential of her peers. At 8 years old, Sky Brown, half-British, half-Japanese phenom, would be the youngest skater, male or female, ever to compete at the Vans U.S. Open Pro Series.
Sky Brown at a skate park in Santa Monica, California. | (Kamri Noel McKnight/Courtesy Narratively)
She is a known quantity to some — a minor star of the viral age. Still, the question remains: Is she truly ready, or will this be another case where reality comes crashing down hard on all the hype?
Sky first gained a modicum of internet fame as a precocious 4-year-old, when she starred in a series of skate videos posted to YouTube, the first of which sees the pint-sized prodigy ripping it up on a backyard quarter pipe. "Hi, my name is Sky!" she says brightly toward the camera in the first of many videos to come. She stumbles a bit, then, "I'm … check me out!"
From there she drops in like a pro, pulling off grinds, stalls, switching stances in the flat. It quickly becomes clear. Skateboarding has seen young stars before. It was started by adolescents. Young guns are nothing new. But skateboarding hasn't seen anything like Sky yet.
Still, perhaps there was some sense of trepidation when, four years after Sky's first video popped up, it was announced that she would be competing at Huntington Beach. Yes, she had her parents' love and support behind her. Yes, in her groomed online presence she seemed in every regard to be a level-headed kid — highly intelligent, well-spoken beyond her years, hugely talented, and yet grounded. But there was always a possibility that at one point or another, the pressure would become too great, that it would be too much too soon, and when the fall came, it would be long, painful, and sad.
And then, it turns out to be anything but. Despite what her father says was a lack of adequate practice time on the VPS course and not knowing what lines Sky was going to follow or even what tricks she was going to try to pull off, Sky goes out and rips one revelation after another.
Front nose blunt. Straight ollie over the spine. Kickflip to fakie. Frontside air.
Commentators Neal Hendrix and Chris Pastras are left in awe as an 8-year-old pulls off tricks that, in their words, "half of the pros [in this competition] can't do." The only thing that makes her look like a kid is her size. In every other regard, she holds her own with skaters 10 and 20 years her senior. Before those three runs at Huntington, Sky was a curiosity. After, she is a contender.
Born on July 12, 2008, to a Japanese mother and a British father who had moved to southern Japan for the surfing, Sky's first memory of a skateboard is seeing her father, Stuart, doing a few tricks in front of the family home. By age 3, she was already itching to emulate her dad. Her parents weren't initially sold on the idea of their toddler getting on a board, but the precocious youngster was able to wear them down.
"I would see my dad skate every day, and it always looked really fun," says Sky, still less than a decade removed from her first driveway runs alongside her father. "I just kept begging to try it until he finally gave in."
Sky progressed quickly. Her father built a backyard ramp for her to practice on, showing her the basics. She never had a formal coach. She watched her dad, tried to do what he did. Somehow she just had … the knack. Every movement, every shift in weight, every push and pull of body on board, she absorbed. Then, she did it herself.
"You get so close to making it," she says of her process, "and think you're about to land it, and then it takes you 100 more times. I'm always saying to my parents, 'Just one last try.'"
Nobody, it seems, pushed Sky to excel the way so many young athletes are pushed, pulled, and dragged by overzealous parents looking to redeem their own faded dreams of glory by living vicariously through their offspring. Sky skated nearly every day. If the surf was up, she and the family (later rounded out by little brother Ocean) headed for the nearby beach. If anyone was pushing, striving to get better, it was Sky herself, learning new tricks the same way everyone else does — by trying, failing, falling, and getting back up again.
Read the rest of this story at Narratively.