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13 Feb

Sky Brown, World Champion & Queen of the Vertical

by Sam Bleakley

When 13-year-old professional skateboarding and surfing sensation Sky Brown was voted the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year in late 2021 – after being Great Britain’s youngest Olympic medallist at the Tokyo Games wining skateboarding park Bronze – she shared an exciting Gold Medal ambition for Paris 2024 that could be transformative for British surfing and skateboarding: “I want to get two Gold Medals in Paris, for Great Britain, in skateboarding and surfing.” Sky is not a person to make empty promises. Taking gold at The World Skate Championships Olympic qualifying event in Sharjah, UA, she is fully aware of her potential.

Joining Team GB

Born in Miyazaki Japan and raised between the USA and Japan, with a British father and Japanese mother, Sky is a young woman of the world. So, it’s a blessing for British actions sports that she has chosen to represent Team GB in her beloved board riding disciplines. With the opportunity to compete for a number of nations, Sky explained how it was “the more relaxed approach of the British Skateboarding Association” that appealed to her free-spirited style. “I begged my parents to let me go with Team GB,” she said. Her dad Stuart added, “We chose Great Britain because we felt that there was no pressure and they didn’t ask us to commit. They made it very clear that if she wasn’t happy or wasn’t feeling good at any time we could pull out.”

It runs in the family

Action sports culture runs deep through the Brown family. Sky’s dad Stuart is a long-time surfer and skater. “He built a backyard mini ramp in our place in California,” said Sky, “and skated everyday with his friends, and I would steal his board, which became my favourite toy when I was small.” Sky’s learning curve was remarkable. At age eight she was in the Vans US Open, the youngest skater ever to compete at the event. At 10 she signed a professional contract with Nike, again breaking records as their youngest athlete. And Sky’s skate style oozes with maturity – smooth, flowing, powerful, all with expert timing born in the arcs and angles of surfing. The family normally surf dawn patrols on the Californian coast around Orange County. “Surfing helps with my skating,” says Sky. “It’s pretty similar, so if the waves are good, I will surf for three to four hours.” She combines home-schooling with two days each week in class, and skates every afternoon - usually at Prince Park in Oceanside or Poods in Encinitas.

Dancing with the stars

Sky’s fame skyrocketed after winning ‘Dancing with the Stars Juniors’ in 2018 (the US version of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’) - with US teen dancer JT Church. “We didn’t really know what the show was about,” said Stuart (after the show approached the family, having seen Sky’s growing presence in the skateboarding world). “My wife and Sky started watching it on an iPad. I went to bed and when I woke up at 3am they were still watching it! Sky turned to me and said, ‘Daddy, can I do this show?’ She ended up turning down The X Games – something she’d always wanted to do – to do Dancing with the Stars.”

“It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done because I’m a girly girl and I got to dance and get my hair and makeup done,” said Sky. Dancing on stage transferred to the concrete with rhythm and tempo becoming key features of Sky’s skate park routines.

You've got to get back up

Despite her age, she was heading into Tokyo as a medal contender, already the first female to land a frontside 540. Then, while skating on a mega ramp she fell 15 feet and suffered skull fractures (her helmet saving her life) and a broken wrist and hand. Four days later, knowing she would make a full recovery, she wanted to share the experience on social media:

“People might think I'm super girl or something, but I want to show sometimes you're going to fall. I want to spread the message that it's OK to fall sometimes, you are going to fall, all your heroes are going to fall. I wanted to show you've got to get back up and keep on going. Falling is part of life and that can't stop what you're doing. It was heavy for my parents, it was heavy for my family, but it made me stronger.”

Skateboarding for everyone

“I think we showed everyone how beautiful skateboarding is. It’s more of a family vibe, and we’re always pushing each other to do more, to go further. I really hope I inspire some girls. Anyone can do skateboarding. You don’t have to be of a certain height or a certain age – you can do it whenever you want. You’ve just got to skate and go for it. I want to make Britain proud as much as I can, and I hope I did. And I want to inspire the world, especially little girls, and teach them that skateboarding is for everyone. I mean, if you believe in yourself, you can do anything.”

It's more than just competition

Despite the obvious shared stoke among competitors at the Olympic skate park, what appears to fuel the competitive fire in Sky is the sibling rivalry she has with her younger brother Ocean, also a red hot skater and surfer. “We compete in everything,” affirms Sky. They share a YouTube channel with a huge and growing fanbase. "I want to push boundaries, keep on improving, and try to close the gender gap as much as I can,” says Sky, who fears losing to her brother above all else. “I have so many dreams, but one now is to go to underprivileged places and teach kids to skate, because I feel like skateboarding – and other sports – helps people who are struggling.”

The Olympics

And it’s the Olympic torch that remains so important for Sky’s ever-hotter flame. With a cycle of Paris, Los Angeles and Brisbane coming up, Olympic performance could define her career in the way it did for snowboarder and three times Gold Medallist Shaun White. Sky repeats, “My next big dream is to go to the Olympics in Paris 2024 in skateboarding and surfing and hopefully to win two medals for Britain. That would be really cool.”