Her name is hard to forget. Her accolades, at age 13, are already worth remembering.
Brighton Zeuner is one of the early medal favorites for skateboarding’s Olympic debut in 2020.
There will be two disciplines in Tokyo — park and street — and Zeuner is an established force in the former. Park takes place in a dome-shaped bowl with a variety of transitions, jumps and complex curves.
“I’m not going to be mad if I don’t win [the Olympics],” Zeuner said in a phone interview ahead of competing at Dew Tour in Long Beach, Calif., on Sunday. “Being there in general is a huge accomplishment.”
NBC will air Dew Tour coverage July 7-8.
Zeuner, with 125,000 Instagram followers and blonde hair streaming as far as her kidneys, is promoted as a headliner for good reason.
In 2016, she became the youngest woman to compete at an X Games at 11. Then she won the inaugural Vans Park Series world title. In 2017, she became the youngest X Games champion.
Credit her childhood backyard. A large vert ramp was installed behind the family pool, palm trees and a sign reading “No scooters allowed.” Not only did Zeuner and older brother Jack hone their skills there, but folks from the area also stopped by for sessions and the occasional refueling dinner.
When your neighborhood is Encinitas, Calif., the locals include skateboarding gods.
“The kind of the crew that she runs with — Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk, Mike McGill,” Dew Tour announcer Chris Cote said. “She runs with these classic, legendary skaters. You see the translation that she has been soaking up all this knowledge from them.”
Hawk visited the Zeuner home a few times, including for the last session before she recently moved.
“I think he asked [to come] because he was filming,” Zeuner said, “We were like, of course you can. I was fanning out.”
Zeuner says everything started happening for her at age 8. At a small contest in Arizona, she finished third out of four girls (the others all older, “big sisters,” she said) and landed her first sponsor, the Original Betty Skateboard Company. She later beat her brother in a contest, though Jack was already phasing out of competition and into filming.
More recently, she skated at X Games in braces and a Red Bull helmet, has been featured on “Nightline” and in The New York Times and is up for Queen of Swag, a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award. The other nominees are Ibtihaj Muhammad, Jamie Anderson, Michelle Wie, Serena Williams, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Sydney Leroux.
Zeuner said life’s biggest obstacle wasn’t the time she faceplanted and had to dislodge her lip from her braces. Rather, it has been a three-year struggle to land a 540, thus far unsuccessful.
“It’s definitely an annoying trick that I’m mad about,” she said.
It might be necessary at the Olympics.
Zeuner faces competition both older — 25-year-old Nora Vasconcellos of Massachusetts — and a batch of early teens — notably fellow 13-year-old Sabre Norris of “Ellen” fame. Norris’ dad is Justin Norris, who beat Michael Phelps to a bronze medal in Phelps’ first Olympic race, the Sydney 2000 200m butterfly.
“The top 10 is constantly in flux,” Cote said. “They all kind of take turns for who’s the best on any given day.”
Norris landed a 540 two weeks ago to qualify July’s X Games, where she will face Zeuner.
“If I be real about it I know my odds for success are kinda crap,” was posted on Norris’ Instagram. “I have zero experience, chiari malformation, I’m a surfer not a skater and I get so badly homesick I can’t eat.”
Zeuner refused to single out a rival but thrives in competition. Cote called her “Terminator.” To battle boredom, Zeuner writes song lyrics (“jazzy beats,” specifically), designs clothes and shoes and listens to Tyler, the Creator and Kali Uchis.
“Their lyrics are more than a song,” Zeuner said. “It’s a story.”
Zeuner already has one of her own.
NBC Olympics researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report.
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