HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (Reuters) - Sky Brown, the 11-year-old skateboarding prodigy who is poised to become Britain’s youngest ever Olympian at the 2020 Tokyo Games, has already amassed an enviable resume.
Pro skater, surfing phenom, Dancing with the Stars juniors champion and determined philanthropist, Brown is transforming ideas about what the next generation is capable of.
At a sun-soaked skatepark in Southern California last week she took on a new role - director.
Standing at the edge of a vertigo-inducing bowl, Brown guided two veteran camera people on where best to position themselves to capture her tricks.
Brown, who was born in Japan to a British father and Japanese mother, took a big step towards making Team GB’s Olympic squad with a third-place finish at the World Championships in Brazil this month.
If she qualifies, Brown will be 12 years and 12 days old when the Games begin in July, eclipsing the record set by swimmer Margery Hinton, who was 13 years and 43 days when she competed at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.
Brown’s parents Stu and Mieko initially thought the pressure of competing in Tokyo, where skateboarding will be making it Olympic debut, would be too much for her.
But Brown said they had a change of heart after speaking to Skateboard GB chair Lucy Adams.
“She said there is no pressure, just get out there and have fun,” Brown told Reuters.
“And that’s the way I skate. I don’t really think of it as a training thing. I think of it more as my happy place. It’s like a playground for me.”
Brown is passionate about making sure that playground, which has historically been the domain of men and boys, is open to everyone.
“Sometimes girls are scared to do what boys are doing because they’re like, it’s a boy’s sport. But actually they can do anything that boys can do,” she said.
“Why I want to be in the Olympics is to inspire girls and hopefully when they see me, this little girl doing these crazy tricks, hopefully when they see me they’ll think, maybe I can do that too.”
Brown has forged a bond with other up-and-coming female skateboarders like Japan’s Sakura Yosozumi, 17, who practised alongside her days after claiming a silver medal at the World Championships.
“I think we met when I was like, five? We’ve known each other for a pretty long time and since then we’ve been pretty tight,” Brown said.
“And she’s right now second in the world, which is amazing,” she said while seated next to Yosozumi.
Yosozumi said the two girls are capable of embracing their friendship while still relishing their battles.
“Outside the competition we get along very well but inside the competition we like to compete. It’s very nice,” Yosozumi said.
Skateboarding great and Brown’s mentor Christian Hosoi said that beyond an abundance of natural talent, her passion for helping others is what makes her unique.
Brown has travelled to Cambodia with Skateistan, a non-profit organisation that promotes education and teaches skateboarding in impoverished areas.
A trip to Skateistan’s school in Afghanistan is now in the works.
“What sets her apart is her wanting to help people and girls,” said the 51-year-old Hosoi.
“She’s an amazing skateboarder, dancer, she’s got a million dollar smile ... but her philanthropy and what she does to help girls around the world is incredible.
“I love to hear her messages and that’s what I love about Sky. She wants to change the world.”
Brown, who lives in the Japanese coastal city of Miyazaki and spends time in Southern California, said she has witnessed poverty first hand and those experiences instilled a feeling of empathy.
“As soon as I saw that I was like, I want to do something because I could easily be there,” she said. “I just got lucky.”
To help fund Skateistan, Brown, who counts Almost Skateboards and Nike among her growing list of sponsors, designed a board adorned with a peaceful dove.
Ten dollars from each sale goes to support the kids in the program and they have raised $20,000, an amount Brown called “crazy”.
“One of my dreams is to teach kids, especially in underprivileged countries, how to skate because I feel like when they skate, they forget about what they are struggling through,” she said.
Editing by Ed Osmond