13-Year-Old Skateboarding Prodigy Rayssa Leal Wins Silver at the Olympics Five Years After Being Discovered by Tony Hawk

July 30, 2021

By Kat Lincks 

Five years ago, Brazalian skateboarder Rayssa Leal went viral at the young age of seven when pro skater Tony Hawk shared a video of her skating in fairy wings and a tulle dress on Twitter. 

Now, Leal will be taking home silver from the first women’s street skateboarding event in the Tokyo Olympic games. On Monday, Leal finished in second place, only 0.62 points behind Japan’s Momiji Nishiya. 

More than half of the women in the final competition were in their teens, including all of the final medalists. At the age of 13, Rayssa Leal is one of the youngest athletes in the history of the Olympics to win a medal. Japan’s Nishiya, who won gold, is also 13-years-old. 

Both Leal and Nishiya have become their countries’ youngest medalists ever. 

Third place went to 16-year-old Funa Nakayama, also representing Japan. Alexis Sablone, an American professional skater, came in fourth, her score nearly a full point behind Japan’s Nakayama. At the age of 34, Sablone was one of the oldest competitors. 

Leal’s ascension to fame began nearly six years ago, when she posted a 14-second video to Instagram on September 7, 2015. Filmed in Brazil, the charming video shows seven-year-old Rayssa Leal as she repeatedly attempts a heelflip off a set of stairs without falling— all while wearing a blue fairy costume and wings. The young skateboarding sensation persevered until she accomplished her goal, adorning the adorable fairy wings in her final attempt.

The persistent nature of the prodigal skateboarder caught the attention of the famous U.S. skater Tony Hawk, who shared her video on Twitter the following day. In his Tweet, Hawk said the trick, which he called a “fairytale heelflip,” was “awesome.” 

Her video went viral after Hawk shared it. 

In 2021, Rayssa Leal has continued to defy gender stereotypes and break boundaries in a typically male dominated sport— with the endorsement of Tony Hawk, godfather of modern skateboarding.

“It’s not right to think, well you have to study, you can’t go skating because skating is for boys,” Leal was quoted saying in an interview with the international news organization Reuters. “I think skateboarding is for everyone.”

Hawk joined Leal at the Ariake Urban Sports Park, serving as an NBC Olympics correspondent for the Tokyo Games to witness the action sport of skateboarding make its Olympic debut. 

Skateboarding was one of the five new sports added to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, featuring four events: Men’s Park, Women’s Park, Men’s Street, and Women’s Street. The sport was also added provisionally to the 2021 Paris Games. 

For most of its history, skateboarding has been considered a niche sport; but now, for the first time ever, it's being recognized by the Olympics. Tony Hawk, as one of the main pioneers of the sport, was thrilled by the news. In an interview with CBS Sports, he said, “I think it's exciting. I think it's a testament to all of the skaters’ perseverance through the years and how it has become validated in the eyes of kids and mainstream media.” 

He also added, “It shows that we’re here to stay.”

Several days before winning silver, Leal posted a series of photos and a video to Instagram, featuring herself and Hawk at the Olympic skatepark. 

“Six years ago he introduced me to the world of skateboarding by sharing my video wearing a fairy costume,” Leal wrote in her post. “Today he filmed me at the Olympics.”

Leal also added that “this is all so amazing” and she’s “living a dream,” before finishing with a final thank you to Tony Hawk for “always motivating” her.

In a reply, Hawk praised Leal’s impressive accomplishments. “You have exceeded all expectations,” he wrote. “It’s been an honor to be involved in some small way.”