Such determination. Such perseverance. Such pain, surely? It hurts even to watch ten-year-old Sky Brown examining the bruises on her legs.
She has them in all colours, from the palest yellow to the blackest black.
Her brother Ocean, who is seven, has matching ones, she explains. Last night they were having a competition to see who had the most bruises. Sky won. ‘I got to 39,’ she says gleefully. Sky likes to win.
Sky Brown can count 39 bruises after falls practising various tricks on her skateboard while not wearing pads or a helmet
Her Dad Stu is the one who winces. He shows me a video that conveys in graphic detail how such bruises are acquired. It features Sky — the world’s youngest professional skateboarder — arriving at the top of a concrete staircase on her skateboard, then hurling herself off the top step.
She parts company with the board, then attempts to meet it at the bottom. She fails and her little body (just 4 ft tall) smashes to the ground. Somehow, she gets up again and repeats the performance two, six, 20 times.
Eventually she nails that seemingly impossible landing.
Sky performs tricks at the Greystone Action Sports Skateboard park in Salford, Greater Manchester
‘I never say “I can’t”. I might do a trick 99 times, and it won’t work, but on the 100th go, it will. It gets easier after that.’
How she hasn’t broken every bone in her body by now is quite the conundrum, but she’s never had a major injury. What damage to her poor parents’ nerves, though?
‘I hate it when she falls. With some of the bigger tricks, I can’t watch,’ Stu admits. ‘When my wife sees her bruises, she cries. That time with the staircase, her backside was black. But if we try to stop her, Sky begs us to let her. It hurts her more if we say no.’
Her brother Ocean, who is seven, has matching bruises, she explains. Last night they were having a competition to see who had the most bruises. Sky won. ‘I got to 39,’ she says gleefully. Sky likes to win.
In two years’ time, we will know if the agony has been worth it. If all goes according to plan, Sky could become Britain’s youngest ever summer Olympian, leaping not just into the air but into the history books.
The little girl, who lives in Japan but whose father is British and who has a British passport, has become one of five skateboarders selected to receive UK Sport funding to help them qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The daredevil nature of skateboarding — one of five sports to make their Olympic debuts in 2020 — means it’s likely to attract much media attention. Imagine the frenzy, then, if there is a lone female in the British team — and a child who’s already an Instagram sensation (she has a whopping 344,000 followers).
Does this little dynamo have a hope of winning a medal? Experts think so. Skateboard GB chair Lucy Adams describes her as ‘absolutely phenomenal’, pointing out that she can pull off moves such as a 720, which involves two full mid-air rotations. ‘There are only a handful of girls in the world doing that.’
When she was just eight, Sky was the youngest competitor in the Vans U.S. Open, and placed higher on the leaderboard than women 20 years her senior. This year, she won gold at Simple Session, a women’s contest in Estonia. The course had been designed for men twice her size.
Skateboard GB chair Lucy Adams describes her as ‘absolutely phenomenal’, pointing out that she can pull off moves such as a 720, which involves two full mid-air rotations. ‘There are only a handful of girls in the world doing that’
Today’s venue — a skate park in Salford, Greater Manchester — is pretty much Sky’s UK ‘home’. She certainly seems at ease here.
One minute we are standing together at the edge of an 8ft drop, talking about her favourite pop stars, the next she has tipped her board off the side and disappeared. No helmet. No knee pads. Argh!
‘This is the thing we have most arguments about,’ says her dad. ‘She hates the pads, so we don’t make her wear them for bowls this size — but we do for bigger ones, and when she’s on concrete. We’ve said that if she breaks a bone, we may reconsider.’
Off she goes, arms out, body bending, sun-bleached hair billowing behind. She swooshes up the other side of the bowl, coming right over the edge, and flips her body upside down. Afterwards, she’s grinning ear to ear.
What does it feel like? ‘Like I’m flying,’ she says. ‘The minute I stop, I want to do it again, but higher.’
Her father Stu claims to be a social media novice, and was astonished when the first YouTube video he posted of Sky in action got tens of thousands of hits. Another followed. And another
Do skateboarding prodigies exist? Well, Sky did develop the skills early. Perhaps some of it was in the genes.
Before she was born, her father was a passionate and committed surfer. He admits that when his Japanese wife Meiko gave birth to Sky, he thought those days were over.
‘My attitude to risk changed when I became a dad,’ he says. ‘It seems weird now, given how things have turned out, but when I knew I was having a girl, I thought she’d want to do things with her mum. I never imagined she would be into the same things as I was.
‘She’s taught me a lot about gender equality — about everything.’ He had a tiny tornado on his hands. When he tried to wrap her in cotton wool, she broke through.
‘She was fearless. She’d say: “Higher, Daddy, again.” Sky could surf pretty much before she could walk. She still surfs every morning.’
The fact that their house is on the beach helps. ‘School starts at 7.30am so I have to get up at 5,’ Sky says. ‘Ocean and I run down the beach. When Dad tells us it’s time to get ready for school, we say: “Just one more wave!” ’
They surf on their own? Stu nods. ‘They know what they’re doing. It’s natural for them.’
There are shared skills between surfing and skateboarding, and they’ll both be making their Olympic debuts at the Tokyo games. And guess what? Sky hopes to qualify for the GB surfing team, too. ‘Two medals would be good,’ she admits. ‘I’d like to win, yes, but even if I don’t, it doesn’t matter. I just do it because it’s fun.’ Is she ever afraid? ‘Yes, but I want to beat it,’ she says. ‘And if you fall, you just get up again.’
And it’s not just sport. She will try anything, especially if there is a competition involved. ‘She and her brother will see who can eat the spiciest chilli,’ says Stu.
What’s the most adventurous thing she has eaten? ‘Tarantula,’ Sky says. ‘We were in Cambodia and they have restaurants that serve crickets and all sorts of insects — and tarantula. Someone said: “Would you like to try it?” and I said: “Why not?” ’
Stu claims to be a social media novice, and was astonished when the first YouTube video he posted of Sky in action got tens of thousands of hits. Another followed. And another.
The family were asked to get involved with skateboarding charities. Sky developed a taste for mentoring, it seems, and was happy to try her hand at being a feminist icon, too.
‘Why should the boys have all the fun? I’ve been to Cambodia to teach children who have never skateboarded before. It was amazing. I said to the girls: “Just try it. You can do it.” ’ When she first pitched up at contests, she admits the men raised their eyebrows. ‘Then they started crowding round to watch and I was like: “Yeeeeesss!” I want to show them that girls can do anything boys can do.’
In the space of just a few short years she has amassed an extraordinary fan base. She was seven when she got her first sponsorship deal, but the big sporting juggernauts have started to take note. She recently signed a deal with Nike, which meant her image was emblazoned on posters all over the U.S.
All the attention has thrilled and alarmed her parents in equal measure.
‘We are nervous about putting too much pressure on her, and it becoming more than just fun for her,’ admits Stu. He isn’t specific about how much money she has made, but it sounds as if her parents are determined that she is sensible about it.
‘She self-funds a lot of the charity projects, so she will put money into that, with flights for instance,’ Stu adds. ‘And her merchandising goes 100 per cent to charity. After that, well, money has been put away so that it will help her in the future.’
They certainly don’t seem to be limelight seekers. Stu declines to be in our photographs, ‘because this isn’t about me’.
Nor is his wife mad keen on the attention. ‘We live in a small village in Japan, and we want to keep it low-key.’
That may prove tricky. Last year, Sky won the junior version of the U.S. programme Dancing With The Stars, despite the fact she’d never had a dance class in her life.
Stu says that the family were reeling when Sky got the offer, yet Sky insisted she wanted to do it. Why? ‘Because it sounded fun,’ she says.
She couldn’t dance but threw herself into training, adapting her somersaults to moves she could do in a sequinned ballgown.
While her mum and dad had moved to California for the filming of the show, they hesitated over allowing her to be too much of a media darling. Offers to appear on big chat shows such as Ellen were politely declined.
And Sky’s parents were nervous when the idea of her aiming for the Olympics was mooted.
‘I didn’t think it was a good idea, because I didn’t want to put too much pressure on her, but Sky said she wanted to do it,’ says Stu.
The family set-up is quite unique, but, as a blueprint for creating a future Olympian, it has its merits.
The Brown family have a Californian beach vibe going on, but also a rigid Japanese work ethic. ‘Her school is quite strict. They don’t mind her being off if we have to be travelling, but she has to do her homework. That idea of hard work is important.’
Sky’s first language is Japanese, but she is also fluent in English, helped by her time in the U.S. She’s very much a global citizen, though. She’s travelled all over the world on sporting and charitable adventures. She has released her own skateboard, with proceeds going to charity, and has so far raised £13,000.
Some of her mentoring has happened closer to home. Little Ocean is his sister’s double. They are inseparable and share everything, even a bed.
‘He’s my bestie,’ she says, as he joins her on his skateboard, trying to match her every leap.
When he takes a tumble — doubtless acquiring another bruise — she pulls him up.
‘Let’s go again,’ she says, and they do.