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Rayssa Leal Read by Maya Gabeira

About the Episode

7 year-old Brazilian Rayssa Leal couldn’t believe it when her skateboarding video went viral. With time, she became an X-Games star and won silver at the 2020 Olympics! Now, Rayssa continues to master new skills, inspiring young skaters everywhere.

You can find Rayssa in the new book Rebel Girls: 100 Inspiring Young Changemakers! We’re celebrating all September long with two special Changemakers podcast episodes each week. Preorder Rebel Girls: 100 Inspiring Young Changemakers wherever books are sold to learn about how girls just like you are changing the world.

This story was produced by Haley Dapkus with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written by Alexis Stratton and edited by Abby Sher. A big thanks to rebel girl Maya Gabeira for narrating this episode! And thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team, who make this podcast possible.

About the Narrator

Maya Gabeira is a record-breaking big wave surfer from Brazil. She surfs waves taller than a four story building! Maya dominates surfing competitions around the globe, and has the world record for tallest wave ever surfed by a woman. Find her story in our audio app!

Transcript

Once upon a time, there was a skater girl named Rayssa.

Rayssa grew up in a city called Imperatriz, in the northern part of Brazil. As warm breezes sailed through the streets, so did little Rayssa, riding her skateboard, her dark ponytail swinging back and forth behind her.

Rayssa got her first skateboard when she was six years old and immediately wanted to spend every waking minute on it. Her mom took her to their local skatepark for a few hours each night so she could practice. Rayssa was often the only girl around, but that didn’t bother her. She worked hard to learn new tricks, like how to grind her board down a rail or balance by the tip on a ledge.

It was definitely scary sometimes. Spinning through the air or carving around deep concrete bowls takes guts. Rayssa had to keep her balance centered, and get the angles just right. Every time she fell, she forced herself to get back up again. And again. And… again.

One day, when Rayssa was seven, she was hanging out with her family and friends at the skatepark. Dressed in a blue fairy dress and wings, Rayssa was trying a new and difficult trick, called a heelflip.

To do a heelflip, Rayssa had to jump in the air and use her heel to flip her skateboard all the way around. Then, she had to land on the deck of her skateboard—while it was still moving!

Rayssa’s mom took a video of the practice session. Loud music banged on in the background as Rayssa launched herself from the top of a set of stairs. The first time she tried it, she missed her landing and slid across the cement. Ouch!

Rayssa tried the heelflip again. This time, she overshot her skateboard and tumbled hard. Ugh.

Rayssa got up and dusted herself off. She was determined to get this trick down. So she grabbed her board and mounted the stairs for another try. Then, she took off!

Rayssa was floating over the steps, arms outstretched. While she was still midair, she kicked at the board beneath her feet. It spun around underneath her and then she landed with her feet planted on the deck.

Cheers erupted as Rayssa rolled past the spectators, beaming from ear to ear.

Rayssa and her mom posted the heelflip video online. They didn’t think much about it after that. But the video spread like wildfire.

Even American skateboarding legend Tony Hawk shared it on Twitter!

Rayssa’s family got phone calls and requests for interviews.

Rayssa wasn’t sure what to talk about though. She skated because she loved it, not as any kind of statement. Rayssa didn’t quite realize how much she was already changing the sport. Even in 2015, skateboarding was still dominated by boys and men. She had no idea how powerful her fairy-winged adventures could be for not only herself, but the world.

After that video of Rayssa in the skatepark went viral, she became known across Brazil—and the world—as Fadinha do Skate—or The Skateboarding Fairy.

Professional skateboarders reached out to help her, and companies offered to sponsor her. Soon, Rayssa was ready to take her passion to the next level—international competition.

So, in 2019, at 11 years old, Rayssa flew onto the world skating stage. She stunned audiences by winning first place at the Street League Skateboarding Championship in Los Angeles—the youngest female competitor to do so.

Then, she got fourth place at her first X Games competition—beating out professionals more than twice her age!

Wherever she went, Rayssa wowed the crowd with her creative skating and won their hearts with her joyful spirit. Newspapers were calling. Coaches wanted to train her. Rayssa found it a bit overwhelming at first, but slowly, she got used to the attention. She liked talking to other young skateboarders, encouraging them to keep practicing and having fun.

But Rayssa was never happier than when she was on her skateboard, floating and flipping. When she was skating, it was like the world disappeared. It was just her, her board, and the wind flowing as one.

For Rayssa, that was what mattered most.

Soon after, something happened that was like a dream come true for Rayssa: skateboarding was added to the Olympic Games!

Even though skateboarding had been around since the 1950s, it was often not taken seriously. Rayssa was thrilled. She dreamed of taking her heelflips to the top and bringing home gold for her country.

But then, in March of 2020, just before the Olympic Games were set to begin, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The Olympics were postponed to keep everyone safe. Rayssa was crushed. She tried to be patient and disciplined. Day in and day out, she kept training. In the mornings, she worked on her schoolwork. And in the afternoons and evenings, she skated.

Again and again, Rayssa shredded at the skatepark and cruised through the streets. She slid up and down rails, did complicated stalls perched on metal coping, jumped stairs, carved bowls, cleared gaps, and flipped her skateboard this way and that. Sometimes, she nailed it. Other times, she fell hard. But always—always, she got back up again.

Finally, after a long wait, the Olympic Games were rescheduled for summer 2021. 13-year-old Rayssa flew all the way to Tokyo, Japan. There, the best athletes from around the globe descended on the buzzing city, preparing for the huge competition. There were so many different languages being spoken; so much excitement and nervous energy.

On the morning of the Women’s Street Skateboarding event, Rayssa stepped into the Sports Park with her skateboard tucked under her arm.

For this competition, skaters had to do “two 45-second runs and five single tricks.” A panel of judges would score them based on things like speed, creativity, difficulty and balance.

As Rayssa toed the coping at the top of the first ramp, she planned out the line of tricks that lay ahead of her.

Gone was Rayssa’s fairy costume. Now, she donned her country’s colors—a dark blue t-shirt with green accents—and comfy brown pants.

With a running start, Rayssa flew on her skateboard down the ramp and into the skate park. She leapt up onto a rail and did a smith grind all the way down. Then she pushed off and sped to another lip for a back lip slide. She swept from one end of the skate park to the next, stunning the crowd with all of her best tricks— the feeble grind, the kickflip front, and her now-legendary heelflip. She was a blur of grace and strength and flair, with the sunlight bouncing off her braces and her wavy hair dancing behind her. The announcers marveled, “It’s like she’s got helium in her bones.”

Rayssa’s run wasn’t perfect —no one’s was. On one of her tricks, she fell after landing a railslide. But she popped up and flashed her awesome smile before starting up again. On another trick, she soared up into the air and rode a rail so smoothly—from beginning to end—she got top marks. The crowd cheered, filling her with confidence as she finished her last run.

Butterflies gathered in her stomach. Had she racked up enough points to win a medal?

Finally, the scores were tabulated. Rayssa saw her name flash up on the scoreboard.

She won second place! She won the silver medal!

With a dazzling smile on her face, Rayssa walked over to the first-place gold medalist—a 13-year-old girl from Japan named Momiji Nishiya — and gave her a HUGE sweaty hug.

Each person on the podium made history that day—as the first female skaters EVER to win medals in this brand new Olympic sport.

On top of that, Rayssa was the youngest person to ever win an Olympic medal for Team Brazil.

And more than anything, Rayssa had had the time of her life.

When Rayssa’s plane landed in Brazil after the Olympics were over, she skated through the airport, silver medal around her neck, as the reporters snapped pictures.

“Rayssa!” they called out.

“Fadinha!” fans shouted as she went by.

Soon, kids around Brazil were lining up to buy skateboards, and the local parks saw a whole new wave of skaters.

Everyone wanted to be like Rayssa, the Skateboarding Fairy.

Today, Rayssa continues to perform rad tricks at skateboarding competitions across the globe.

She wants the world to know that skateboarding is for everyone—especially girls.

As Rayssa says, “I want other girls to have the same opportunity as me to see their lives and dreams come true through sports. We just have to believe in ourselves and our potential.”

Though it may seem like a fairytale dream come true, Rayssa worked hard to become the world-class skater she is today. She started with fairy wings, but now she’s flying all on her own.