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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.
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!
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.