Right Now, It’s Olympics For 17-Year-Old Skateboarder Brighton Zeuner. Next? Fashion Design School
Team USA teen Brighton Zeuner is about to introduce herself to the world as one of the three U.S. women’s park skateboarders who will show the world what they can do on a board in Tokyo—and, hopefully, come home with an Olympic medal.
But to define Zeuner, 17, as a skateboarder first and foremost would be to erase so much of her identity, of which skating is just a fraction.
The Encinitas, California, native competed in her first pro contest at 12; in 2017, at 13, she became the youngest person ever to win an X Games gold medal—at least, until 12-year-old Gui Khury took over that title this month. Zeuner’s entire teenage life has been spent in service of her career, which has seen her win two Vans Women’s Park Terrain World Championships and two X Games gold medals.
But she has taken care to ensure that skateboarding occupies its appropriate place in her life—alongside her other passions, such as fashion and vintage thrifting, playing guitar and singing.
And whatever happens at the Olympics, Zeuner will be grateful for the experience and the opportunity—while also thinking about what she wants to accomplish next, off her board.
“Skateboarding has molded the person I am today. I get to be who I am,” Zeuner told me the week before she headed to Tokyo for the Games. “The cool thing about skateboarding is everyone’s very welcoming and it is a very creative and expressive thing. Everyone in the community is themselves.”
Zeuner fell in love with skateboarding at the age of five, after taking up the sport because of her father, Brandon, and brother, Jack. She began entering contests at eight and honing her skills on the 10-foot vert ramp the family installed in the backyard.
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While she cut her teeth on vert, Zeuner found herself drawn to the free-flowing expression of park skating. “Everyone looks different in a flow course,” she said. “They have a different way of dropping in, can take a different line.”
As she got older and gained confidence, Zeuner further embraced the opportunity to express herself on a skateboard—especially when combined with her love of fashion.
“My style when I first started, I wore whatever was comfortable more than what I felt confident in,” Zeuner said. A classic early outfit would have been leggings or jean shorts, an oversized shirt and Vans (her longtime footwear sponsor). Now, she says, “because I’m getting older and I know what I feel comfortable in and what flatters my body, I skate a lot better with dressing feminine or what I feel confident in. I like embracing being a girl skateboarder.”
At the Olympics, Zeuner and the other members of the U.S. skateboarding Olympic team were able to choose which pieces from the Nike SB Federation Kit they wanted to compete in. At first, Zeuner admits, she was “kind of nervous” about the uniforms. “I didn’t know what they were gonna look like,” she said. “But there’s a really cool jumpsuit I’m gonna wear at the contests. It’s like a ’70s vibe, and it’s crazy—it was so fitting and flattering on everyone.”
“I think it’s really cool that every skater looks different with how they dress. Everyone is themselves and they’re not ashamed to be themselves,” Zeuner said.
With less than a week until the women’s park prelims and final on August 4, Zeuner is trying to stay calm and treat the Olympics like any other contest. “I do find myself getting a little anxious and having a little pit in my stomach,” she admits. “It’s a really big contest.”
Before Covid-19, Zeuner’s whole family planned to travel to Tokyo and make a true vacation out of it, sightseeing and exploring the city. Now, even though she’ll have the USA Skateboarding team, her coaches and her fellow skaters for support, she’s essentially on her own.
“I’m nervous that my dad can’t go,” Zeuner said. “I dont know how I’m gonna perform without him. That’s my main support system; he’s the person I go to for advice. I don’t want to fall on a run because my dad’s not there. But I’m just going to take it day by day and live in the moment.”
The Olympics park course looks “really crazy,” Zeuner said. “It’s really big and there’s lots of stuff you can try.” She hopes to bring her signature backside 360 and kickflip indy to her runs.
Many of the women’s park skaters, including Japan’s Sakura Yosozumi and Misugo Okamoto, as well as Great Britain’s Sky Brown, have landed a 540 in their runs, including at the final Olympics qualifying event at Dew Tour in Des Moines, Iowa, in May. (Brown became the first female skateboarder to land a frontside 540 at X Games 2019.)
However, Zeuner doesn’t think the 540 is going to be necessary for the female park skaters to podium at the Olympics. “It’s cool seeing girls doing it, but you can definitely air bigger, skate really fast and flow and have a really good run,” she said.
After the Olympics—a goal that has consumed Zeuner’s life since the qualifying period opened in January 2019 and with a year’s delay thrown in—she’s thinking about attending school for fashion design. One of her goals is to start a brand of reworked clothing (she currently likes to modify clothing and resell it on Depop) for all different body types, combining skatewear and high fashion.
“Even if it’s not with my name on it, I want to design stuff so girls or guys can wear what’s popular and what’s cool or so people who skate feel confident wearing their sponsors,” Zeuner said. “I like high-fashion stuff; even though when I go to skate events I’m just wearing a Red Bull hat and a Vans crop top, I like collecting vintage clothes and want to rework stuff like that.”
The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York was always the dream, but now, Zeuner isn’t so sure. “Skateboarding is really cool in New york and I have a lot of friends there,” Zeuner said. “But now a lot of my friends are going out of state for college, and it’s kind of freaking me out.”
Life in Southern California and her skate hub of Encinitas is, after all, pretty great. Her best friend growing up, Bryce Wettstein, lives across town and will be joining her on the journey to Tokyo as one of the three women on the U.S. women’s park skateboarding team. (Jordyn Barratt from Hawaii, who now lives in Oceanside, California, is the third.)
Even though Zeuner hasn’t been able to attend a traditional high school given her career—she does a combination of homeschooling and online classes—her parents and friends have worked hard to give her a “normal” teenage life.
“I’ve been able to maintain and balance having a good teen life and skateboarding,” Zeuner said. Her mom, Bridget, hosted a prom for Brighton and her friends and boyfriend at their house. When Brighton was going to be in China over one of her birthdays, her mom threw her a party a few days before she left. And after the Olympics, the 17-year-old will finally be getting her driver’s license.
“I do love to be with friends and feeling like a regular teen because it keeps me grounded,” Zeuner said. “Some people train differently or differ on how they view going to the Olympics and contests in general. I like to keep it lighthearted. That’s when I perform the best.”
“After the Olympics there’s a lot of stuff that I want to do besides skateboarding,” Zeuner said. “This is a great box to check and being part of the first ever Olympic skateboard team, it’s a great opportunity.” She wants to get more into the more lifestyle side of skateboarding and making videos, skate parts. Her brother, Jack, is a musician, and she wants to explore her passion for music.
“I want to try new stuff,” Zeuner said, “but I’ll always do contest skating because I did it growing up for fun.”
The Olympics have also created more parity than ever between male and female skateboarders’ opportunities for and earnings from sponsorships and endorsements, and that kind of sponsor support means that skateboarders, especially women, aren’t as reliant on contests winnings and bonuses as they once were.
In January, sponsor Red Bull debuted Zeuner’s first video part, Magic Frog. Such opportunities were once reserved almost fully for male skateboarders, but women have a bright future in filming and other projects outside the contest scene.
“Women’s skateboarding has come a long way,” Zeuner said. “All skateboarders really can support themselves doing whatever they want.”