Australian street skater Hayley Wilson has been dominating Women’s Street competition back home for the last five years. She first made a splash on the international scene in 2019 with a breakthrough part in the Nike SB team video Gizmo, podium appearances at Street League London, X Games Shanghai, as well as 4th place finish at Dew Tour Long Beach. She’s currently #6 in the world and #1 in Australia in the World Skate rankings for Women’s Skateboard Street in the lead-up to skateboarding’s debut at the Tokyo Olympics.
We caught up with her from her parents’ home in Mansfield, Victoria, where she’s been living since Melbourne went under strict lockdown measures in response to a coronavirus outbreak.
When you reflect back on last year, what do you think came together for you to bring so much success all at once?
My focus really changed after I had a pretty bad result in Rio at the Street League World Championships in January. I was determined to do better at the next one. I went home and started really focusing on tricks I wanted to take to Street League London. I got 2nd there, and then 2nd at X Games Shanghai, and Gizmo came out, all at about the same time.
Gizmo was a really cool project with Elissa Steamer, Lacey Baker, Leticia Bufoni, and the rest of the Nike SB women. What was it like to get to work on a video project like that, outside of the contest environment most people know you from?
It was such an amazing opportunity to skate with my favorite skaters I’ve looked up to for so many years. The first trip I went on, I was just shaking for days. I didn’t show it, but inside I was so nervous. As the trips went on I got really close with everyone. It’s so amazing to get to go on trips with all those girls and get to go to so many amazing places.
I want to ask about Dew Tour last year. What was it like to go through that whole process of a week-long slog through the Open Qualifiers, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and then to finish in the top 4 in the Finals?
It was a pretty big week! I’d just done Street League and X Games, and then I flew home for like, not even a week, and then flew back to the States and then pretty much straight into qualifying two days later. I was pretty knackered! The qualifying was pretty good but I got injured in practice for Semis and bruised my tailbone. I was in so much pain but I just wanted to push through because I was determined to make finals. Semis was pretty painful but after that, there was just so much adrenaline going that nothing really hurt, and I had the Nike physio on call right before the contest, which helped. It was kind of a crazy experience because I’d just come off of the video part, Street League, and X Games, so I was just excited to see what happened at Dew Tour.
Looking at the World Skate rankings, your Street League London result, and your Dew Tour result, along with your Australian National Championships win, you’re ranked #1 in Australia and #6 in the world. Have you processed what those rankings mean to you?
It’s really exciting to be in this position and to be able to look to the year ahead. I’m really excited for next year! But it’s really hard right now with COVID because Victoria is in such a hard lockdown that skating is a bit of a challenge. I’m pretty much just skating my flat bar and my flat box, but I’m going to work as hard as I can as soon as they open up to get ready for the next season, to try to maintain my ranking. Looking towards the Olympics, it’s really exciting being in the top 10. I mean, it’s not a guaranteed thing that they’ll even happen, but it’s a very promising thing and I’m very keen to see what happens next year.
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Can you tell me a little more about the lockdown there?
Regional Victoria, like in Mansfield where I’m at at the moment, we’re in Stage 3, but Melbourne’s in Stage 4 so you can only go out for an hour a day and you can only go to the supermarket and the pharmacy. We’ve got a little bit more leeway here, but skateparks are definitely closed at the moment. I moved back with my parents for the lockdown from Melbourne about a month and a half ago. Before that, I moved back for the first lockdown from March to June. I hadn’t really lived with my family for like, 4 years, so it’s kind of strange but it’s nice to be back together. I’ve been skating as much as I can and working out, but there’s not much else you can really do.
I’m curious about what the level of support has been like from the Australian Olympic Committee over the last few years and especially after you ranked so high in 2019. Since this is all a new thing in skateboarding, what is the Aussie program all about?
They’ve been super helpful for the last few years. They were helping me out a bunch with a training facility at the Victorian Institute of Sport and helping me out with my flights and accommodations when I was going to contests, which is super helpful because, as everyone knows, it’s pretty expensive to travel. On the women’s Street team the top-ranked is me, Liv Lovelace, and Haylie Powell, and then for park there’s Poppy Olsen, Shanae Collins, and Taniah Meyers.
What has the media attention been like in Australia, as you’ve been winning the national championships four years in a row and posting good results at international contests in the run-up to the Olympics?
Last year there was a lot of pumping for the Olympics off of those results, and then as we went into lockdown there was so much media about the Olympics happening next year, and Nike had so many campaigns going. They were pumping things out! Last year was definitely a peak year for media.
I saw on Instagram that you got some red carpet attention at a Sport Australia Hall of Fame event in October. What was that all about?
I got a Sport Australia Hall of Fame Scholarship from their mentor program. Four people in the country get it each year. If you’re a well-known athlete between the ages of 18-24 they give you a mentor to work with for a year, and they give you some funding. My favorite part was getting dressed up for the event!
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Who is your new mentor?
He’s an Australian Football League legend, Kevin Sheedy. They pair you up with people you would never think to work with, just so different from your sport, to give you a different perspective on things. When I last saw him, his biggest piece of advice was just to take things as they come, have fun, and focus on what you can do, not what you can’t control. It’s good advice, especially with everything happening this year! I’m looking forward to getting some more coaching from him.
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Is there anything about this year that has been surprisingly good or positive for you?
Just being able to focus on myself, my mental health and fitness, and being able to spend time with my family, because I really haven’t been able to much over the last three or four years. There are obviously a lot of downsides but I’ve been trying to focus on the positives. The one thing I’ve missed the most is travel, going traveling to all the contests with all my friends.
I’ve always loved that about the contest side of skateboarding. All these amazing skaters travel all around the world together and some amazing friendships emerge in the midst of all the competition and rivalry.
When it’s competition day, obviously it’s a bit different, but every time I’ve been at a contest I’ve never experienced any kind of bad energy. I’ve always had good vibes from everyone.
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When you think about contests hopefully coming back in the next year, and the Olympics in 2021, and everything else, what are you most looking forward to with all that’s ahead?
The Olympics is probably the most exciting thing. I’m also doing a bit of filming for a Nike video coming out at the end of the year directed by Jason Hernandez, who made Gizmo.
When you think about that list of the top-5 skaters ahead of you in the World Skate rankings – Pamela Rosa, Rayssa Leal, Aori Nishimura, Leticia Bufoni, Candy Jacobs – what do you most admire about those skaters?
They’re all such different skaters. When you look at each of their styles and what tricks they do, they’re all so different. It’s nice to have that variety! When I go back and watch the videos from previous contests, I love watching all those skaters. Pamela’s fierce. Rayssa’s incredible. Aori and Leticia, on a good day they can be unstoppable. Candy is so creative. They’re all such fierce skaters! I miss them all so much.