Brighton Zeuner just turned 16 last month but has been shaking up the skateboarding world since she was a little girl. She won the Amateur 14 and Under division at the Vans Pool Party back in 2015 before bumping up into the pro division in 2016. In 2017 she made history as the youngest-ever X Games gold medalist at 13, then won X Games again in 2018. Despite an ankle injury that kept her on the sidelines for most of the 2019 Olympic qualifying season, she’s currently ranked #2 among Americans vying for one of just three Team USA spots for Women’s Skateboard Park at the Tokyo Olympics.
In her 2019 Dew Tour debut she won the Quarter Final, finished 2nd in the Semi-Final, and finished 8th overall. That Olympic qualifier result, combined with her 4th place finish at the Oi Stu Open in Brazil in November, puts her in prime position to represent USA Skateboarding in Tokyo. We caught up with her by phone just before a backyard skate session at her best friend and closest competitor Bryce Wettstein’s house.
When we talked by the Park course last year at Dew Tour, I was asking you about the Olympic qualification process and you had a really cool perspective about how you were also trying to remember to take time to enjoy being a teenager and not think about contests all the time.
Yeah! It’s definitely important to have a social life as well as your career and juggling both worlds was kind of stressful when there were so many contests, so right now I can really take the time to be a teenager and also skate a lot and film and stuff and not have to worry about contests. I think both worlds are equally important. I don’t want to go crazy from just training every single day. I’ve been filming a lot, which is skating but it’s just so much different than contest skating, and I’m really enjoying that. I’ve also been getting really into making music, I got a new guitar for my birthday. Mostly I’ve just been skating and staying home and having some downtime with my family and friends.
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A few years ago, you could count the number of women in skateboarding who had any kind of signature shoe on one hand. Now you have an entire Vans signature collection. Tell me about the opportunity to be involved in designing it and what it represents to you now that it’s out.
When I first got asked to do that and I had my first meeting I had so many ideas. It was really crazy, I was like a kid in a candy store! The whole process of keeping in touch with the design team and getting sent samples of what it was going to look like and seeing how much the ideas evolved was really cool because it took like a year and a half before the final product came out. Just to see the final result and see it come out and see people wearing it is crazy, especially because I’ve had the ideas for the collection stuck in my head ever since I first got on Vans but I never expected that to really happen. I’ve been to a couple of parks in San Diego since it came out and when I see younger girls wearing the shoe I always take pictures of it because I think it’s so cool. And then I see people on Instagram that have it. It’s so cool just to see people wearing it, like how I’d pictured. Also, my grandparents have the shoe, and I think that’s so rad.
How are you handling the role model situation that comes with all that? You’re still really young but now there are even younger skaters who look up to you including your little brother, kids at the skatepark, kids buying your shoes, and kids who have seen you skating on TV.
I still find it really, really weird, because I still look up so many girls that I skate with who are older than me. I still feel like a little kid when I go to the skatepark! I think it’s crazy when people say I inspire them to skate because I can name hundreds of girl skaters that have inspired me to skate, so the fact that I’m even close to being that role model for anyone else is crazy to me. I’m so happy that I can be that for a few girls.
Going by the current World Skate rankings you’re currently #2 among skaters representing Team USA for Women’s Skateboard Park. I know you had to miss a bunch of contests last year due to injury, so I wondered if you’d like to reflect a little bit on still managing to come out in a pretty solid position.
Just as all the contests were kicking off I injured my ankle really badly and I was out for like four full months. While everyone was out going to contests and qualifying, I was held back and I was really stressing. I got back in time for the last qualifying event and now I’m lucky and happy to be in 2nd with my best friend Bryce in 1st.
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What’s it like to be going through this whole adventure together with a BFF?
I met Bryce like 5 or 6 years ago and we’ve been best friends ever since. Her house is my second home and now we’re kind of just on this ride, this journey together. We grew up together and now we’re competing together at these crazy big contests. We’re the same age and it’s really nice because contests can make me anxious but, being around her, I don’t get stressed out.
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At Dew Tour last year, the first Olympic qualifier for park, you and Bryce were the only skaters trying to make the Team USA cut who made it to the finals against Lizzie Armanto, Sky Brown, and all the amazing Japanese girls. Have you gotten to know Misugu Okomoto and all the other Japanese skaters at all?
They’re so awesome. I’ve known Kisa Nakumura and Sakura Yosozumi since about 2016, and I’ve known Sky for a while. Misugu I met for the first time at Dew Tour last year, and Mami Tezuka and Cocona Hiraki… we’re all like a family and it’s just all love, and it’s honestly really cool watching them push women’s skateboarding because they are definitely on a different level. It’s really sick and cool to see it.
Have you been working on any new tricks this year during the contest pause?
People don’t think I even skate anymore because I haven’t been posting many skate clips, because I’m working on a video part right now. My filmer won’t even send me the clips! It was supposed to be out in June, but we couldn’t even shoot because of the pandemic. So that’s pretty much all I’ve been doing, just filming for hours. I’m trying to work on my enders for my part and learning some new tricks that I didn’t even think of trying before. What sucked was that when all the contests were going on, all I was thinking about was trying to be consistent, more than getting creative and learning new tricks. Now I’m trying new stuff every time I go to the skatepark.
What’s it been like with the new level of media attention on skateboarding around the Olympics?
I’ve been to some events where we’re just talking to the press for hours. It’s really cool because you only get this opportunity once with skateboarding being new in the Olympics, but it’s definitely a change. I’ve never gotten this many interviews in my life. The Olympics are a whole different ball game.
As you’re doing all these interviews is there anything you wish people asked you about but never comes up?
Since I’m a teenager, whatever my phase is, whatever I’m passionate about at the time, I just want to talk about that.
Well, what are you feeling passionate about right now?
Music, definitely. I’m making music with my brother and he’s recording an album right now. I’ve got these sick guitars and he has all the equipment to record songs on his computer and stuff like that.
Last time we talked you had just discovered The Breeders, one of my favorite bands. What bands are you really excited about right now?
I still like The Pixies and The Breeders and all that stuff. There’s a couple new bands I like that do kind of a 60s psychedelic pop kind of thing, really experimental music, The Lemon Twigs, and this band called Foxygen. I’d like to be making music like that. And I like Bad Brains, too!
When you think about the year ahead, and hopefully contests coming back online and the Olympics happening, what are you most looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to actually seeing people from the skate world again, because I feel so isolated from everything right now. I’m excited to see some familiar faces and be around people again, slowly but surely. It also sucks not being able to travel! I’m really looking forward to getting back to that.