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05 October 2023

Sky's the limit for Japan's pint-sized Olympic skateboarding hope


Sky Brown is not your typical nine-year-old.

Born to be wild, the freckly Japanese schoolgirl is already the world's youngest pro skateboarder, videos of her shredding have gone viral and, for super-duper kicks, she's just started jumping off the tops of buses.

Sky has been skating since before she could walk and these days travels the world to compete, regularly beating the grown-ups -- fuelled, she says, by mum's pancakes.

Now she has set her sights on Tokyo 2020, when the hipster sport makes its Olympic bow, along with surfing, karate and sports climbing.

"I've thought about the Tokyo Olympics a lot," Sky tells AFP in an interview near her family home in Miyazaki, southwestern Japan.

"I'll be maybe like 12 or something," she adds, perched on a ramp built by her parents in a local park and flanked by six-year-old brother Ocean.

"I think it will be awesome. It's mostly about having fun -- it will be so cool if I win though! But for me I'd like to go in there and just have fun, just be me."

Born to a Japanese mother and a British father, Sky has no doubts about which country she wants to represent.

"I'd like to skate for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics because I was born here, all my friends are here and my school's here," she explains, as her trusty sidekick Ocean fidgets next to her.

Later the little girl rips into a string of jumps at breakneck speed, her long sun-bleached hair billowing in her wake.

"I don't really get scared," insists the teeny boarder, who stands just 1.23 metres (four feet).

"The more you get scared, the more exciting it is. I love skating because it makes me feel free."

- Steely determination -

The intrepid Brown kids are inseparable: they skate together, go surfing together, even sleep in the same bed.

"Besties," as Sky calls them, the siblings also have an Instagram account which has more than 92,000 followers.

Despite her tender years, there is a steely determination to Sky, who is also a professional surfer.

The little record-breaker landed her first major sponsorship deal aged seven and has already perfected several fiendishly difficult tricks that no other women have pulled off.

Her father, Stu, admits he initially tried to steer his daredevil daughter away from the sport.

"Before she was three I didn't want her to get on a skateboard," he said.

"You have a little girl and you want to wrap her in cotton wool. But it was the one toy she kept going back to."

Her mother, Mieko, confesses to occasional nerves while watching Sky flirt with danger.

"I was sweating a bit when she first jumped off that bus," she says, as her daughter performs the same stunt, plummeting to earth and nailing a textbook landing.

"But I trust her. If she says she can do it, I believe her."

Arguably though it is Ocean, sporting a black beanie and shoulder-length hair, who is the real adrenaline junkie.

"Ocean is more gnarly, he's uncoachable. Sky is more finesse, more elegant," explains Stu.

- Olympic gold -

For now Ocean is happy to be his sister's biggest fan, tipping her to win Olympic gold in 2020.

Sky, who is hoping to make her debut at extreme sports championship X Games this year, has faced resistance from various event organisers reluctant to allow her to compete -- and potentially embarrass -- established skaters.

"They can't keep her out forever," shrugs Stu as his kids enjoy a sunset surf, noting that skateboarding's governing body have decided not to set an Olympic age limit.

Following impressive performances in Britain, Sweden and Singapore in 2017, Olympic qualification should prove a formality for Sky, who has recently thrown her considerable energy into philanthropy by raising money for disadvantaged children in Cuba and Cambodia.

"I wanted to see how they live," said Sky, who visited the countries last summer to film a documentary and even designed a pair of socks with a skateboarding motif to help raise money for Cambodian orphans and struggling families.

"They're poor and there's a lot of children who have no shoes so I wanted to give them something special."

A blur of perpetual motion, skateboarding's Tinkerbell clearly has no time to waste.

"I would like to go to the Olympics while I'm young -- I don't really wanna be 16 or something going to the Olympics," declares Sky, screwing up her nose at the unimaginable horror of reaching her mid-teens.

"I wanna be young and show every girl that you can do it, just go for it -- even though you're little!"