Brighton Zeuner has a Vans sneaker on one foot and a cast, supporting a sprain, on the other. Her look is a clear indication of the two things she loves most: fashion and skateboarding.
At just 15 years old, she is excelling at both. At age 12, the competitive skateboarder won the Vans Park Series World Championship, and at age 13, she became the youngest athlete in X-Games’ 21-year history to take home gold. Today, she ranks as the third best female skater in the world on The Boardr Global Rankings Report, and she is one of 16 skaters to make it onto the first-ever USA skateboarding team — a coveted spot that places her as a top qualifier for next summer’s 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“I was first drawn to skateboarding because it looked like there was a lot of freedom and creativity put into the sport,” Zeuner tells CNBC Make It. “I started maybe when I was about eight or seven, and I just got validation out of skateboarding; I grew a really big passion for it.”
Credit her childhood backyard. A large vert ramp was installed behind the family pool, palm trees and a sign reading “No scooters allowed.” Not only did Zeuner and older brother Jack hone their skills there, but folks from the area also stopped by for sessions and the occasional refueling dinner.
When your neighborhood is Encinitas, Calif., the locals include skateboarding gods.
“The kind of the crew that she runs with — Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk, Mike McGill,” Dew Tour announcer Chris Cote said. “She runs with these classic, legendary skaters. You see the translation that she has been soaking up all this knowledge from them.”
Hawk visited the Zeuner home a few times, including for the last session before she recently moved.
Her first set of wheels was a makeshift skateboard her mother built from one of Jack’s old boards. “I got my first skateboard when I got back home from a Girl Scout sleepover,” she says. “I think it was my brother’s old board that [my mom] just put trucks on and wheels and I had a mini ramp from my brother. I just went back and forth and that’s when I just fell in love with it.
In March, Zeuner was chosen by skateboarder show and apparel brand Vans to become one of four global brand ambassadors for its 2019 “Vanguards” campaign. But the teenager won’t just be representing Vans — she’s also its newest designer.
Her clothing line with the brand will be released in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “I’m beyond happy about that,” Zeuner tells CNBC Make It. “It’s like insane, that’s a dream come true.”
Zeuner is also a rising influencer: HerInstagram, filled with photos of friends, selfies and skateboarding, of course, has over 150,000 followers. In addition to Vans, her sponsor list includes Vans heavy-hitters like Red Bull and skate apparel brand Independent.
“If I wasn’t skateboarding, I do see myself getting into fashion,” Zeuner says. She has described her style as inspired by New York streetwear and 90′s hip-hop artists. To get pumped up to before a skate competition, she listens to artists like The Pixies and The Breeders. “Sometimes I like to dress like a kid’s toy,” she says in the Vans’ “Vanguards” promo video. “Spice Girl mixed with baggy clothes.”
Even with her busy schedule, friends and family are an important part of Zeuner’s life. Sometimes that means taking a break from skating to jam into a Prius with friends and drive to Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers for lunch, or going swimming at the hotel pool after a competition. Other times it means taking mental health advice from her father, who gets her gadgets off Amazon, like noise-canceling headphones, to help her relax.
“My favorite piece of advice is when my dad is like, ‘Just put on a show, just do you, there’s no pressure,’” Zeuner says. “That actually really helps, because even if there is a little pressure, he makes it clear — just have fun.”