Illustration by Chelsea O'Byrne

Eleven-year-old Rayssa Leal paid no mind to the numbers at Street League’s Los Angeles stop this past July. She took on and took out a field of competition that included the likes of Leticia Bufoni and Alexis Sablone, who are, respectively, more than double and nearly triple her age. Legends of skateboarding with collective decades in the game ceding ground to an upstart.

The podium Rayssa eventually stood on, first-place trophy in hand, would raise her small person up to the height of an Andrew Reynolds or so. But again, those inches are just numbers and not something Leal is too concerned with. They don’t stop her from kickflipping 10 stairs or backsmithing down rails in front of crowds of hundreds in London, thousands of miles from home in Brazil.

If you weren’t paying attention, it might seem like she came out of nowhere. Another phenom shot into the collective conscious by virtue of a singular astounding feat, like Felipe Gustavo winning Tampa Am or Dave Bachinsky kickflipping El Toro all those years ago. But Rayssa isn’t that. You were probably already aware of her whether you were aware of it or not. 

Yes, 2015 seems like a world away. An idyllic time that may or may not have existed. Who’s to say—it’s been a long four years. But if you were on the internet at that time you might remember a certain tiny viral skateboarder in fairy wings heelfipping a set of stairs. The clip was everywhere. It got millions of views and was picked up and shared wide by the blogosphere. That was a seven-year-old Rayssa making her first appearance on the public stage.

What some folks at the time seemed to miss from the viral clip—blinded by its view numbers and Leal’s two fairy wings, perhaps—was that that was an amazing Heelflip. Tweaked and caught with the back foot, showcasing style far beyond her seven years. It’s moments like that where you feel like you’re getting a sneak peek at potential greatness. But what can one Heelflip portend?

Whether Leal minds them or not, all those numbers mentioned above are actually hard to ignore; and not to sound conspiratorial or anything, but especially when they start aligning with others. Four years after going viral, Rayssa would win Street League, her first major contest crown. Who else won their first major contest at 11 years old? Nyjah Huston. His was Tampa Am. Now, whether you’re a fan or not, he’s arguably the best skateboarder on the planet. 

Is this a suggestion that Leal could be his successor? A prognostication detailing the future arrival of a new skateboarding icon? That it’s only a matter of time before Rayssa reaches the heights of greats like Reynolds, without podium assistance? Could be. Or it might just be a heads-up to start paying attention now, because time is a slippery thing, and if it only took four years for her to move from meme to champion, who knows what the next four years will bring. Cole Nowicki

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