Meet the 15-year-old X-Games gold medalist who could become one of the first Olympic skateboarders

This 15-year-old X-Games gold medalist is skateboarding toward the Olympics

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."

LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 15: Brighton Zeuner during practice for the Women's Park Final at the 2019 Dew Tour Long Beach on June 15, 2019 in Long Beach, California.
Sean M. Haffey | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

The San Diego native's father and brother both liked to skateboard and taught her how. "My older brother Jack was a skateboarder before me and I think one of the main reasons why I started skateboarding was because of him," Zeuner says.

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.

LONG BEACH, CA - JUNE 16: Brighton Zeuner of the USA competes in the Women's Park Skateboard Final during the Dew Tour at the Long Beach Convention Center on Sunday, June 16, 2019 in Long Beach, California.
MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images | MediaNews Group | Getty Images

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: Her Instagram, 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."

But of all the ways she expresses herself, skateboarding remains the most important.

"I feel like skateboarding has helped a lot with my sense of fashion, and I'm kind of using skateboarding as a platform to promote that," Zeuner says, who also wants to go to college for fashion design. "I definitely got that from skateboarding, though, so at the same time, I don't know where I'd be without skating."

LONG BEACH, CA - JUNE 16: Mama Tezuka of Japan, left, hugs Bryce Wettstein of the USA, center, and Brighton Zeuner of the USA, right, after a run in the Women's Park Skateboard Final during the Dew Tour at the Long Beach Convention Center on Sunday, June 16, 2019 in Long Beach, California.
MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images | MediaNews Group | Getty Images

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."

If she qualifies to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Games, Zeuner plans to bring her mom, dad, brother and grandpa along for the ride — but otherwise she'll prepare as she would for any other competition. "I know it's going to be maybe a little more mentally nerve-racking, maybe a little more pressure — but from me, not from anyone else. It's still skateboarding to me, so I shouldn't make it any different."

"You know, I'm a kid and sometimes it gets overwhelming," Zeuner tells CNBC Make It. Her goal, in addition to making the U.S. Olympic Team? "I guess just feeling like a kid as much as possible and doing what I love."

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