Skating as a little girl for Leticia Bufoni wasn't the typical experience of hitting the ice wearing cute, sparkly dresses with her hair in a tight bun. Instead the 9-year-old was hitting the beat-up concrete streets and graffitied skate parks of São Paulo, Brazil's largest city. Skateboarding is what her friends, then about 10 neighborhood boys (no girls lived nearby), did for fun and it's all she wanted to do despite her dad's concerns.
“My dad didn't support my passion at first. He'd say, 'It's a boys' sport and you're the only girl',” says the 21-year-old, who is now considered one of the world's top female skateboarders. Luckily, her mother and other family members had her back. “My grandmother Maria, who lived down the street, bought me my first skateboard when I was 11.”
At the encouragement of her mom and grandma, Bufoni continued to practice every day with Maria watching her from the skate park sidelines, providing food and water for up to five hours at a time. Once she got her first board, she began entering—and winning—local competitions where she was often the only female participant. Within a year she’d caught the attention of her first major sponsor, a local Brazilian apparel brand, as well as her father, who started to understand the depth of her talent.
“Seeing me in contests just blew his mind. He said, 'Wow, this is the real deal.' After that, he started taking me to the skate park and competitions too,” she says.
In 2007, the 14-year-old rising star moved to L.A. with older friends after competing in her first X Games. Three years later, she won her first X Games medal (silver) in women's skateboard street. Now she has a total of six X Games medals, including three golds, and overall has accumulated more than 150 trophies since age 11.
“I have a great life. I do what I want and I have fun,” says the 2013 ESPYS Female Action Sports Athlete of the Year nominee, who has a huge following on social media (222,000-some fans on Facebook alone). With more than 10 sponsors including Nike, Oakley, and GoPro (check out one of her fun videos) supporting her pro career ambitions (“to keep winning medals”), Bufoni can really buckle down and focus on training to land the burly tricks that she's known for.
Though she's been extremely active for most of her life, not just skateboarding but also surfing and skydiving, she still sweats hard to stay strong and agile. “I work with a personal trainer at the gym for an hour up to three times a week. I also try to skateboard for one to three hours in the park almost every day,” Bufoni says. Being fit is clutch to wow judges with speed and technical skills during three 45-second rounds, where you can squeeze in up to six tricks per round. Her signature moves include lots of hard-and-fast rail tricks that most of her females peers (about 10 serious contenders worldwide) won't attempt.
Being willing to push her physical limits also means that on most days Bufoni tends to walk away from the skate park, whether she's there for practice or an event, with blood trickling down her elbows, shins, or palms. Rolling her ankles is pretty common too. “I just love skateboarding so much that I just don't think about getting hurt. If I do get hurt, it's okay. It's what I do; it's my sport. And love hurts, right?,” she jokes. Her worst injury to date required ankle surgery and a 30-day recovery for a torn ligament last year. Still she refuses to wear any protective gear when she rides. Add to her bold attitude her unique Brazilian surf-influenced style, sharp fashion sense, and flowing sun-kissed locks that she's just magnetic to watch.
You can catch Bufoni in active live on ESPN and ABC at the X Games Austin, which is celebrating its inaugural year after being held in L.A. for 11 years. The skateboarding events will take place on Sunday, June 8, starting at 1 p.m. central time (check local listings to tune in).