With Olympic Doors Open, a 14-Year-Old Skateboarder Enters a New World

VIDOR, Texas — Kendra Long, an elite skateboarder who recently celebrated her 14th birthday, does a lot of fancy tricks at the small skateboard park that lives in her family’s driveway in this rural patch of southeast Texas. There are varials, board slides, fakie full cab flips. Kendra is 5-foot-6, with long blonde hair that swirls around her face when she twists and drifts and spins and soars. The neighbors’ horses sometimes amble up to the fence to watch.

Not so long ago, Kendra had ambitions that mirrored those of the typical budding competitor in extreme sports: Add to her portfolio of skills and improve enough to compete in some events, maybe at the X Games or on the Dew Tour.

But the calculus changed for Kendra and many of her peers when the International Olympic Committee announced in 2016 that skateboarding would make its debut at the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. Not only that, there would be no minimum age requirement — as there is in gymnastics, for example. The decision opened the door for even preteens to potentially compete on the sports world’s biggest stage.

While adult athletes tend to dominate men’s skateboarding, a cluster of girls have been excelling on the women’s side. The I.O.C.’s decision instantly altered many of their lives. Young athletes like Kendra are now hopscotching the globe for qualifying competitions and, in the best of circumstances, getting their families to finance an expensive dream.

Kendra, who placed 10th, was a few weeks from entering the eighth grade.

“This young generation is going to push women’s skateboarding so much further than we’ve seen,” Guglia said. “It actually makes me proud to say, ‘Yeah, an 11-year-old beat me.’”

The Olympics will include two types of skateboarding events: street skateboarding, in which tricks are executed on a variety of apparatus, like ledges and rails, and park skateboarding, which uses a huge hollowed-out bowl for aerial maneuvers.

“Oh, it’s too soon,” she said. “I need to learn more stuff. I want to get really good.”

She still has time. Qualifying events are scheduled through May, with point totals determining the selections for the American squad.

Kendra also has supportive parents who recognize that she has uncommon opportunities.

“I don’t think she wants to acknowledge that she has a chance,” said Donald Long, who works in the health care industry. “It would be too much pressure.”

Her mother, Natalie, says Kendra is a perfectionist.

“If she lands a trick and her foot isn’t quite right, she’ll say, ‘That was trash.’ And she’ll do it again,” said Natalie Long, who works as a dietitian.

The whole endeavor is surreal for the Longs: the travel, the possibilities, the odd talent that their daughter came to possess. Vidor, a small city of rolling pastures and stifling humidity that was hit hard by flooding in September, is not a skateboarding hotbed.

But while skateboarding is not always her priority, she sometimes probably wishes it were. As the sun set the day after she returned from China, she came to a sad realization.

“I have so much homework,” she said.


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