From Brazil To The World: The Rise of Leticia Bufoni
Jumping out of a plane at 9,000 feet on a skateboard is all in a day's work for professional skater Leticia Bufoni. Glorious meets the Brazilian Olympian to chat childhood, freedom and flying
By Amy Sedghi
Photography Courtesy of Red Bull
“It’s so cold,” exclaims Leticia Bufoni, her eyes wide and her pink woolly hat pulled low, when we connect one wintery day in early December. The Brazilian professional skateboarder and Red Bull athlete has touched down in London for a whistlestop tour and is already missing the sunshine and her bikinis, she says. Having flown in from Los Angeles, California – where she currently lives – she’s only in the UK for a short amount of time before heading to Brazil where she looks forward to some downtime… and warmer weather.
“I was 14-years-old [when I moved to LA],” explains Leticia. “My dad took me for the first time and we were supposed to be there to just do the X Games and come back home. My dad went back to his work and the family and I just stayed with friends for another six months and started doing a bunch of contests, got a sponsor and… stayed there till now.” She makes it sound so straightforward – picking up a life and moving to another country at such a young age and then navigating the path towards becoming a professional athlete – but that certainly doesn’t mean it was easy.
Born in São Paulo in 1993, Leticia started playing football when she was seven years old and dreamt of a future as a professional player. But that all changed. “When I was nine, I started skating because all my friends on my street stopped playing soccer,” she remembers. “They started skating and I was like: ‘now I have no-one to play soccer with, I’m just going to try to skate’.” Leticia doesn’t recall in detail the first time she stepped on a skateboard but she does remember hours spent holding the gate of her house and trying again and again to master tricks, such as a kickflip. “I fell in love and just got addicted,” she says.
Her father, who had been a professional swimmer, wasn’t keen on Leticia skateboarding. “My dad didn’t like skateboarding because I was the only woman skating with the boys,” she admits. “He tried to force me to stop and he broke my board in half.” The next day, Leticia set up a new board for herself and told her father that she wasn’t going to stop because she loved skating too much. After that – almost like a movie-worthy storyline – her dad became one of her most dedicated supporters, explains Leticia, describing how at the age of 11, he took her along to her first contest. Seeing her win and observing how the other athletes had their families around them, he relented and, as Leticia puts it: “he just fell in love with it”. “He started supporting me, taking me to every contest and to the skate park every day to practise. Then I started competing pretty much every weekend,” she says.
Now, Leticia is an influential name, not only in skateboarding but within the sports world in general. Not only is she a six-time X Games gold medallist and SLS Crown Champion, but Leticia has also been named one of ‘the most powerful women in international sports’ and bagged a spot on Forbes Brazil’s ‘Under 30’ list. In 2021, she represented Brazil at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and sits as an Executive Athlete Ambassador for World Skate, the governing body for skateboarding officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee. But despite the numerous accolades – and the years that have passed since she first picked up a skateboard – the 29-year old’s reason for doing it all hasn’t changed. “Every time I’m skating, I feel the freedom. I can express myself through skateboarding. Every time I’m scared, I just forget about everything else and I’m just present in the moment and doing what I love the most.”
How did she feel coming into such a male-dominated sport? “I just wanted to learn and be better than the boys so that they could accept me in the group,” she says, honestly. “So, I pushed myself really hard and I ended up learning faster than them… and, at some point, I was skating better than them in a shorter time,” she adds with a grin.
The inclusion of skateboarding at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games has not only been a great step in raising the profile of the sport, says Leticia, but it also personally meant a lot to her. “It was a dream of mine to be in the Olympics and when that happened it was amazing,” she says. The positive effect this momentous step has had on skateboarding, and especially in female participation of the sport, has been a highlight for her. “It’s just amazing to be a part of that and I hope skateboarding stays in the Olympics forever because it’s a really cool sport. Not a lot of people got to see it until the Olympics.”
“It’s crazy to think how it was five years ago and how it is now. It’s just growing so fast and the level of skateboarding in the women’s [competition] is just crazy right now,” she enthuses. Active on social media (Leticia has a mind boggling 4.3 million Instagram followers), she’s enjoyed watching the younger generation of skateboarders sharing their progress on social media. “Every day you see new clips and [at] every competition, you see new faces. It’s crazy to think that ten years ago, there were only a few of us skating and now it’s many, many of us.”
Social media has also helped both amateur and elite skateboarders alike to not only share the good and bad sides of practising and trying to land tricks, but also to help people learn and provide a platform for them to put themselves out there and get to know each other, Leticia points out. “I remember when I started skating, it took me almost a year to see my first skate video, you know?” she recalls. “And it was a CD and hard to find… now you just go online on social media and there’s a new video every second.”
Although Leticia is based in LA and is a fan of the skating scene there (“California is definitely one of the best places to skate”), her favourite city for skating is Barcelona: “There are really great skate spots, like street spots, and they’re really close to each other. You take the train or metro and go to a bunch of spots – you can go to four, five, six a day. In LA, the spots are really far from each other and you have to drive a lot.”
In fact, Leticia has shared her insights on the most thrilling places in the world for urban sports, in a soon to be released Red Bull collaboration title called Urban Playgrounds. Alongside other adventure sports stars, such as Fabio Wibmer, Danny MacAskill and Dominic Di Tommaso, she’s given her thoughts on her favourite spots and what makes them unique. “[It] gave us all the chance to show off the cities that gave us so much; when we’re training on the street, in school yards in LA, wherever,” she says of the book. “It’s these places that get you where you need to be for competitions and everything really – so it was really cool to be part of a project showing our cities to the world.”
How much training she can get in depends on her travel plans, but she says that ideally, she’ll skate for at least two-and-a-half hours a day. Although she had a coach in the lead up to the Olympics, Leticia prefers to be in charge having taught herself for two decades: “When I’m skating, I like this freedom and that I can just do whatever I want. Skateboarding to me is about having fun, doing what I love and it’s not about following any rules.” While she acknowledges that having a coach may work for some – and if the Olympics is your goal, then go for it – that’s not for her. “I grew up skating the streets and we don’t have coaches on the streets,” she points out. When she’s not on her skateboard, Leticia is unlikely to be sitting still. “I’m always doing something,” she says with a laugh. A list of her favourite hobbies makes quite the adrenaline seeking – and high energy – roll call: skydiving, car racing, wake surfing, surfing and, of course, soccer. “This year I skydived a bunch,” she says, casually mentioning a project that she shot with Red Bull not too long ago.
That project – Sky Grind – was in fact a head-spinning bid to combine skateboarding with skydiving by grinding a rail 2,750m above the ground.
Is there anything she hasn’t tried? “I’d like to learn how to fly an aeroplane. That’s one of my dreams,” she muses. “Other than that, I’ve pretty much tried everything that I wanted to.” If her extensive list of achievements and her thrill-seeking spirit is anything to go by, Leticia still has a lot of exciting adventures ahead of her. Before we sign off, I ask her what her advice would be for a young girl wanting to get into skateboarding. “What I always say is, if you love something, if it’s your passion, just go for it. Don’t let anyone say you can’t do it, and just follow your dreams.”
Photography Courtesy of Red Bull, Editorial Design by this is root
Urban Playgrounds is published by gestalten and can be purchased here