‘It’s Crazy To Be That Person': Teen Minna Stess Is Gaining Influence As She Skateboards Toward Paris

by Karen Price

Minna Stess competes during the women's park competition at the 2024 WST event in Rome. (Photo by WST / Bryce Knight)

Minna Stess doesn’t remember the first time she ever stepped foot on a skateboard.

The idea that some people don’t even start until they’re her age — 17 — seems wild to the Petaluma, California, native because it’s something she’s always done. She doesn’t even remember exactly how old she was when she first started competing.

“I honestly don’t know… 4? 5? 6?” said Stess, whose older brother was the first to start in the sport. “It was in Hawaii, and I remember learning to drop in on a really small mini ramp and I just remember dropping in before they said I could go. I dropped in early, that’s all I remember. Dropping in too early and freaking out.”

At 8, Stess was the first girl to win the California Amateur Skateboard League. By 13, she was in an X Games final, and was also named to the first U.S. national team. She’s now the top-ranked skateboarder in the county in women’s park — which takes place within a bowl that contains additional ramps and features to ride — and last fall locked down the bronze for her first world championships medal. If things keep going the way they are, she’ll soon secure a spot at her first Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

“I would love to go to the Olympics,” said Stess, who can take another step toward qualification at the World Skateboarding Tour stop this weekend in Dubai, UAE. “I’m in a pretty good spot now, and getting that bronze (at worlds) makes me even hungrier to make it there. So that’s the goal. Make it there, and hopefully get a medal. That’s another goal.”

Skateboarding debuted at the Olympics in Tokyo three years ago and was an immediate fan favorite. Viewers were thrilled by the tricks, skills and fearlessness of the athletes, but also by their camaraderie with one another.

Since then, Stess said, she’s seen the sport grow, particularly among girls. 

“There are so many more girls at skate parks,” she said. “There used to literally be none. I’d be the only girl there. Everything was fine, but there were just no girls. Now there are girls everywhere, which I think the Olympics helped with. Literally there are children in different countries now doing tricks I never would have thought a girl would be doing, or anyone would be doing.”

Stess will tell you one of the things she’s always loved about skateboarding is that it spans ages and genders. Growing up, she was often skating alongside 50-year-old dads and their kids, she said. But she loves seeing more girls getting into the sport, and serves as an athlete ambassador with the Women’s Sports Foundation to help encourage that growth.

Minna Stess celebrates after the women's park competition at the 2024 WST event in Rome. (Photo by WST / Bryce Knight)

Which she also finds a little hard to believe.

“It’s crazy that I can be that person,” she said. “It’s still weird to think that people would look up to me and care what I have to say. I’m not even an adult yet. I turn 18 this year, so it’s crazy to be able to be that type of person before I’m technically an adult.”

Stess’s influence is only likely to increase along with her success. She recently presented the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award alongside Laila Ali at the Women’s Sports Foundation awards ceremony. 

“That was a crazy experience,” Stess said. “I’d never gone to a gala before, and getting dressed up and meeting Laila Ali was crazy. My dad’s a huge fan of (Laila’s dad) Muhammad Ali; he has a signed boxing glove, and he was freaking out more than I was when I found out who I was presenting with. And I took a selfie with Billie Jean King, that was a proud moment. Seeing so many women at an event like that was really amazing and fun.”

It may have been the first, but likely not the last.

Before last year’s world championships, Stess was ranked 10th in the world. She fell on her first trick of the semifinal, but queued up a tough run in the final and scored a 90.80 to earn her best international competition result to date. Her world ranking is now No. 5.

“Skating is 80 percent mental and falling, basically,” she said. “And I do struggle with mental blocks. I’m always trying to get myself pumped up. But in that contest I just remember being really confident. I wasn’t thinking about falling at all, I was just landing every trick. Everything just felt right.”

Stess’ recent results have her in a strong position to earn a spot on Team USA. Three years ago, she was an alternate for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. She had to fill out all the paperwork and be ready to go, but ultimately was stateside for the competition. Since then, she said, she’s grown as an athlete and a competitor.

“I’ve definitely gotten better at putting runs together,” said Stess, who loves the chance to be creative with her runs. “I write them up before the competition never knowing if they’re going to work every time, but if I can create a run with something unique about it that no one else has in their run, my mind gravitates toward that. I also think I’m better at dealing with nerves. They’ve actually gotten a little worse, but I’ve been able to own that and use it. I feel like I’m learning and growing more than I realize.”

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