BRIGHTON ZEUNER: COOL, CALM, AND COLLECTED
Brighton Zeuner. Photo: Joey Shigeo
WORDS: Stu Gomez
The future is bright for 14-year-old Brighton Zeuner (pronounced "Zoyner," as in: 'if you can't beat her, join her').
From as far back as Zeuner can remember, she's had a vert ramp in her backyard. The ramp may be gone now but it has helped to imbue her with a natural style—she really seems like she was born with it—and skills that are advanced for someone twice her age. Her performances at competitions like Vans Park Series and X Games, events with a massive international audience, have been flawless (she is a VPS defending champion, and a two-time X Games gold medalist)—and if you're unfamiliar with her, those runs, with the breathless commentating and Zeuner's restrained, focused execution, are the perfect introduction.
With heavyweight sponsors like Red Bull and Vans in her corner, it may seem a little odd to learn that she's also one of Frog's youngest tadpoles. But once you hear her talk about her infatuation with NYC skateboarding you'll understand how this So Cal vert/park phenom can coexist naturally on Frog's East Coast lilypad.
And, of course, there's chatter in the media about Zeuner representing the U.S. in the Olympics and what this means for a male-dominated sport; but her recent exposure in Vogue and The New York Times tend to conflate a love for skateboarding with a larger discussion of gender equality. Zeuner is still taking it all in, but she refuses to feel pressured. As she demonstrated in this month's X Games runs, Zeuner's cool, calm, and collected persona will win the day.
Backside blunt at X Games. Photo: Garth Milan.
Let's talk about getting X Games gold! Watching the winning run made me think that you must be pretty comfortable with contests.
I've been skating contests for 4 years and I've gotten a lot more comfortable with it. For X Games, I wasn't as nervous as I usually am; I'm a lot more used to it now.
Was this your first X Games?
No, I did it last year, too, and there was a lot of pressure. I was the youngest to win the gold medal, but it was a lot to get used because it was such a big event.
That's a big deal, and you mentioned it so casually!
Thank you! I guess I just skated. [laughs] I didn't know I was gonna win my run or anything, but I did and [over time] I got more comfortable with contests.
That seems pretty rare to feel so comfortable in high-pressure situations. Why do you think it's become so easy for you?
Because I found a way to look at contests, in my own way, how to process it without making it like, "Oh, you have to win this." Instead of it being like you have to go and win and you can't fall, I just came up with my own way to process it and it's helped me a lot.
Was it like, "I'm not going to put too much pressure on myself"?
Before, when I skated contests, I needed people to say, "Yeah, just go have fun. Just skate." When I hear that then I can skate my absolute best. But if someone says that I have to win, I'm not gonna do well just because of the pressure. I do better if it's more laidback and I look at it as a way to just skate; 45 seconds of just skating.
Does it affect you when people you're competing against take the contest very seriously?
Not at all. I think that everyone looks at the contest differently and has their purpose why they're doing it, and I don't let that interfere with my skating because I need to focus on my skating and doing my best.
That's a great rule of thumb for skaters who are interested in competing.
I like to skate in contests because it's an excuse to see all my friends. Probably every contest I've done I've had the best time because of all these other reasons, and skating contests under pressure has made me who I am today.
Smith grind. Encinitas, California. Photo: Dave Swift.
How did you develop your circle of friends?
My friend who's staying at my house right now, I met her when I was seven at King of the Groms; now I get to see her at Vans Park Series. Thank you to skateboarding!
One of our editors, Dave Swift, shot a bunch of photos of you skating your vert ramp a while ago. How did you start skating and how did you end up with that crazy backyard paradise?
Honestly, when people ask that question I don't really know. My brother really wanted a vert ramp and, I don't know, we just kinda had a vert ramp one day! I can't really remember because it was so long ago, but it did help me to progress and meet a bunch of new people.
Did you start skating around the same time your brother did?
I think he started skating a good year and a half before me.
And was there something about it that you were just drawn to…
Back then I just thought you could be very creative and be yourself in the sport. That was kinda how I looked at it.
That's a healthy outlook. So, having won the X Games twice I guess it was a no-brainer that you'd be nominated for ESPYs, Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice… How do you feel about that recognition?
I don't know! I've never won two gold medals before—it's all new to me and I'm still processing it. But, yeah, it's pretty crazy! I'm honored to be a part of this whole journey.
Andrecht. Encinitas, California. Photo: Dave Swift.
"I'm not doing it for press or Instagram followers."
Is this fame something you'd like to build on, or do you think you might be getting too much exposure too soon?
Honestly, the way I look at it is it's all just skateboarding and I'm doing something that I genuinely love. I'm not doing it for press or Instagram followers; I'm just doing it because I'm myself and I'm happy. I get to travel the world for this and I'm getting nominated for all this stuff—it's still all pretty crazy to me. I'm just gonna skateboard and see what comes along with it!
Speaking of press: I'm amazed that you've been featured on some of the most prestigious publications (Vogue, The New York Times) in just the past year. How do you even prepare for something like that?
I don't know! It's all about skateboarding and that's what I love.
I think it's important for mainstream publications to feature someone like you as an introduction to skateboarding. Someone who does it for fun and isn't trying to make a bold statement about it. How long have you been skating for Frog?
How did you get on?
My brother loves the whole New York scene and then I started paying attention to it. I was obsessed; I loved it so much! My friend was on Frog and he asked me how bad did I want to get on Frog, and I was like, Really bad. So I kinda just got on because I really like it a lot! It was nothing to do with that contest though.
I'm so down for Chris Milic and Jesse Alba, but I was surprised to see you on Frog just because of the vert.
Yeah, I was on Red Bull and Vans and all those really cool, bigger companies. And I kinda wanted a board brand that was mellow to balance it out. I feel like I'm really picky about board companies because I want to skate with all of them, and make it more like a friendship than just getting boards. I'm really comfortable with all of those guys and skating New York. It's really beautiful to me.
I feel like Chris's younger sister. There are 3 young kids on the team—around my age—so it's all perfect. We all get along.
What else is coming up for you this year?
I'm doing the Vans Park Series: Huntington Beach, Sweden, Shanghai.