Smith blurs skateboarding gender lines
Alana Smith's skateboarding potential was recognized in her falls. She got up every time.
"All of these other kids in her class would take slams, and they couldn't take it," said Jeff Jewett, Alana's former coach at Kids That Rip! Skateboard School. "They cried because it hurt, and they would freak out. Alana would take the hardest slam and she wouldn't shed a tear. She would suck it up, get back up and she'd skate again. She was tough as hell.
"She's a cute little girl, but that cute little girl is tough."
Alana has never identified with being a cute little girl in skateboarding. She grew up skateboarding with the boys and set her standards at their level, even though they are now some of the best in the country. At 12, Alana is learning the sport at a younger age than most girls and, as a result, skating with a style that's more like the boys'.
She already holds the Guinness World Record as the youngest X Games medalist after winning silver in the Women's Skateboard Park competition in Barcelona. When she competes in the X Games' Women's Skateboard Street in Los Angeles on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), Alana will continue to blur the line between male and female skateboarding.
"She's had a good style from the beginning," Jewett said. "Style is one of those things that is intangible, but when you see it and it's good, you know it."
Skateboarder Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana said style and mindset have separated male and female skateboarders in the past. An eight-time medalist at X Games, Pastrana appreciates Alana because she doesn't limit herself to being the best female skateboarder, but wants to be the best skateboarder regardless of gender. Alana was the first female to land a McTwist in a competition.
"There's kind of this unspoken girls' style a lot of girls have and it's not exactly a good style," Pastrana said. "You don't want someone to say, 'You skate like a girl,' in that sense. It's just a certain way we bend or aren't taught properly or whatever. A lot of girls have this same sort of style, and she definitely doesn't. She skates like a dude, and that is a big compliment."
Starting young and at a specialized school separates Alana from a lot of other female skateboarders. She and her dad rode dirt bikes together and were watching the X Games to see the competition. But when she saw skateboarding flash across the screen, it was love at first sight.
She begged her parents for a board, but her father was against it. Her mom, on the other hand, thought a skateboard could be safer than a dirt bike, so she secretly bought one for Alana. Jewett was the Smiths' neighbor, so when he heard Alana had interest in skateboarding, he suggested she go to Kids That Rip for a lesson.
"I went to Toys R Us and bought a bike helmet because I had no idea about skateboarding," said Ryonna Smith, Alana's mom.
"When I brought her in, they were just kind of laughing."
No one was laughing a few lessons later. Alana was learning at an unprecedented pace, picking up an estimated five tricks a week. At 7, her natural ability, coupled with her prior gymnastics training, made her a good fit for skateboarding. Her mom convinced her husband to back off his stance against skateboarding.
Alana was home-schooled after second grade so her schedule would be flexible and she could focus more on skateboarding. She takes classes online with her tutors but takes tests at school. Her fellow young X Games skateboarders at Kids That Rip, such as Jagger Eaton, 11, and Trey Wood, 12, do the same program. Skateboarding with Eaton and Wood, Alana was expected to progress at their pace.
The parents thought the kids could reach the X Games after five years. It only took three.
"When I grew up, if you became a skateboarder, your parents were like, 'Oh no, I've got a skateboarder,'" Jewett said. "They weren't there to support you. They didn't go to contests. They weren't excited. They were like, 'Um, when are you going to put that toy away and go do something real?' That shift with X Games becoming so popular and everything else, there's a lot of support, and with that support, there's the ability to progress faster at a younger age."
Jewett compares it to learning a language: If you start young, the language is more natural, while when you learn language at an older age, there's an accent. He said most female skaters had an accent in the past. But starting the sport early, learning the fundamentals and competing against the best has changed that. He said Alana is one of the first female skateboarders he knows of to start skating at an early age with males, and she probably wouldn't be competing in so many women's events if not for the X Games.
"She's always embraced being the only girl," Ryonna said. "She's always been really proud. Anytime she ever did contests when she was younger, because she skated all day with boys; she never even thought of entering the girls' contest. All the boys would be like, 'Aren't you going to skate with us? You do every day.' I think she's always loved skating with the boys, and any competition she can skate with them, she will."
Alana is confident enough to carry the pressure of being one of the top young skateboarders, but too young to realize there is pressure. Despite being the only tomboy in a family with three younger, girly sisters, they look up to her. They jump on skateboards in their cheerleading uniforms and with bows in their hair.
Right before her competition in Barcelona, Alana started dancing while everyone else was wracked with anxiety. Ryonna called Alana's dance a combination of the Running Man and the Twerk.
"The weirdest and funniest dance possible," Alana clarified.
Since most of her friends from Kids That Rip are also competing in X Games, it hasn't dawned on her that anything she's doing is special or amazing. Alana enjoys street skateboarding the best, so Ryonna is worried that Alana will be overwhelmed competing in the X Games.
"I'm just going to go and skate," Alana told her. "If I do well, I do well, and if I don't, I'm only 12."