Dubai: Rayssa Leal, the women’s gold medal winner at skateboarding’s recent Street 2022 World Championships held at the Aljada Skate Park in Sharjah, has 6.4 million followers on Instagram.
To put that into context, her Brazilian compatriots Ederson, the Manchester City goalkeeper, has 3.4 million Instagram followers; Fabinho, the Liverpool midfielder, has 2.7 million followers; and Gabriel Martinelli, the Arsenal attacker, also has 2.7 million followers.
Having 6.4 million followers is “a lot”, Leal admits. But it’s what that following enables her to do for the sport she loves so much that matters, says Leal, the silver medal winner in the women’s street skateboarding at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“Before the Olympics, my goal was to reach one million Instagram followers, and then that happened very quickly,” Leal smiles. “Then, day by day almost, it became like two million, three million and then more than six million.
“But I’m happy because I’ve become a reference point and every time I find out about a child starting to skate because of me, I’m like ‘ok, that’s why I have my social media and all my team working for this’. We are reaching many children and I’m very happy about that.”
“Otherwise,” the 15-year-old from Imperatriz, in the northeast of Brazil, adds “I don’t think too much about it – it just happened.”
Leal may have earned the following from her Olympic exploits, but she first earned a name for herself – or indeed nickname – from a video posted in 2015. Decked in a blue fairy dress, the then seven-year-old failed, then nailed, an audacious heelflip on her skateboard down a flight of stairs. The video went viral, attracting an audience of millions including skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, who shared the clip on his social media. And so, the moniker Skate Fairy was born, staying with her as she became more and more successful. Now, however, Rayssa Leal wishes to be known as Rayssa Leal.
“I think I need to say thank you to my nickname because maybe that’s why I became popular and known,” Leal says. “But what I want now that I’m growing up in age is to make my mark as Rayssa Leal because it’s me, it’s my name. But I’m very thankful to the Skate Fairy nickname because it’s how it started, and it helped me become who I am.”
Who Leal is now is very much a star of her sport with a goal of going one better at the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 than she did in Tokyo, where skateboarding made its inaugural appearance. Becoming a world champion in Sharjah last weekend is an important step on that journey.
Co-organised by World Skate and UAE-based master developer Arada, who constructed Aljada Skate Park with an eye on making Sharjah the regional hub for skating, the Street 2022 World Championships also act as a qualifier for the Olympics (as do the Park 2022 World Championships, taking place at the same venue until Sunday, February 12).
Her victory was even more impressive considering she participated with a strapping on her right arm due to a fall in practice a few days earlier.
After collecting $50,000 as tournament winner – a nice week’s work for any 15-year-old – Leal described becoming world champion as “a pleasure for me and my country to be number one and win gold”.
To do likewise in the Olympics in 2024 would evoke even greater feelings.
“An Olympic gold is an important thing not only for the athletes but for the whole country,” she says. “To get an Olympic medal for skateboarding was a dream for me, the staff, the team, for all the other Brazilians that participated in the team in Tokyo. But an Olympic gold would be so important, and a dream come true.”
Following dreams has become a part of the young Brazilian’s life and galvanise her reply when asked if she has a message to young skateboarders across the region who dream of being the next Rayssa Leal.
“If you can dream it, you can make it happen,” Leal replies. “That was the phrase that became part of my first promotion with Nike. And this is the most important thing for life – just dream.”
Wise words, indeed, to follow.