Letter to My Dad

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Dad,

I know you’ll be mad at me.

I know you’ve already said that I shouldn’t go around riding a skateboard, but I just can’t stop.

More than something I do for fun, more than a sport, it’s what I like to do the most.

But you can’t understand it that way. And in some minutes, when you get home from work and find me by our home’s fence trying to stand up on my skateboard, you’re going to freak out.

You’re gonna make me cry, Dad. I just don’t understand why I have to suffer.

I can follow with my eyes what happens next. You go to the tool cabinet, from where you grab a circular saw. I still can’t understand it; I can just feel. The skateboard is in your hands and is being split into two. The wheels are extracted from the board. Ready. No more need to ground me. I’m never going to ride a skateboard again, you say.

At age nine, Dad, my sadness is as strong as my desire to get on the skateboard again.

Courtesy of Leticia Bufoni
Courtesy of Leticia Bufoni

This is just the first hurdle I will have to overcome. I’m already called a tomboy because of the clothes I wear or because I like skateboarding. I don’t mind. I just want to be able to ride again.

So, Dad, I’m going to disobey you this time. I don’t know what your reaction will be. A friend
lends me an old board, and another one gives me some used wheels. When you get home the day after destroying my old board, you find out that you can’t force me to give up. So, you are the one who will surrender.

From then on, you’ll be fine with it, never preventing me from skateboarding again.

Now, Dad, I’m going to tell you what happened next. And what is still to happen.

Little by little, you’ll learn that skateboarding is more than just fun for me, Dad. The streets
around our home are becoming too narrow for my tricks. Then you take me to a skate park near Aricanduva Mall, close to our house. Suddenly you will see that everyone is involved in this.

Grandma, who accompanies me for hours at the skate park; your two eldest daughters, my
sisters, who will take care of me, driving me there all the while trying to convince me to wear
clothes that make me more comfortable with who I am; Mom, who will support me so much that she doesn’t even seem to care when I get hurt. I know she’s worried, but she’s only going to show it when I fall hard.

Yes, Dad, our family is like that, they take care of me, and they learn to enjoy skateboarding
because they understand that this is what I chose for my life. And, yes, I know you’re afraid of
what might happen to me.

You’re going to say I’m still a child, your youngest daughter, who gets everyone’s attention
because she’s doing a sport that no one recognizes — or instead, a sport that most recognize as something for bums. Trust me, Dad, this will change. Until then, hold on tight. I will never be alone because skateboarding is going to give me a whole new family. And real family doesn’t leave anyone behind.

So, you will be surprised, years later, when Rogério, a friend’s father, stops by our home and
talks about me as a skateboarder. First, he will convince you about my skills, and then you will see me competing.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

Everyone from home is going to be there. It will be my first victory. And from that day on, Dad, you’ll become my biggest fan, and you’ll even risk a ride. (O.K., it isn’t going to work that well.) But the important thing is that you’ll never fail to follow me. And your support will be key to what happens next. My life will change, Dad. You can bet it will.

The only thing I will want by this time is to ride a skateboard every day, but I still don’t know
how strong the sport is outside Brazil. Sure, I watch the X Games on TV, but I can’t evaluate the actual dimension of what skateboarding represents abroad. For me, skateboards are just street toys.

So, I’m surprised when a friend brings me a DVD. It’s just girls skateboarding in the USA.

When I watch that, you see my eyes light up, Dad. On that day, I’m the one who will discover
that not only is skateboarding accepted outside Brazil, but also that I could become a
professional.

Yes, I know: Bob Burnquist and Sandro Dias are the guys. But they are both men, right? And
what about a female pro skateboarder? This still doesn’t cross my mind. So I’m excited about the video. I haven’t had a role model like them, Dad, and maybe that’s why it was so difficult for me at first. There was no one I could look up to.

The DVD messes with my head because I finally understand that I’ll have to leave Brazil to be a professional skateboarder.

You’ll understand that too, Dad. At age 14, I’m invited to participate in the X Games. It is a
dream. I had never expected to be called upon by such a big event.

Yes, I know: Bob Burnquist and Sandro Dias are the guys. But they are both men, right? And what about a female pro skateboarder?Leticia Bufoni

But I have a problem. My sponsors — yes, I already have a sponsorship — don’t want to support me. And you, Dad, you will make a difference. Until the last day, you’ll fight those sponsors and insist that I should go. Then, you’re going to tell me that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and that I may never be called upon again. Even with some saying that I’m too young, with many people trying to let me out of it, you won’t leave me behind, Dad.

I will never forget.

It’s my first international trip, but you are unfazed by it and give me the confidence to move
forward. And maybe you can’t even imagine it yet, but this will be the hardest part. Get away
from you and Mom. Away from my sisters. Our home in São Paulo’s East Side was always
crowded, while from that moment on, I would be by myself in another country, trying to speak a different language at the beginning. It will take time for me to adapt. Those will be days of struggle, but the days of glory are soon to come, Dad.

Things in the U.S. take time to happen. In my first year, I will still need to understand how life
and skateboarding work in another country. You’ll always be by my side, Dad, talking to me on the phone. And then things get serious.

After losing my sponsor, I need to go back to square one. The level in the U.S. is much higher
than in Brazil. It’s not just about riding on the streets. It’s my job now. I have to practice, and I
have to do better.

It’s going to take time for me to get used to it, Dad. And only after four years will I win my first
medal.

Before that, I get really injured. However, as I don’t want you to get worried and forbid me from skateboarding again, I’ll tell you it was nothing serious. But, here in this letter, I’ll let you know how it actually happened.

It was a very famous gap, and I thought: “I’ll make it.” On the first try, I came close. On the
second, I almost got it right. On the third, BANG!

I landed with my foot in the middle of the skateboard. It cracked but didn’t break. Phew! But it
was a challenging period because, for the first time, I had to put my foot in a cast. I needed a
crutch to go to school.

The good news is that, after this first time, fractures will become so commonplace that I don’t treat them as a surprise any longer. I even got used to them.

Gradually, I’m conquering my space and, by 2015, my great opportunity arrives. Yes, Dad, I’ve won many things in my life, especially in Brazil. But this year, I’m going through a lot of things that will be hard to swallow, all of them unrelated to skateboarding.

People will say that I belong in the fashion world.

They will say that I became a fitness model.

They’ll say that I don’t want to ride a skateboard anymore.

But inside, I know who I am and how much I had to put aside to live my dream. I gave up my
family. I gave up studying. I gave up living and having fun as other people do. No, I’m not
complaining. Those were my choices. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to skateboard
anymore. I’ve never given up.

Still, this talk bothered me.

So, when I win the Street League that year, I’m going to cry a lot, Dad. Yes, I don’t usually cry
while skateboarding. But this time, it’s not about being sad. It’s about feeling that I took a weight off my back.

After this achievement, I will feel even more confident to do anything — in and out of the
skateboarding world.

People will say that I belong in the fashion world. They will say that I became a fitness model. They’ll say that I don’t want to ride a skateboard anymore.Leticia Bufoni

Dad, you need to know this. Even after such a long time, skateboarding will always demand a lot from me: hours and hours of practice, days and weeks of dedication, preparing for a competition or recording a video part. You can watch it on YouTube, Dad. These videos have the power to make things happen. Here, in the U.S., the “professional athlete” seal only comes if you have a video part. It’s another thing I’ll learn with the gringos. With these videos, Dad, I’ll have the chance to see different places.

Europe.

China.

Australia.

New Zealand.

In one of these videos, it was just us girls doing our tricks in great style. Can you imagine that, when I began, even the other kids’ mothers felt uncomfortable when I was riding? You remember it, don’t you, Dad? They would even say that I couldn’t compete with their children.

Thank God things are not like that today. The other day, I even got a message from a 36-year-old woman. She said that she always enjoyed skateboarding but that she had never dared to ride. Only after she started seeing my videos, she felt encouraged enough. And now she skateboards too.

And there’s also Rayssa Leal, the Little Fairy. She said she had always been a fan of mine and
made a point of meeting me in person. When we saw each other, she was moved. So you see, Dad, I made someone’s dreams come true because I skateboard. This is very rewarding.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

And you’ll also be glad to know, Dad, that your daughter is going to get a mention in the
Guinness Book: the skateboarder with the most wins at the Street Skate World Cup in 2017.

Now, it’s really going to be amazing when you discover that I became a video game character. And Tony Hawk’s logo! I was shocked when my managers showed me the email with the invitation. But, you know, Dad, it’s my favorite game in life.

Very, very special.

I must admit, Dad, that, despite everything I’ve experienced from skateboarding, I was very
excited about the Olympics — yep, the Tokyo Olympics will include skateboarding for the first time.

So I didn’t want to be left out. I always enjoyed the Olympics. So, at an event in China, I went
overboard and almost ruined everything.

I was competing at a very demanding pace to reach the Olympics ranking. It was a very busy
period. First, I had an ankle ligament injury. Then, to not get out of competition, I would always wear an orthopedic boot outside events. Finally, my foot got better, and I went to the World Championships in China. But, three minutes before my return, it happened: I injured my foot again. For a moment, I thought about giving up, Dad. I was in a lot of pain. I know you would tell me to stop. I would understand. But, at the last moment, I decided: “I’m going to compete.” Adrenaline numbed my pain, and I won the event.

But, upon returning to the U.S. and seeing a doctor, the bill arrived: I had competed with a
broken foot without noticing it.

I had to stop for 60 days, one month with the boot and one month in physiotherapy. After that time, I came back, Dad. No, it wasn’t the right time yet. But it was the last round of the World Championship, and I know you’ll understand. Double points for the Olympics.

However, when I went to practice, another disappointment came. I was no longer in pain, but I broke my foot again in the first few movements.

I cried, Dad.

This time, I thought I would have to give up on the Olympics, on my dream. And all because of such a stupid injury.

That was the worst November of my life.

I even deleted the Instagram app from my phone. I didn’t want to see anyone. I didn’t want to
talk to anyone.

One month with the boot and one month in physiotherapy. After that time, I came back, Dad. No, it wasn’t the right time yet.Leticia Bufoni

But skateboarding taught me not to give up. Over time, I started physiotherapy again. And the results came sooner than I expected. I spent December without touching the skateboard, but in January, I was already practicing again. I took a look at my score and saw that my numbers for the Olympics were good.

And then came the new coronavirus pandemic, and the 2020 Olympics were postponed.

I was ready to compete, Dad, because participating in the Olympic Games is a dream for any
athlete. I really wanted to go last year. Throughout 2020, I used my time to get my head together. I was able to recover physically, and I believe that, as far as possible, all athletes were able to recharge their energies to arrive in Japan in good shape.

I still dream, Dad, and I see myself participating in the Tokyo Olympics. Among everything I
could achieve in my career, this podium is still missing. I confess that it’s what makes me most anxious right now.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

But there’s something else, Dad. Although I already imagine that I will fail your expectations
again, I prefer that you know it from me. Even after the Olympics, even if I win a medal, I won’t stop. After so many obstacles, I think there is still one final hurdle that I need to overcome: the recognition of female skateboarding.

Even today, it’s seen as natural that male skateboarding receives much more support than female skateboarding.

After all, it is still a paradox — this is a sport that doesn’t discriminate against anyone.
Skateboarding does not leave anyone behind.

It doesn’t matter, Dad, if they’re going to call your youngest daughter a tomboyish bum. And it’s O.K. if now and then I fall hard and get hurt. I know you want to take care of me. But there is no way. You’ll have to accept ever bolder tricks from me, like the one I did when I was nine: riding a new skateboard the day after you cut my old one into two pieces.

Trust me, Dad, this will be important to me and all boys and girls of all ages.

If I can, so can they. This will be my greatest achievement.

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