10 things you need to know about Letícia Bufoni
© Steven Lippman
1. When she was younger, she wanted to be a boy
Growing up in São Paulo, Letícia Bufoni played in the streets with the boys in her neighbourhood. They spent their days playing soccer, skateboarding and riding bikes. “Everyone had a skateboard, and after two months I was begging my parents and my grandmother to buy me one,” she says. “That’s how everything started.”
As strong-minded then as she is now, Bufoni never wanted to come inside when her parents called her, or do what people expected her to do. She just wanted to keep skating. “My parents had a hard time fixing my hair or putting a dress on me,” she says. “I was around boys so much, I wanted to be like them,” she says. “I wanted to dress like a boy.”
2. Her father didn't want her to skate
Bufoni was the only girl in the neighbourhood who liked to skate. Her father wanted her to play soccer with the other girls. “He didn’t want to see people calling me tomboy or anything else any more,” she says.
You know what? I love skateboarding, and I’m going to skate
Bufoni’s dad was so determined to stop her from skating that he cut her board in half. She cried for over a day. Then she scraped together parts from friends to put together a new board. “You know what? I love skateboarding, and I’m going to skate.”
Bufoni’s first skate contest took place in São Paulo and included girls from all over Brazil, but her dad wouldn't allow her to take part. A friend who’d seen Bufoni skate and believed in her talent argued that she deserved a chance and convinced her father to let her enter the competition.
“He never really saw me skating before that contest,” Bufoni says of her father. “When he took me to that contest, he saw that I had potential.”
From then on, her father took her to contests and events. “He started taking me to the skatepark every day, and he became my biggest supporter,” says Bufoni. Nike sponsored that first contest in São Paulo. At the time, she didn't imagine the brand would become one of her sponsors.
3. Relocating to Los Angeles was the catalyst for her skate career
At the age of 14, Bufoni moved from São Paulo to Los Angeles. From her home in Brazil, she viewed the Californian city as the centre of the skateboarding universe. Los Angeles was featured in many of the skateboarding videos she watched and a lot of the most important brands were based there.
“Everything happens in Los Angeles and it was always my dream city,” she says. “You’re skating with the best pros and skating the best skateparks.”
The city’s pull intensified with Bufoni’s success. Her confidence grew, but when she looked around her home country, sponsorship opportunities seemed sparse. In the year before she moved to Los Angeles, Bufoni wondered if she could really make it as a skateboarder. “I had no sponsors and it got to a moment where I was like, ‘Should I keep doing this or focus on school?’” Though her father continued to support her, Bufoni worried that her family’s financial resources would run out.
Bufoni’s ticket to LA came in 2007 with an invitation to compete at the X Games. Her father travelled with her and paid their expenses. Once there, Bufoni knew she had to find a way to stay. Her eighth-place finish in the X Games street event hinted at her future promise, but she still needed to convince her dad, who was reluctant to allow his young daughter to move so far from home. After weeks of cajoling, he relented.
With her family back in Brazil, Bufoni had to settle in LA on her own, but she was helped by LA-based Brazilian photographer, Ana Paula Negrao, who specialises in skate photoshoots.
Learning English was a struggle for Bufoni at first. “It was really hard to learn it coming from Portuguese,” she says. In what would become a familiar pattern, Bufoni persevered. She wanted to skateboard professionally and she believed she could make it in Los Angeles.
Imagine being a 14-year-old girl by herself with older friends but no family around
Bufoni was right. “Once I got to LA, I got a shoe sponsor and then a clothing sponsor,” she says. “Everything changed so fast."
Plenty of things could’ve gone wrong for Bufoni in Los Angeles, and she's proud of how well she avoided the pitfalls the city presented. “The parties, the drugs, the clubs – all the bad stuff happens in LA all the time,” she says. “Imagine being a 14-year-old girl by herself with older friends but no family around.”
4. She's a role model
When she was growing up, people made homophobic comments and called Bufoni a tomboy because she didn’t conform to their idea of what a girl should do. But she ignored them because skating had become her passion and she wasn’t about to let it go.
As she began winning contests and seeking sponsorship support, she encountered a familiar resistance from the days when she was growing up. Skateboard brands simply didn’t sponsor women. “It was very hard to find a company that wanted to sponsor a woman,” she says.
One brand strung her along for three years, eventually walking away without offering her anything. Then it happened again with another brand. “At that point, I was like, you know what – if these guys don’t want to support me, I’m going to make my own company,” she says. Bufoni was all set to start her own skateboard company when Plan B offered her a contract. The brand has sponsored some of the biggest names in men’s skateboarding and Bufoni is the first woman to ride for them.
“It’s changed a lot,” says Bufoni, who’s now 26. While she’s uncomfortable with being a role model for women, the arc of her career has made her one. “I remember, back in the day, I was one of the few women who was getting a paycheck,” she says. “Now every company has more women on the team.”
5. She's broken five bones
Bufoni can't remember how many surgeries she's undergone for the various injuries she's sustained during her skate career. But she does know that she's broken bones.
I’ve never had a moment that I was like, ‘I’m going to quit'
At a competition in 2014, Bufoni fell on her final run while trying to jump from second into first place. Her family watched on TV from Brazil as she suffered a concussion during a live broadcast for the event.
“I’ve never had a moment that I was like, ‘I’m going to quit, I can’t do this anymore,’” she says. “I always love skating so much that every time I get hurt, I just think about getting back to it right away.”
6. Ryan Sheckler is a big fan of hers
Letícia Bufoni's got style. That’s the thing that’s really appealing about her skateboarding
To understand what makes Bufoni stand out, listen to skateboarding legend Ryan Sheckler. “Letícia is gnarly,” says the three-time X Games gold medalist. “She’s really talented. I’m just a fan. If she wants to learn a trick, she’s going to learn that trick. She’s also got style. That’s the thing that’s really appealing about her skateboarding. She looks really good on a skateboard. It’s fun to watch her skate. If she continues to go for it, the sky’s the limit.”
7. She's a prolific presence on social media
Just as she resisted her parents’ efforts to end her love affair with skateboarding, Bufoni follows her own instincts as she creates her public profile on social media.
Her Instagram profile offers her a way to communicate directly to her fans. “I look after all of my own social media, so people can see from my eyes and hear my own words,” she says.
Bufoni has more than 2.4 million followers on Instagram and her reach extends well beyond skateboarding. She’s no longer surprised when kids at the skatepark ask for a selfie. “People are there because they skate, so they know me,” she says.
8. She likes tattoos
The tattoo along the length of her right hand reads, 'Trouble.' She says it’s because she gets in trouble all the time. The tattoos on each of her fingers spell out, 'Hope.' She also has skulls, the number 13 – (because she was born on April 13) and an aeroplane (because she’s constantly travelling). Then there's an eagle carrying a skateboard in its talons, which is emblazoned across one of her arms. “My dad has the same eagle,” she says. “He got the tattoo just before I moved to LA and it says, ‘Good Luck, Letícia.’”
9. She enjoys getting an early night
Her Instagram feed looks like a non-stop party, but Bufoni says she likes to go to bed early. “I’m kind of old,” she says, laughing. Going to sleep early allows her to pack more into each day doing gym workouts and skateboarding.
She quit drinking alcohol around three years ago. “I just wanted a healthier life,” she says. “The drinking part is fun, but the next day you feel like shit.” She says she may not stick to her abstinence for ever, but it’s just one way she is trying to balance skating at the highest level with the pull of celebrity life.
Sometimes I ask myself, is this real?
10. She's living the skateboarding dream
“I’m definitely living the dream,” she says. “I think that every day. Having my own house, my own skatepark, my own car. It’s super dope. Everywhere I go, every place I travel, everyone I meet – it’s a dream. Sometimes I ask myself, is this real? It’s a really crazy life.”