Hometown: Calgary, Alberta
Status: Global AM
Global Rank, Women’s Vert Skateboarding: 4th
Sponsors: Birdhouse Skateboards, Adidas Skateboarding, Independent Trucks, Volcom, Bones Wheels, Triple 8, 187 Killer Pads, Jessup
Reese Nelson & the Collective Evolution of Vert Skateboarding
September 13, 2023 / By jacquelinedavis
Reese Nelson never remembers a time that she wasn’t skateboarding. At the tender age of ten Reese, a native of Calgary now living in southern California, made XGames history in 2023 as the youngest athlete to medal, scoring 82.33 on her first run in the Pacifica Women’s Skateboard Vert contest and taking the silver medal spot on the podium in a contest that was only reintroduced this year after an over decade long hiatus.
According to Tony Hawk, Reese is ‘the future of vert skateboarding, regardless of gender.’ In the past year, since her first public skateboarding demo at Jackalope Montreal in August 2022, Reese has skated in the vert showdown with Tony at the inaugural Jackalope Virginia Beach earlier this summer, she took first place for ‘best trick’ in Tony’s 2023 Vert Alert competition for a kickflip noseslide to fakie, qualifying for XGames, and last month she became the youngest medalist in XGames history, with a silver medal run that left the crowd screaming, and her mentor, the GOAT, in awe.
Much has happened in Reese’s life in a short period of time. She celebrated her first double digits birthday with the launch of a video part for Birdhouse, and along with other young athletes in the sport, such thirteen-year-old Arisa True from Australia, and Japan’s Juno Matsuoka who is twelve, Reese is recognised internationally in and outside of the skateboarding world, as one of the superstars of her sport, inventing tricks (the ‘breakfast burger’), and skating with confidence, speed, and power.
Jackalope sat down with Reese and her mom Lindsey to listen to her remarkable story in her own words, and take stock of her meteoric rise in vert skateboarding. What does all this mean when you are only ten years old? …
Can you take through a timeline of when you first picked up a skateboard to today, living in California, & skating for Tony Hawk?
“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t skating, but I’ve been told that I saw my brother doing it and it looked fun. In Calgary I didn’t skate every day, and in the winter I snowboarded every day. It was really too cold to skate, and really hard to skate in winter clothes.”
“But now that we’re in California I can skate every day, for hours a day, and we never have to worry about it raining, or the snow, or it being too cold or anything. It really helps to skate here with some of the best vert skaters in the world, they really push me. With Tony, he’s helped me a lot with some tricks. He has really good tips. I love his ramp, but it feels normal skating with him.”
What is a typical day in the life of Reese Nelson (I asked her about her family, her siblings. Reese is the middle child of three kids, with an older brother, and a sister two years younger)?
“Get up, eat, get ready, play with my sister, go skate, skate with my friends, come back, do some school, play more, eat, and go to bed. That’s about it (smiles).”
What was it like to compete at XGames this year, & make the podium? Were you nervous, with all the cameras, and all the people?
“I had a lot of fun at XGames. I worked really hard on my line, and it felt really good to land my line, and it felt really good to medal. I like the crowd, the crowd helps me land my tricks. I like people cheering for me. (laughs)”
What is your next goal in skateboarding?
“I just want to keep having fun and progressing, and hopefully lots more medals!” I asked her what tricks she’s working on and she was quick to answer: “Kickflip 540, and 720 to fakie.”
Who are your skateboarding heroes? Who do you get excited about when you watch them skate? What is it like skating with Tony Hawk?
“Colin McKay (a fellow Canadian), Jimmy Wilkins, Tom Schaar (the first skateboarder to land a 1080), and Mike Frazier. Working with Tony is great. He has really good tips on tricks because he can do every trick or he’s done most of the tricks so he knows what I’m doing, but it’s just normal skating with him. I think it’s funny when people go crazy about him being there (laughs).”
Reese is just as you might imagine, a sweet little kid with a wide smile, and lots of energy, and drive. She was laughing and smiling throughout our chat, and at the same time was very direct and focused when speaking about her craft and the gift that she has for defying gravity with grace and speed, and performing tricks that should be well beyond her ten years.
Reese ran off to play with her siblings while I chatted one on one with her mom Lindsey. I am a mom myself, of teenagers, and I was very curious to know what it is like to have all the normal responsibilities of being a full-time mom, with the added responsibilities of come when one of those kiddos is ranked (at the time of this article) #4 in women’s vert skateboarding globally.
When did you first realize that Reese had a special gift?
“Before skateboarding Reese did gymnastics. She was clearly athletic. She started running at eight months, she potty-trained herself. She’s been not normal since the beginning. I found myself saying please slow down (laughs). She just refused, she wouldn’t take a bottle, a soother. She must have been three of four and it was at the gymnastics center at Canada Olympic Park, a coach that said ‘she is exceptional, and it is going to be up to her, whatever sport she chooses, she’s going to excel at,’ and he was right, whatever he saw in her. At The Compound where she skated in Calgary they commented the same thing. It was apparent from the beginning.
How has your life changed as a mom?
“In Canada I was a crown prosecutor for fifteen years. Now I’m Reese’s homeschool teacher, driver, filmer, my life has completely changed. It’s not at all what I thought it was going to be, but in a good way. I had kids so that whatever their passions are, all my kids, whatever I can do to support them I will.”
“When Tony DM’d me on Instagram, and he asked for Reese to come, that he wanted her to skate for Birdhouse, I’m just like ‘this is crazy.’ My husband and I are constantly saying to Reese ‘your life is so strange.’ It is so weird, but in an amazing way, and for Reese it’s just normal. It’s normal to hang out with Tony Hawk. She doesn’t understand how crazy it all is.”
What prompted a move to California, which in itself seems an enormous undertaking for a young family from Canada? What kind of support have you received from the skateboarding community at large?
“Everybody thinks we moved for skateboarding, but skateboarding actually had nothing to do with it. We’re honestly not that hard core, that’s the funny part about this (laughs). I was athletic growing up, I hoped my kids would be athletic, but it wasn’t anything like ‘let’s follow this dream and move to southern California.’ Reese’s dad actually got a job offer by accident. He did an online test for fun and a headhunter reached out, and I said ‘go, it’s a week in San Francisco, fun!’ He went, and an offer came in.”
“It was never on the list, let’s move to the States. I had my job as a prosecutor, the kids had their skate community, we had our life, and we thought maybe this would be a fun adventure, see what happens. For about a year her dad moved down and the kids and I were going back and forth to make sure that we wanted to do this. Skateboarding is an enormous bonus but that’s not the reason. It just kind of all fell in our laps. People ask us how long we are staying, and we never really had a plan. We probably should have had a plan (laughs). Now, how can we leave? We can’t leave now.”
What kind of things do you do as a family to keep grounded?
“It was a tight knit skate community in Calgary, the same people she skated with she snowboarded with, but she always loved skateboarding more than snowboarding. She’s like any 10 year old girl, she plays with her sister, she goes swimming, she loves playing with dolls, she loves Barbie. The guys at Tony’s are all older than her but she doesn’t think about that, they’re her buddies. She could not have a better group of people supporting her. Everyone wants the best for her, and everyone is protecting her, and helping us, because I’m never completely sure what I’m doing, ever.”
Do you have wise words for other parents who might find themselves in a similar situation with a child who is highly gifted, & accomplished at such a young age?
“We are team fun. It’s all driven by Reese. Whether she wants to skate or not, that’s up to her. She’s very focused, very driven, but I’m always trying to pull her back a little bit … ‘we’re doing this for fun. We’re team fun. You’re ten years old.’ That is everyone around her too. Tony, her sponsors, no one has ever put any pressure on Reese. I think it is because they’ve seen other kids come through, you put pressure on them, and they quit. At XGames Reese said it herself, she was having fun. As a parent, that’s what you want to hear. That’s the best thing. But I had my eyes covered the whole time, I couldn’t watch what was happening (laughs).
“We’re team fun. That’s what works for us. I want Reese to be happy, that’s all, and I will support her as long as she wants to skate, … (pauses) and I honestly think that will be forever because she eats, sleeps, and breathes skating. But there’s no pressure, no stress, we do everything we can to support her, and she has a lot of really good people around her too. I feel like we hit the jackpot. We’re really lucky.
In a sport that takes an exceptionally strong mental focus to compete at the highest level it may seem surprising at first that someone so young has achieved so much. But skateboarding is collective and inclusive by its very nature, and that is likely the main force behind what is now driving vert skateboarding forward – dedicated athletes regardless of age and gender, including a young skateboarder from Canada, and a once little kid from Carlsbard, California at the helm, motivating each other to reach the highest heights, vertically, to the awe of their fans below.
We cannot wait to see what superhuman feat Reese Nelson accomplishes next!