Samarria Brevard is many things. The 24-year-old SoCal native is a top female skater, an emerging style icon and a history-changing figure in a sport that has not always been kind to outsiders.
The “Serena Williams of skateboarding” can make a half-cab (aka Ollie 180) off a nine-stair look easy, make your grandma's bucket hat feel cool and make her way to the podium at the X Games, where early this year she became the first African-American woman to medal in the contest's 22-year history.
It was a monumental, career-making achievement. And as we approach the end of 2017, things don't appear to be slowing down for Brevard.
Last week, she turned pro for Enjoi—a seminal skateboard company founded in 2000 by street-tech genius Marc Johnson. The week before that, iconic shoe company Etnies welcomed her to its heralded skate team and announced a Samarria Brevard signature shoe. These are all firsts for an African-American woman.
What could possibly come next? Bleacher Report caught up with the hard-training, overalls-donning pro to talk high tops, professional pressures and what it's like to be a black woman in a sport historically dominated by skinny white dudes.
Bleacher Report: The big news is that you just officially joined Etnies. These days, that team is so talented it's comparable to the Chicago Bulls in the '90s.
Samarria Brevard: Yeah!
B/R: And now you're a part of it.
SB: Etnies was one of the teams I wanted to get on as a kid. It's legendary. Their shoes always fit well and had STI foam padding [Etnies patented insoles] and all around were just really good shoes. Right now, the whole team is epic. Ryan Sheckler. Nick Garcia. Chris Joslin. Matt Berger. The team is stacked right now. All those dudes are so, so good.
B/R: Let's set the scene. When did you get the call?
SB: When I was back at home after the X Games. On my last run, I landed a Tre Flip [360-degree/full-cab kickflip] down the eight [eight-stair drop]. I was really pumped on that one, and ended up in second place. I made it home and they called that week.
B/R: Now you get to work with the Etnies STI lab to help design your own shoe. Any ideas so far?
SB: On my signature for the shoe will be my name and a dragonfly.
B/R: A dragonfly? Not exactly a gnarly skate symbol, like a hawk skull or a bulldog's head or a pentagram or something.
SB: I chose the dragonfly for my symbol because they're so colorful. I feel like they embody the aura of my soul.
B/R: Any other ideas?
SB: We have worked on some colors and a signature insole for a new team model coming out in 2018. It's pretty similar to the high top and I'm thinking cream or something having to do with red. It's a new mid top coming out in the spring that's probably most similar to the Jameson Vulc in a cream color. It'll probably be similar to the the Vegan high top I always skate, the Jameson HT.
B/R: And speaking of the HT—you seem a big fan of high tops, even when low-cut shoes are ruling the skatescape.
SB: [Laughs.] Yes!
B/R: Why high tops?
SB: I just personally like anything that's got a higher cut. Plus, I like basketball shoes. Right now, my favorites are the [Etnies] Jameson high tops, the Begans. Those shoes are super dope. They fit real nice on my foot, and there's the higher ankle support, plus you've got another barrier of protection, which is good. I've rolled my ankle a bunch, and it hurts.
B/R: The first hightop era stemmed from '80s basketball. You hoop, right?
SB: For eight years, four years before I started skating.
B/R: Is there any overlap between basketball and skateboarding?
SB: Footwork. At practice, we'd focus on ... where our feet should be. That's translated over to skating pretty well. Also, being flexible. Allowing your muscles and joints to stretch helps reduce injury. Every day, every practice, we all line up and stretch together.
B/R: Do you have a training regimen outside of skating?
SB: Yes. I have a trainer now, and we focus on strengthening my legs, so a lot of jumping exercises.
B/R: What did you wear to the gym? Basketball sneakers? Cross trainers? Not skate shoes?!
SB: I work out in Etnies Betas. They're super light with really comfortable padding for your feet. But back in the day, I didn't have other workout shoes, so I'd wear some Lakais.
B/R: There's a great shot of you flying over a nine-stair wearing red sneakers and a matching hat. Do you think about what to wear when skating?
SB: Oh, yeah. Whenever I film, I'm always trying to look the best I can. And I definitely don't know what my style is, but I want to look as cool as I can, at least to myself.
B/R: You're the first black woman on the Etnies team, so that's obviously new, but simply as a female skater, did you always feel a little on the outside?
SB: Growing up, I was definitely the only girl doing it. Going to new parks, it wasn't hard because I had my brother and his friends. Usually, people were surprised, but in a good way, like "Oh, she actually skates. That's dope."
B/R: Things have changed, haven't they?
SB: The amount of support that's coming out right now is amazing. Girls are skating a lot more. The stands are starting to fill up, and even just cruising around, you see girls a lot more. They're choosing to skate, and they could choose anything, like a bike or scooter. But they're choosing a skateboard. It's definitely growing in all types of ways.
B/R: Did you ever feel different because of your ethnicity? There are black skaters, and female skaters, but not a lot of black female skaters.
SB: If anyone ever had a problem, they never confronted me about it. Riverside has a good cultural mixture. There's a little bit of everything around here. The people that I came up around, we were a good group and it was just all about the skating.
B/R: It's a cliche that turning pro at anything—art, music, sports—can be both a dream and somewhat of a nightmare. What's it like to be a professional skateboarder?
SB: It's a new realm. There's definitely pressure. I'm not going out with friends as much to film—I'm going with the Etnies dudes and meeting people from the company. And that's because you have to get stuff done, you have to film. There's deadlines and all the pressures that come with that. But it's not pressure to a point where I can't handle it, because it's something I've done all my life. It's all about your work ethic. As long as you're doing what you need to do, the pressure's not gonna get to you.
B/R: You're training every day, but not at skateparks, which are ubiquitous where you grew up in SoCal.
SB: Honestly, I'm just over skateparks. I've been to so many, and they're fun, but it's nothing like the street. On the street, you have so many different dynamics that make it that much harder, but when you land a trick, it makes it that much more satisfying.
B/R: Let's end on what I know is a sensitive note. How do you feel about the whole "Serena Williams of Skateboarding" thing?
SB: I was not ready for that. It was something my friend put out there, and ESPN ran with it. I mean, am I really her caliber?
B/R: So how do you feel?
SB: Honored, obviously. It's Serena Williams. She's the greatest.
Cole Louison (IG) is a researcher at Bleacher Report and the author of The Impossible: Rodney Mullen, Ryan Sheckler, and the Fantastic History of Skateboarding.