Petaluma girl, 11, soaring to new heights on skateboard
Her airs are really big. She's the youngest girl to drop in on the quarter-pipe of the MegaRamp.
If those words read like Greek to you, you're clearly not a skateboard fan.
But little Minna Stess of Petaluma might just make you one.
The just-turned-11-year-old is a rising star in the sport, having been invited to an X Games qualifying competition this weekend in Boise, Idaho.
Skating since she was 2, Stess has caught the eye of the extreme sport's sponsors and fans alike.
The small but mighty girl has already notched several firsts for her age and gender and has an outsized social media following for an otherwise typical fifth-grader.
On Friday, Stess will shoot her best tricks in two 45-second runs in the women's skateboard park division - competing against 19 other females - some teenagers, some women more than double her age. The top 12 of the day advance to Saturday's contest, from which six will qualify for the X Games in Minneapolis, Minn., in July.
Saturday's competition will be live streamed on Xgames.com.
Stess is by far the youngest of the 20 competitors, who hail from all over the country and the world - a few of whom are even professional skaters.
The McNear Elementary School student is psyched to be among the skate glitterati.
“I am so hyped, thankful and honored to be invited to the X Games qualifier in Boise Idaho this year,” she wrote on her Facebook page, followed by nearly 20,000 people. “But first I have a book report & a state report due. This is so crazy.”
Stess and her parents, Moniz Franco and Andrew Stess, and her 14-year-old brother, Finnley, are a skateboarding family. It was actually Finnley's passion for it that attracted Minna.
Big brother got his first board at 4 and “it was like he'd been skating forever,” Andrew Stess said.
Finnley has had much success in the sport too, winning medals in the California State Games and more.
Minna has taken the desire to be like her brother and parlayed it into a budding career as a skater.
“I pretty much wanted to copy his every move,” she said. “I thought he was pretty cool.”
She, like her brother, became obsessed with the sport while still in diapers.
Her first real competition, which she said she barely remembers, was in Hawaii at age 4. At age 5, Stess competed in a California Amateur Skateboard League contest in Pacifica.
“I remember hearing the announcer call her name and seeing the big smile on her face when she was doing her run,” said her mom. “That smile! She was having the best time.”
Franco grew up without sport and gender boundaries as a young athlete, and she's passed on that freedom to Minna. At the same time, it can be a dangerous activity, with broken bones, sprains, bruises, even concussions relatively common.
“It doesn't seem crazy to me. I've had people say they'd freak out if my kids did that. I don't get it,” Franco said. “But when I was growing up, I broke a lot of bones doing other sports. I understand it. Plus, both my kids are very coordinated. What they do doesn't seem outside their realm of ability.”
Though Minna pushes the envelope and learns new tricks, she has escaped major injury in a sport that values huge leaps in the air, crazy twists and what might be described as controlled recklessness.
“I haven't broken a lot of bones, but I broke my middle finger,” she volunteers. “I crushed my finger under my wheel. It was gross.”
“She's pretty bendy,” mom said.
Minna said she enjoys “doing giant backside air,” flips and “rock and rolls,” when a skater rides the front wheels of their board over the edge of a ramp, rocking it on the coping, then riding back down the ramp - a trick Minna has been doing since she was 7.
The Stesses built a skateboard course in their west Petaluma backyard for both Finnley and Minna to practice on.
“It's a pretty amazing sport,” Andrew Stess said. “There are a lot of life lessons with skateboarding. It's not figuratively falling and getting up, it's literally falling and getting up - and persevering, trying over and over again until you get it right.”
He's unflinchingly proud of his youngest and how far she's come so quickly in the sport.
“She's killing it for her age. She's got great style. She's a natural skater; was from the beginning,” he said. “She's always had great airs for a young person, a small person.”
At age 8, Minna became the youngest girl to drop in on the quarter-pipe of the MegaRamp at Woodward West in Tehachapi.
Essentially that means Stess stood atop the 27-foot ramp, hooked the back lip of her board on the edge, then stepped onto the board with her front foot and “dropped in,” riding vertically straight down at first and into the curving ramp.
“That sort of put her on the map at 8. She's fearless to an extent. But she's very smart,” Andrew Stess said. “She knows what she's doing. It's not like she doesn't fall or take slams.
“But having that fearlessness and competitiveness and wanting to succeed, learn those life lessons, achieving, she works really hard.”