Olympic Hopeful Minna Stess Says Prioritizing Fun Is What Makes Her a Good Skater

Elinor Kry

Minna Stess doesn’t take herself too seriously, and that may be the key to her success. The 17-year-old skateboarder has been shredding the Northern Californian streets since roughly age two — way before she could even attend primary school. Now, as she hopes to head to the 2024 Olympics in Paris, Stess is relying on her breezy attitude to stay grounded as pressure mounts.

“It’s easy to get caught up,” she says. “I can sometimes be like, ‘Hmm, I should be doing this trick.’ But then I just realize I don't need to do a certain trick to be a good skater. I can just skate and do what I want to do, and that's what makes me a good skater.”

A good skater indeed, Stess is ranked second in the U.S. in her sport. At just 8 years old she was the first girl to win the California Amateur Skateboard League, before making the first U.S. national team in 2019, when she was 13. She took first place at the 2021 USA National Championships’ Women’s Park competition when she was 15, making her the youngest to snag the title. Between even more accolades, Stess made history at the 2023 Park World Championship in Rome as the first female American skater to medal at the event, placing third. While she was on the national team, Stess served as an alternate for skateboarding’s Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo games and ultimately wasn’t called to attend. Now hoping to make her first Olympic appearance, and amid her many other skateboarding wins, Stess says everything feels a bit unreal.

“I've always been competitive,” she tells Teen Vogue. “But I never thought the Olympics would be something that I could be doing. It's kind of crazy that this is all happening now.”

<cite class="credit">Elinor Kry</cite>
Elinor Kry

Many chase gold medals, but Stess is more focused on having fun while competing in the sport she grew up with — which is exactly how she rose to the top of her game in the first place.

“I never thought I'd be traveling to different countries every few months to skate in competition,” she admits. “So I'm just lucky that I get to do that. I always tell myself to focus on having fun, that's the most important thing. And also to just be chill. Sometimes I get worked up and I'm freaking out [during competitions]. So it's important for me to just be like, ‘Chill, it's fine, you're just skating.’"

While Stess is just skating, many are taking notice of both her inherent talent and her presence overall. During the interview for this story, Stess’ father recalled her first Vogue appearance, when she was included in a skater-centric style round up. Stess smiled softly as her dad told the story, shrugging in agreement that the moment was cool. She never expected to be included in something as big as Vogue, she says. She was only 10 years old at the time.

Stess and other skaters are gaining more notoriety as skateboarding itself is being taken more seriously, evolving from what many considered to be just a juvenile pastime to a competitive Olympic sport. As the competition gets stiffer, Stess says thinking less about the outcome and more about the moment is key.

“There's not really a way to fail in skateboarding, unless you get hurt,” she says. “But that's not even failure, that just happens. If I land what I want to land in a competition and the scores don't come out the way I want them to or if they’re not ‘good,’ then that’s fine, I will always have the next competition.

“For me, I don’t like to think about the outcome,” she continues. “I just trust that I'm doing everything correctly. Sometimes I tend to do a trick at 99%, and then on the last bit I just kind of bail it off or bail out of the move. Afterwards I’m always like, ‘Why did I do that? I could have just landed it.’ It helps not to think about the outcome. Obviously thinking about the good outcome, but definitely never the bad outcome.”

There’s an emphasis on competitive individuality in a sport so widely known for its community building. And while Stess followed her brother who skated with her while they grew up in Northern California, the 17-year-old also understands how important it is to show up as yourself. Her advice to other young people hoping to compete at her level: “Make it your own and do what you want to do. Don't let anyone tell you that there’s a specific way you should [get into skating]. It's all about you. You can do it how you want.”

Stess approaches her competitive sport with a level of cadence and nonchalance. It helps her stay calm, she says, which clearly seems to be working as she’s made several historic moments in this sport before even turning 18. Ultimately, she doesn't expect anything. All the cool parts of her favorite pastime turned career are just that — cool things.

Stess will compete in the second part of the Olympic Qualifier Series in Budapest, Hungary from June 20-23 in hopes of securing an Olympic spot.

Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue