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‘I love skating to death and always will’: Skateboarder grabs chance for an Olympic firs

“I never thought that it would reach this point,” says Hayley Wilson, the first Australian woman to compete in street skateboarding at the Olympic Games.

“People coming up to me and asking for photos. I’m still adjusting to it,” she says.

“It’s pretty cool to think that people look up to me and want to start skating because they see me or Rayssa [Leal] skating.”

Growing up in Mansfield, 180km northeast of Melbourne, the 19-year-old started skateboarding at six years old.

“I got my first skateboard from The Reject Shop, because my brother and I were being annoying. My mum and dad gave us $10 to spend and we bought one of those like little mini skateboards. It’d be be like the size of like my foot now,” she says.

“I’d just skate around in the garage. I couldn’t do anything, but I just loved it.

“For Christmas I got like a proper board… that’s when I really started to skate and eventually, I started going to contests.

“I never thought back then that I would’ve gone to the Olympics, or I’d be sponsored by Nike, and I’d be travelling the world for my job,” she says.

'I love skating to death and always will': Skateboarder grabs chance for an Olympic first

After starting skateboarding at six years old, Hayley Wilson never could have imagined herself being where she is now. Picture: Josh Sabini.

The realisation that it was possible came after she was invited to her first X-Games ­– a global extreme sports event featuring the best athletes in each sport – in 2017.

“I was really excited. It’s such a surreal feeling to be invited to the X-Games and I was so young,” she says. 

“From there, that’s when I realised, this is what I want to do. Not just contest skating, I want to be a professional skateboarder. It all started coming together after I was invited to my first street league in 2018.”

Then in 2019, it became even more serious after she was invited to be one of nine skateboarders involved in the Nike SB video Gizmo – Nike SB’s first all-women’s skate video – which she got to travel the world to film for. As well as coming second place in both Street League in London and X-Games in Shanghai ­– two global level competitions which showcase the best skateboarders from around the world – in the same week.

“It was a lot, but it was the best time of my life,” she says.

As this was all happening Hayley was training for the end goal of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, where skateboarding was to feature for the first time.

“The first couple of years it was just skating and honing tricks,” she says.

Then the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, and the Olympics were pushed back a year.

“I was pretty stoked, to be honest,” she says. “I got another year to skate and learn more tricks,” she says.

“There were negatives to it… having to push my plan back a year, but it’s not like I was the only person who had to do that.”

A result of the pandemic was Hayley getting her own indoor skatepark in Mansfield.

“When the second harsh lockdown started, I had a discussion with my mum and dad,” she says.

“We decided it was too close to the Olympics and I needed somewhere to skate because we were in lockdown and there was no way I was going to be able to train.”

The last eight to 10 months until the Olympics is where the training started to get serious.

She suffered an unusual ankle injury, which caused “excruciating pain” and took eight weeks to diagnose, even after seeing multiple physiotherapists and getting an MRI.

“Then I found Mav [her current physiotherapist], and within a week I was skating again,” she says.

Her coach and long-time friend Kat Williams says she noticed a big change in Hayley’s attitude once she recovered.

“She had the ankle injury and Covid kicked in and I think the realisation it could all get taken away like that … gave her a new level of motivation,” Kat says.

“She was working so hard – she’d be absolutely exhausted, but still going to the gym at night.”

Hayley says she was at the gym three to four times a week, then skating five or six days, twice a day for an hour and a half.

“lt was so stressful. It was physically and mentally demanding. I was tired all the time,” she says.

“Plus, it wasn’t just training. I had Nike campaigns in between and had to do other things that weren’t just skating and that was so stressful.”

The Olympics Games happened in July and Hayley competed in the inaugural street skateboarding event, finishing 16th. It was an “amazing opportunity”, she says.

“I’ve put so much time and energy into the last 12 months and that’s why I’m not bummed about the result because I know I worked hard for it.”

Now she’s back home and went through lockdown in Melbourne, and says she’s still processing the experience.

Hayley hasn’t yet decided if she’ll compete in the Paris Olympic Games in 2024, wanting to, “love skating as much as I used to” before she makes the decision.

“I still love skating to death, and I always will,” she says.

“But it isn’t the same passion as I had before the Olympic stuff came up. I just want to go skate and find that feeling again.”

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