At 13, Petaluma skateboarder makes her X Games debut

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When: Friday, Aug. 2

Time: 5 p.m.

TV: ESPN, 6-9 p.m. (taped)

It’s hard to say what is more remarkable: That Minna Stess is skating in the X Games just six months removed from a career-halting fall and two arm surgeries, or that the Petaluma girl is competing on professional skateboarding’s biggest stage just two months removed from finishing 7th grade.

When Stess, 13, drops into the skate park in Minneapolis on Friday, Aug. 2, she will be one of the youngest competitors in the 25-year history of the international extreme sports competition. But it’s just another highlight on a growing list of career accomplishments for the local skater who has been riding since she was 2 years old.

An alternate at the X Games last year, Stess was again just outside of qualifying for the 12-woman skateboard park field, but found out she was in when another competitor got injured.

“I was really excited,” Stess said of learning she was invited to compete. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, and probably won’t until it really happens.”

Stess spoke in a phone interview from the Southern California facility where she was training for the X Games. She spends most weekends at the training center, and her mother, Moniz Franco, jokes that she drives an Interstate-5 shuttle bus.

“I think I’m lucky to have a good family that is supporting me,” Stess said.

She is also thankful for the flexibility that her school, Valley Oaks, offers. An independent study public school, the Petaluma institution allows Stess and other children pursuing training-intensive passions to complete course work in between practice sessions.

“Everything we do with our skater kids must seem like a bit much, but it’s not,” Franco said. “Driving up and down I-5 a few years ago would seem insane. Now it’s just normal.”

Stess started skating to keep up with her brother, Finnley, who is now 16 and started a skateboard club at Petaluma High School. Her father, Andrew Stess, works as a consultant in the music industry when he’s not managing his daughter’s professional skateboarding career.

Since she is so humble, Andrew Stess frequently plays the role of his daughter’s hype man, rattling off a list of her accomplishments, including being the youngest ever to place first in the World Cup Skateboarding 15-and-under bowl series in 2017, and at age 6 becoming the youngest girl in the history of the King of the Groms contest series to make the finals in the street competition.

“I think I drive her a little crazy with my parent boasting,” Andrew Stess said. “I’m so proud of her. She’s worked so hard.”

Andrew Stess in January was watching Minna work on a new trick at a skate park in Oakland. She had jumped her skateboard onto a rail in order to ride it when she fell backward and onto her arm.

“It was awful,” he said. “When you hear your child screaming a certain way, you know it is really bad.”

Stess dislocated her elbow and underwent two surgeries in three weeks. Fortunately, the injury came during the slow period of the skateboarding season as Stess was off of a skateboard for three months while she worked on rehabilitation.

By the time the International Skateboarding Open in Nanjing, China, came around in July, she couldn’t quite straighten her arm, but was able to compete in the skate park, which is a concrete bowl featuring several obstacles around which riders perform tricks and earn points.


When: Friday, Aug. 2

Time: 5 p.m.

TV: ESPN, 6-9 p.m. (taped)

She placed in the top 10 in China and was the number two American.

The X Games, which are broadcast on ESPN, will be the most prestigious competition of Stess’ meteoric career so far.

“No doubt this is the biggest,” Andrew Stess said. “This is the one she’s been dreaming about.”

The annual event was long considered the Olympics of skateboarding, that is, until the actual Olympics announced it would adopt skateboarding for the 2020 games in Tokyo. Now Stess has a new goal to shoot for.

“We started doing qualifiers for the Olympics,” she said. “That’s definitely the next goal. It would be the best experience ever.”

She is currently in position to qualify for the American team with 10 months to go. The next qualifier is the World Championships in Brazil in September.

Stess’ success in the skate park has translated into sponsorship deals, and she has been featured in commercials for Disney and Legos. She has an agent, but she doesn’t let the fame go to her head. When she’s not training in Southern California or traveling the world for competitions, she likes playing with her dog, watching movies and playing video games with friends or skating on the ramp the Stesses built in their Petaluma backyard.

In short, she tries to be a normal 13-year-old girl.

“It’s definitely hard, but I work it out,” she said. “I have a good balance”

In a sport where the best skaters in the world are in their late teens and 20s, Minna has only scratched the surface of her talent, Andrew Stess said.

“It’s a crazy ride. We’re having fun,” he said. “She’s 13 and living the dream. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

(Contact Matt Brown at

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