Long before she moved to the United States, before she was an X Games medalist and an internationally known street skateboarder, Leticia Bufoni spent a lot of time with her grandmother. "She's the best," Bufoni says, "My grandma loves skateboarding."
About this time 10 years ago, Bufoni, who turns 20 on April 13, asked for a skateboard for her 10th birthday. A bunch of the boys she played soccer with in the streets around her home skated and she wanted to give it a try. So the weekend of her birthday, Maria Olingina took Bufoni to Centro Surf and Skate to buy her first board. For years, Olingina picked up her granddaughter from school, drove her to Plasma skate park on the third floor of the Shopping Aricanduva shopping center and watched her skate, sometimes for four or five hours a day.
"She used to call this my second home," Bufoni says while walking through the mall arcade. The skate park, which closed three years ago, sits empty, its windows covered with peeling white paint. Centro Surf and Skate, which was located in the same mall, also shuttered its doors a few years ago. As she walks by the food court that she says provided more dinners than she can count, it becomes clear Bufoni misses her old haunts. "It rains so much in Brazil, and there aren't many indoor parks. This was the only park I could skate in the rain," she says. "It was a big park with rails and bowls and a vert ramp. Skating here is why I can skate tranny now. I miss skating here with all the boys."
So began Bufoni's tour of Sao Paulo, of the local spots where she learned to skate, most times the only girl in the park, and of her favorite places to visit when she returns home. Bufoni currently lives in Newport Beach, Calif., a city she chose to be near the beach, a handful of relocated Brazilian friends and the headquarters of several of her sponsors. She's in Sao Paulo to film with ESPN a preview of X Games Foz do Iguaçu, where she will compete in Skateboard Street, an event in which she owns two silver and one bronze from X Games Los Angeles. She also finished No. 1 in the World Cup Skateboarding overall women's street rankings the past three years.
Just a block down the highway from the mall is the CEU Aricanduva, an elementary school located next to a large favela, or shanty town, with a skate park Bufoni used during the hours at Plasma reserved for kids-only. Another half hour's drive away is Tiquatira skate park, which requires some Frogger-style footwork to access, considering it was built in the median of a busy highway.
When the sun goes down, it's one of the only parks in the city with lights. "We would come here and skate all night," Bufoni says. "Sometimes until early in the morning." And usually after a stop at one of her favorite spots for a bowl of acai with granola and bananas, and a coconut water. (No, not the kind that comes in a bottle. The kind that comes in a coconut.) Today, that's exactly the schedule. "What more do I need?" Bufoni says. "Acai, coconut water, sunshine. That's Brazil."
And with the X Games coming to her home country in April, Bufoni says she's excited about more than just the opportunity to win her first gold medal in front of a home crowd filled with friends. X Games Foz do Iguaçu also could be her first contest with grandma in the stands. "She spent so much time watching me skate and she keeps all the magazines I'm in, but she's never been to a big contest," she says. "I am going to try my best to bring her to X Games Brazil." And despite the 12-hour distance, Bufoni says she'll even drive.