Meet the Local Skateboarding Prodigy Competing in the Olympics

Flipping the script on the sport, teenager Jordan Santana is part of the first-ever U.S.A. Olympic skateboarding team.

By Carlos Brandon Photography by Eric Sauseda July 23, 2021 Published in the Summer 2021 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Eric Sauseda

At 16, Jordan Santana managed a feat only previously achieved by a handful of women in the world. She landed a 540. For the uninitiated, a 540, aka the McTwist, is a skateboarding trick wherein the rider launches from a vertical ramp, spins in the air for a full one and a half rotations (540 degrees), and lands successfully back on the ramp. After months of hard falls and a long recovery from a broken leg, Santana, a Houston native and semi-pro prodigy (she has sponsors but competes as an amateur), became one of only three American female skaters at the time, 2020, to ever land it. In what’s certainly a promising sign for the sport’s future, only a 9-year-old and 11-year-old before her had landed the trick.

“It took a lot of hard work,” she says. “I had been spending so much time trying to understand the spin.” Finally, she just went for it.

So, how did she find herself not only landing 540s but becoming an Olympic hopeful in her teens? Hard work, sure—she spends hours a day training on 12-foot-high vert ramps and in swimming pool-like bowls. But she also had quite the mentor: two-time X Games gold medalist Christian Hosoi.

Santana met Hosoi, a skateboarding legend and born-again Christian, when her father invited his skateboarding ministry to visit their family’s church in 2008. Hosoi flew in from California.

“I was 5 at the time, so I really didn’t know anything about Christian,” she says. The meeting would prove to be a hugely influential moment in her young life.

During Hosoi’s trip, the Santanas accompanied him to the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark. Watching skaters fly around the bowls, Jordan told him she’d like to try it out. Hosoi cleared a bowl and held her hand as she got on a board and balanced on it for the first time. She was hooked. “It was immediate,” Hosoi says. “Her eyes lit up. All she wanted to do was skate.”

Since then, he’s been by her side, mentoring and supporting her career both as a coach and sponsor—in fact, she was the first girl ever on his team of young (potentially pro-bound) skaters, Hosoi Skateboards.

“She was ‘go for it’ right out the gate,” he says. “She wanted to do the biggest jumps, and she was little. She was like 10, 11, 12, and just going big.”

Santana’s ability to soar through the sky earned her top spots at local and state contests in her tweens—often outplacing much of the otherwise all-boys roster, or straight up winning the events all together. In 2015, she made her first U.S. Nationals appearance, later winning that competition in 2017. At the 2019 World Championships in Brazil, she earned a spot on the 2020 USA Skateboarding National team—a feat that put her within arms’ reach of a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. That is, until the pandemic brought all 2020 contests, and Jordan’s Olympic hopes, to a grinding halt.

With only a few qualifying events left before Tokyo, and a spot on the Olympic team on the line, all remaining 2020 skateboarding events, including the Tokyo games themselves, were canceled. The cancellations put the brakes on thousands of promising young athletic careers, Jordan’s among them. Still, the young Houstonian wasn’t too dejected.

Instead, Santana used the extended lockdown as an opportunity to train, working on the 540 and other big tricks at North Houston Skate Park, where she does most of her training and which happened to remain open during lockdown unlike many others around the country. “The focus right now is just training as hard as I can with the timing that we’ve had during Covid, just trying to make the most of it,” she says.

Today, she’s on the 2021 U.S. National Team and qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in June while juggling the demands of homeschooling and becoming somewhat of a celebrity.

Image: Eric Sauseda

“I think I’ve done the local news four or five times now,” she says, with an embarrassed laugh. A 2020 episode of No Days Off (a YouTube series) that featured Jordan has racked up nearly 400,000 views. Back in November she skated in a surprise half-pipe session with Tony Hawk at the Houston Vert Ramp in Montrose. The legend shared a video of Santana’s McTwist on Instagram (amassing more than 100,000 likes) and in the caption wrote that she’s “further proving that skating is for everyone.” As such, Santana has quickly become an inspiration for young female skaters, who often approach her to ask for pictures or simply say hello.

“I saw the potential before it ever manifested,” says Hosoi, for whom Jordan’s ascension has been a source of tremendous pride and affirmation. “As it’s manifesting, you’re like ‘I knew it! I knew it!’ As a coach, or a mentor, or someone with an eye for talent, that’s something you’re always hoping happens.”

Whether she realizes it or not—and she’s beginning to—Santana is partially responsible for opening the very doors she now walks through. Her 540 feat is indicative of a greater shift within the once male-dominated sport. As of 2021, Jordan says about 10 other women have landed the trick and some are now attempting to land the 720 and 900 (yes, even more rotations).

“I had never seen myself in any of the skaters I looked up to growing up,” she says. She remembers being one of only two or three girl skaters at her favorite Houston parks on any given day. Now, she says, “I see a new girl coming in, buying a skateboard, wanting to skate pretty much every day.”

So what’s it like being a vital part of the growing group of women skaters changing the sport and its culture? 

“I think that’s absolutely awesome,” she says.

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