At 23 years old, Nyjah Huston is an unmistakable presence. Tattooed from the neck down and sporting a laid back Nike-centric style, he exudes a quiet composure. A bonafide thrasher by the age of five, Huston has risen to a level of prominence and mass-recognition that only a few skaters have achieved, placing him in the company of legends like Rodney Mullen, Tony Hawk, and Paul Rodriguez.
Born in Davis, California, Huston has made the leap from the street and the park into superstardom, with 2.4 million Instagram followers and a stack of brand partnerships, including a deal he inked with Nike in 2015 to join their SB team, making him the highest paid skater in the world. Any skateboarder will tell you how important good skate shoes are, and having a signature shoe, as Huston does with Nike, is a sign that you’ve unmistakably “made it.” While social media and brand partnerships are an inextricable part of contemporary skate culture, the seven-time X-Game gold medalist has earned every bit of his fame, alongside more prize money than any skater before him.
Huston left California during his youth, spending his formative years in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, where he was raised as a strict Rastafarian, listening only to reggae music, forbidden from cutting his shoulder length dreads, and following a strict vegan diet until the age of 18. Though he no longer adheres to the Rastafarian lifestyle, he still feels a deep affinity for Puerto Rico. “There’s actually a great skate scene out there, and I feel like a lot of people don’t know that. It’s devastating that they got hit with that hurricane. I haven’t actually been back since I lived there, but I hope to find the time to go back there soon,” he tells me. His time there inspired Huston to use his platform to give back. Influenced by the difficulties he faced accessing clean water while in San Lorenzo, Huston founded Let It Flow, an organization that seeks to provide access to clean water in developing nations. In 2012, Let It Flow constructed their first well in the Ethiopian village Debra Brehan.
In 2011, Huston broke out with his self- produced skate film Rise & Shine, which won him a slew of sponsorships. It’s easy to see why—Rise & Shine is a furiously paced supercut of high-stakes, perfectly executed skating. Huston conquers legendary spots with tricks the locations have never seen—crooked grinds on 18-step rails, hard flips over ten foot drops—impeccably finished with butter-smooth landings. Increasingly, though, his documentary talents are now concentrated into weekly Instagram posts. The typical timeline for producing a skate film is six months, while Instagram allows Huston to provide almost daily updates on his progress and achievements, both as a skater and as a person. “I love shooting for Instagram. Everyday I try to get out there and skate with homies, get a fun shot, keep it interesting. It lets me try different tricks and styles out,” he says.
Huston still likes the film format, though “it’s hard to out do yourself after the last one we did.” That would be his newest video produced with Nike, ‘Til Death. The title ends up being almost
too accurate—along with jaw-dropping footage of Huston pushing his talent to the absolute limit, there are a series of harrowing spills, pools of blood, falls that look like they could put him out of the game forever. But he always gets up, heading back to the top of the stairs to land the trick.
Huston represents a new generation of skaters, inspired heavily by contemporary hip-hop culture, who provide their fans with almost endless content and a window into their world through social media. Huston tries to use his platform to encourage young skaters: “I feel for a lot of kids. So many of them love skateboarding, but they get hurt, or go for something too gnarly early on, and get over it because they got hurt too much. It really gets to me when I hear those stories. I always tell kids, just take it easy, take it slow. So many bad slams I see are from kids who weren’t ready to do it.”
Huston makes it all look easy, but he confesses that behind the scenes, the life of a skater isn’t all fun and games: “My day to day is either workout or go to therapy. I’ve had a knee injury for six years.” If you’ve watched his videos, you know that he won’t let it slow him down. So, what’s next for Huston? Only the biggest prize of them all—Gold at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which will mark skateboarding’s debut as an Olympic event. “10-20 years ago, people had the attitude, like, “Why are you riding a skateboard? Shouldn’t you be going to college or something?’” Huston says. “But now that it has become a possible career—you can make a really good living off of it. And especially with it being in the Olympics, it will only get bigger.”
Written by Sebastian Moraga
Photographed by Nick Green
Styled by David Bonney
Flaunt film directed by Scott Smith
Grooming: Randi Peterson
Styling Assistant: Jessica Meister