Picture by Getty Images

Nyjah Huston: Why you need to watch one of the most successful skateboarders of all-time

Team USA have one of the most consistent street skaters in their ranks – here’s everything you need to know about Nyjah ahead of the Olympics in Japan
By Ed Knowles

There won't be many athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 2021 who can be recognised by just their first name. But the world's top ranked male skateboarder Nyjah Huston is likely to be one of the most recognisable.

The American just uses his given name as his Instagram handle, where he has 4.6m followers.

Nyjah burst on the scene as a dreadlocked pre-teen – taking apart seasoned professionals with his precise and daring style.

Now aged 26, he stands as one of the medal favourites for the first ever Olympic street skateboarding contest.

Just go out there and send it – Nyjah Huston’s motto

“It's been a long time coming for skateboarding to get into the Olympics in general,” Huston said in an exclusive interview with Olympic Channel on the day he was named in the USA team.

“I'm feeling good… the main thing with me is just being healthy and not having any injuries.”

Nyjah Huston: Injuries and staying healthy ahead of the Olympics

Falling is an occupational hazard for all skateboarders and, despite his unprecedented success in contest skating, Nyjah does fall occasionally.

“We constantly want to be out there pushing ourselves and pushing the progression.

“And that's just a natural thing you want to do as a skateboarder.”

“The past year now, we've had this kind of thing on our minds.

“We have to stay extra, extra safe and extra healthy [to] make sure we can be there [at the Olympics] and be performing at our best. But I'm stoked that it's coming soon.”

The proposed street skateboarding course for Tokyo 2020 (Courtesy of World Skate)

Why the Olympic skateboarding course will suit Nyjah Huston perfectly

The Olympic course for the street skateboarding has been made public.

It should look familiar to anyone who has been to a skatepark before, with features that echo those found in urban sites around the world.

For the contest itself, a time limit is set but, otherwise skaters are free to choose whatever route they want around the stairs, handrails, curbs, benches, walls, and slopes.

Some factors in working out the scores are: difficulty of the tricks, height, speed, originality, execution, and composition.

Nyjah is an expert in all areas and his scores reflect his mastery. If he qualifies for the Games, expect fireworks.

“I basically already know all the tricks that I'm going to do [at the Olympics]. There's a couple I need to practice that I haven't done in a while.

“And it's always hard because… you constantly have to be like, ‘Oh, is it even worth practicing this on the big rail right now or should I just wait?’

“It's so easy to get injured - ankles, bruised heels - it's just constant, annoying little injuries.”

Don’t be fooled by Nyjah’s caution though when it comes to the crunch – he rarely disappoints.

“I feel confident. Right now, I'm feeling good.”

Nyjah Huston: 'Skateboarding is a worldwide sport'

It’s been a long journey for skateboarding to make its way into the Olympic programme.

Nyjah is surprised with the time it has taken for such a popular activity to be included.

“Skateboarding is such a worldwide sport, an activity that kids and everyone do all around the world.

“And it's also very accessible compared to most other sports.

“All you need is yourself, motivation, and your skateboard,” Nyjah smiles.

“Oh, and some decent shoes!”

Nyjah Huston with his trademark dreadlocks as a teenager
Picture by 2010 Getty Images

Nyjah Huston: From gnarly teenager to full send

From a public dispute with his father and a move to Puerto Rico, Nyjah’s teenage years were filled with ups and downs. One thing stayed consistent: his dedication to skateboarding.

He won every title that can be won in skateboarding. He has been nominated for the illustrious Thrasher Skater of the Year. But he admits the Olympic gold medal would call for a big celebration.

“If I came out with the gold, I'd be down to get [an Olympics tattoo]. I don't know where I'll get it at this point."

Nyjah has gradually filled his body up with tattoos. To the extent that there’s not actually a lot of space left for anymore.

“I really [only] have random [free] spots on my legs.

“Maybe I'll do my first face tattoo!”

It seems like he’s joking… right?

Nyjah Huston skating at the World Skate / SLS 2019 World Championship
Picture by ale@alexandreschneider.com

Nyjah Huston: Skateboarding during the coronavirus

The pandemic meant a pause on competitive skating for a while.

It’s a shame, because watching the contests live is simply breathtaking. The skill needed to execute the tricks with the required height and speed is incredible.

Nyjah seems to revel in these moments, but underneath the calm exterior is a high heart rate.

“The pressure and the nerves you get as a skateboarder when you have to go put down that last trick…, it's not good!

“With how technical skateboarding is [nowadays]… the way you use your legs and the perfect positioning of your feet on the board and stuff... it's really not a good combination for most people, even not for me!

“One foot position wrong just throws [you] off your whole trick.

“So, you really got to be in the zone out there and stay focused and just try to stay calm.”

One of the most important parts for the skating community is gathering your buddies and heading to your new favourite spot to hang out.

The pandemic has also meant that that side of skating has been almost impossible.

So, if Nyjah could assemble the best skate squad ever – who would he pick?

Chris Cole,” he says without hesitation. “And Paul Rodriguez, as they were definitely my favourite skaters growing up.

“You got to throw [Tony] Hawk in there too. The legend.

“Shane Cross… so sad to see him go so soon but he had the sickest style.”

“Some of the other greats like Arto Saari, Mark Appleyard. Maybe throw Bastien Salabanzi in there… Stevie Williams… what a legend. I could go on and on, man… Great question!”

And his mantra for success?

“Send it.”

It’s nearly time, Nyjah… It’s nearly time.