November 14th, 2023
Beauty & Darkness
Skateboarding Pro Nyjah Huston Opens Up About His Past and His Passion for the Sport
By Simon Roberts
Photography by Spencer Fahlman
Presented by SET JET
What do you get when you have a controlling father, a strict and secluded Rastafarian upbringing, six Street Skateboarding World Championships, 13 Summer X Games gold medals, three ESPY awards, total domination of Olympic qualifying for Paris 2024, and sponsors the likes of Nike SB, Monster and Disorder Skateboards? You get Nyjah Huston at 28 years old and seemingly on top of the world of street skateboarding. He has come a long way since spending four years isolated on a rural farm in Puerto Rico under his father’s questionable managerial control. After he reunited with his mother and siblings, his mother spent her last $100 to get Nyjah from their home in Davis, California, to his first Street League Skateboarding event in Phoenix, Arizona. SLS, Ridiculousness and Fantasy Factory founder Rob Dyrdek had to lend Huston’s mother the money for a hotel room. Never one to disappoint, sixteen-year-old Huston stunned Dyrdek and the judges by winning the event, collecting a $150,000 prize and stabilizing his family’s financial situation. His meteoric rise in the skateboarding world has seen him win more prize money than any other professional skateboarder in history, but was almost snuffed out in its early stages. In a wide-ranging interview with Inked Magazine’s own Jayme Foxx that takes place aboard a private flight with Huston’s new aviation partner Set Jet, Inc., Nyjah opens up about his family, his career, his tattoos and his philosophy on skateboarding.
Jayme Foxx So, I’m going to jump right into this. What made you go, “I wanna be a skateboarder?”
Nyjah Huston Man, it was really just a natural attraction to it, because ever since I first started, when I was around like four or five, I was always pushing around on my knees a little bit. But I have three brothers, two older brothers. I grew up skating with them and my dad got us into it. We were all really young and I was the one that really just had so much love for it. That’s all I wanted to do every day.
Jayme Foxx You had a passion for it?
Nyjah Huston Yeah, so much passion. And I still do. It’s amazing.
Jayme Foxx When you do have a passion like that in any career, you kind of have to sacrifice friends, family and relationships because you have to really focus on yourself. Have you had a lot of issues when it comes to other relationships, family or other jobs?
Nyjah Huston Yeah. It’s interesting you say that because I was raised really strict, and really outside of the normal society. I never went to school when I was a kid. I was raised vegan for my whole childhood, and a lot of these things were because my dad was very strict about the way he saw life. I think a big reason I became such a good skateboarder was because I didn’t have a lot of distractions and my life was very simple. The mixture of that and how much love I had for skateboarding was a good combination for me to get that good at it.
Jayme Foxx Well, stability is also one thing, and you see everyone around your family and everyone’s giving you structure. So having that structure is important. Do you think that if you were raised in a different way, you would be different or still be as passionate about skateboarding?
Nyjah Huston I ask myself that question a lot. If I was raised as a normal kid and went to a normal school and had friends and was having fun, doing my thing, just being a normal kid—I question if I would have still been that focused on skateboarding. Part of me thinks I still would have been because I’ve been skateboarding for 23 years now, and I still have just as much love for it as I did when I was a kid. I think part of the reason for that is skateboarding is so much different than your average sport out there, your average team sport. It’s so creative and it’s such a lifestyle. It’s not like I go to my skate park every day and I’m like, “Alright, it’s time to train—I got to do this today. I got to do that today.”
Jayme Foxx How was it competing in your first Olympics?
Nyjah Huston It was amazing and an honor to be able to skate the first Olympics that skateboarding was in. It’s just an honor to represent your country in general. That was very new to skateboarding. I’ve skated every contest in the world and that was the first time we really represented our country out there. It definitely gives you a special feeling and so much extra motivation. It was an interesting experience because it was right around COVID time. And it was in Tokyo, Japan where they were still taking COVID very, very seriously. So we were locked in the Olympic Village the whole time. We didn’t have that much freedom to do as much stuff as you normally would around the Olympics, but it was still a great experience. And I think I can definitely make it to the next one. I won one contest last year in Rome. That was like one of the Olympic qualifying events.
Jayme Foxx And when is the Paris Olympics?
Nyjah Huston The Paris Olympics is next year. Yeah, 2024, I think around July. Yeah, it’s nice. It is only three years from the last one instead of four years because of the whole COVID change.
Jayme Foxx Now, I want to ask you one question because I’m into tattoos and so are you. What’s your favorite tattoo?
Nyjah Huston My favorite tattoo. Oh, man. I get asked that so often it’s so hard to answer. But I really like this one a lot on my left kneecap, it’s like half-butterfly, half-skull. And of course I can’t forget about “skate and destroy” which was my first tattoo at 18 years old. My other favorite is this old, kind of Rasta Ethiopian-style cross I used to wear every single day when I was a kid. I was raised Rasta.
Jayme Foxx Do you still have the cross?
Nyjah Huston I lost it. But I got it tatted on me. So it’s always with me. That’s the good thing about tattoos, right?
Jayme Foxx Skateboarding is a glorified, athletic profession. You’re considered a professional athlete. How do you feel about it being this global phenomenon, a recognized athletic sport?
Nyjah Huston Yeah, I think there are just two totally different sides to skateboarding at this point. And I mean, there always has been the competition side of skateboarding. I grew up skating contests since I was six years old. I grew up watching my favorite skaters skate X Games and stuff, and then somehow I was skating my first X Games when I was 11 years old. But obviously, now it’s these contests trying to qualify for the Olympics. That whole side of things. I’m not one to hate on that side of skateboarding. I think it’s cool. I love competing. I have fun competing. I don’t go skate contests to become famous or to make more money. I skate contests because I genuinely like going out there and pushing the progression and competing with my other friends and skaters.
Then there is the whole other core side of skateboarding, which to me is what true skateboarding is and what true skateboarding always will be, as long as people like myself know that and are knowledgeable of that and still are true skateboarders. I still spend most of my time out filming and actually doing true street skating, skating real stairs, getting kicked out by cops and security guards, cutting knobs off rails. That’s the kind of stuff that I grew up doing, and that’s the kind of stuff that I still love to do the most to this day. So I think as long as everyone still knows that’s what true skateboarding is and people like myself are pushing that knowledge out there, then there’s nothing to worry about. It doesn’t matter if someone wants to admit the fact that skateboarding is a sport or not, nowadays, because a lot of people still don’t. It is a sport in ways because we are athletes, we are out there training, taking care of our bodies, being healthy, skating these contests, making money off of it. But when it comes down to it, true skateboarding is street skateboarding, that’s just all there is to it.
Jayme Foxx So what do you love most about being a Set Jet ambassador? What made you really want to get involved with this company?
Nyjah Huston I wanted to be involved with Set Jet because I’ve noticed over the years how many more people, like more of my friends in the L.A. scene, influencers, or other athletes, had been using private flights more. So I think I’m aware of how much more popular it will become over the years. And I’m also an investor in Set Jet, so I saw that opportunity and thought, why not be a part of this? Why not throw some money in here? Because it’s most likely going to be a successful company. And I get to travel on planes like this sometimes.
Jayme Foxx What is your favorite thing about Set Jet? Obviously, you know, you can get somewhere quickly. You can fly with all your friends. What’s your favorite thing?
Nyjah Huston Yeah, I would say my favorite thing is just the vibe of being on a plane like this with a couple of friends compared to flying commercial. I hate dealing with airports, that’s one of the main things. I’ve missed so many flights from being late before, especially at LAX where parking at the airport is a nightmare. So it’s really just making people experience how much easier and much more fun it is.
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