HOMETOWN: Davis, CA EVENT: Street Skateboard
He has 18 career X Games medals, his own Nike shoe, and a video game with Tony Hawk. But right now, Nyjah Huston, the world’s top-ranked male skateboarder, is just another hopeful gunning for Olympic gold.
“That is definitely one of my ultimate goals in life,” he says. “But at the same time, I try not to think about it too much, because when it comes down to it, I approach all these contests the same.”
Born in California to a controlling Rastafarian father, Huston spent a childhood that consisted of little more than homeschool, a strict vegan diet and, starting at age 4, intensive skateboarding. By age 7, he had his first sponsorship; at 11, he was competing in his first X Games. “I was just trying not to get run over,” he jokes. Then, in 2006, his father uprooted the family to a remote farm in Puerto Rico, where forced isolation and mismanagement of Huston’s career drove his mother and siblings to flee back to California.
After two years apart, Huston’s mother won custody and borrowed money for a hotel room so that he could compete in the first Street League competition, in Arizona in 2010. He won first place, along with $150,000. “That was the most important and best feeling I’ve ever had in a contest,” he says. “It saved our lives.” By 2013, Huston was the winningest skateboarder in history.
Skateboarding is different from most events that reward those who go faster, higher, stronger. It’s a technical competition where redefining what’s possible with a new trick can land you on the podium—or on your ass. “I heard [the course] is going to be a lot bigger than your normal X Games Street League course,” says Huston. “There are probably going to be plenty of options, and hopefully some big rails for your boy to get down on.”
To get to the Olympics, however, Huston first has to qualify by earning enough points. You can watch him compete in the only U.s.-based qualifier, the Dew Tour in Des Moines, IA, which will livestream May 19 to 23 on dewtour.com. “It comes down to who can deal with the nerves,” says Huston. Yeah, it does!