Ask pro BMX freestyle rider Nigel Sylvester which hurts more-getting a chest piece shaded or taking a header into the ground after missing a toothpick grind-and he'll say neither: It's all about mind over matter. "Riding bikes is physical-you're gonna fall down and get hurt," says Sylvester. "Same with tattoos. Yeah, some of 'em hurt, but I think if you brainwash yourself to think it doesn't hurt, then it doesn't." Judging by his success, Sylvester has mastered the power of positive thinking. Sponsored by Nike 6.0 and riding for Mirraco (legendary BMX champion Dave Mirra's outfit), the 21-year-old Queens, NY, native just celebrated the premiere of his latest Nike 6.0 movie, Writing on the Walls, which saw him tearing up streets across Europe, Australia, and Dubai. But his real passion lately is Format, a BMX and fashion boutique he launched earlier this year.
"It was always an idea to have a store when I was kid, like a BMX clubhouse with a homeboy-type vibe where you can hang out, watch videos, and get clothes," he says. "It's all about the kids that come in and say they started riding because of the store or an event we put on." Sylvester wasn't too different from those kids when he started seriously riding at 14, and it wasn't long after that he got the itch for ink at 16. "When I was growing up I loved drawing. I took art classes, and I would always doodle in class. I always wanted to get [a tattoo] but I knew if I went home and asked or something, it wouldn't fly. One day in high school when I was 16, I saw my friend had one and I just decided I was going to get a tattoo that day."
Nowadays, Sylvester almost exclusively gets his work done by Derrick "D'TatStar," the owner of One Stroke Tattoos in Rosedale, NY. "He's one of the best artists around," Sylvester brags. Of the athlete's nine-plus tattoos, most are script, including the aforementioned chest piece that reads "I am what I am." Says Sylvester, "It reminds me of myself and what I need to do so I can stay on my path."