After watching Nyjah Huston rip through a street course, pulling off incredibly difficult tricks one after the other with considerable ease, one might exclaim, “Damn, he must have been born riding a skateboard.”
No one actually believes that a baby will come directly out of the womb ready to kickflip frontside 5050 through the maternity ward. Yet, when talking about Huston, the truth really isn’t that far from the fantastical. He got his first board—a Tony Hawk board, a precursor of what was to come—at the age of 4. By 5 he was standing and starting to do ollies. At 8, Huston appeared to be progressing in the sport at an astonishing rate. Then, at the age of 10, he entered the 2005 Tampa Am.
“Everyone else out there was twice my age and twice my size,” Huston recalls. “I wouldn't say [I was] scared. I would say more so just intimidated, you know? And yeah, I guess it was a little scary to be out there on the course, especially a contest like Tampa. Anyone who knows it knows it's ruthless. It's like a hundred people on the course at the same time. So I'm out there, like, trying not to get run over and shit.”
Huston didn’t get run over. He didn’t get intimidated by the competition. He won the whole damn thing. It would have been an unbelievable achievement for a 10-year-old kid to simply finish the contest in the middle of the pack—finishing first was astounding. It was the first major step in what has been a record-setting career.
A year later, with his amateur status cast aside, Huston was competing as a pro. “That was the part that was really intimidating because I was out there skating with the people I looked up to ever since I started skating,” Huston says. “I mean, P-Rod [Paul Rodriguez], Chris Hall, [Andrew] Reynolds, all those legends. It was weird to be out there so young skating with them, but it was awesome.”
As strange as it may sound, especially considering that he was still just a child, Huston was fully prepared to seize his moment. Huston grew up in a fairly strict environment, so one might make the assumption that skating was his act of rebellion. In reality, it was the opposite. His father treated skating like most parents treat clarinet lessons.
“My dad was always on my ass about skating all the time, taking it really seriously all the time,” Huston remembers. “[He didn’t] really like seeing me have fun, skating with kids and stuff. [At times] I did just want to be a normal kid and have friends and have fun and shit.
“But I can't hate on it now,” Huston continues. “I think that's what got me to where I’m at now. At the time, I was bummed that I couldn't go to school and do normal kid things, but now that I look back on it, I'm thankful for the way I was raised.”
All of the hard work and dedication clearly paid off. At only 25, Huston has won more money skating than any other pro. If he were to attempt to wear all of his gold medals from the X-Games alone, he would make Mr. T look like a pauper.
Huston’s tattoo story begins in the same place where his career took off, although, thankfully, at a different time. The year was 2013 and Huston was in Florida for the Tampa Pro contest. They were doing tattoos, little bangers, outside in the parking lot. His friend Chase was going to get one and he was looking for someone to join him.
“At first I was like, ‘God, no man, that sounds crazy,’” Huston laughs. “I wasn't ready for that and I don't even know if I ever wanted one. And then he kept talking to me about it and then eventually I was like, ‘Fuck it. I’m down.’ And then I went outside and I got it.”
Huston had the classic Thrasher “Skate and Destroy” logo inked onto his forearm. Within seconds of having the tattoo wrapped up, Huston had to go back in and skate. We forgot to mention that the contest hadn’t even started yet. “It was basically right before,” Huston says. “I can’t remember [how I did], I probably got top three or something.” Huston and his brand new tattoo finished second.
Over the years, that first impulsive decision has been surrounded by some truly impressive black-and-grey work by a handful of artists. His collection includes tattoos from Thomas Hooper, Paul Timman, Sam Dusenberry, Daniel Silva and more.
One of the earlier additions to his collection—a portrait tattoo on his chest—eventually became his first experience with laser removal and a cover-up. Portraits get covered up all the time, but this one was a little tricky. It was a portrait of his mom.
“Obviously I love my mom so much and she's the best ever, but I didn’t like the way it was,” Huston explains. “It was too light-colored for that area, and I wanted my chest to be darker. I'd gotten some other stuff on the other side—a clock, a flower and shit. After a couple of years, I was just like, ‘Damn, I fucking hate to do this over my mom's tattoo.’”
Huston pressed on. After four incredibly painful laser sessions, he had the side of his chest redone. Perhaps he should have healed up a little more first, the sessions were excruciating because of the damage already done to the skin. In the end, he was very happy with his decision. But, more importantly, what did mom think?
“She was laughing,” Huston says. “My mom's so chill about everything. She didn't mind. Oh, by the time I even showed her, I had already gotten a new tattoo for my mom. So it's all good. She's still there.”
Laser removal is not something that Huston wants to undergo again, and with that in mind he has been diligent about his tattoo decisions. Even when he’s hanging out at the shop after a couple of adult beverages. That’s not to say he won’t get some silly tattoos, he’s just found a spot to contain them.
“That’s what I’ve done with my left leg,” Huston explains. “There's like a couple random emojis on there, drawings from a couple homies. Honestly, just a bunch of random shit. Seriously, I love the way it turned out. I really wouldn't change anything about it.”
When he is passionate about something, Huston doesn’t half-ass things. This is as clear in his skating as it is in his tattoo collection. Anybody can get a quick banger tattooed on their arm, but sitting for 20 hours while Thomas Hooper goes to town on your neck takes some serious dedication.
The first two days took place in Austin, Texas, and then Hooper flew out to L.A. to finish the job. The neck is such a vulnerable part of the body to have tattooed, and Huston understood how important it was to be working with an artist who really knows what he is doing.
“It was a mission,” Huston says. “That's one of the hardest things to do about committing to something like that. It's knowing, ‘Damn, I know I'm going to be hyped on this after, but I really have to sit here for 20 hours and go through this shit.’ Just that thought of, ‘I have to be in pain for this long.’”
In the end, it was all worth it. Just like all of the years he spent working hard on his skating and missing out on goofing around with his friends. The dedication paid off.
The work it takes to get to the top is hard, but Huston’s competitive drive is still burning strong. He hopes to be skating competitively until at least the age of 30, and when he eventually does put competitions behind him, skating will still be a major part of his life. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Huston still has one major accomplishment in his sights—an Olympic gold medal.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games (which will be taking place in 2021 due to the coronavirus, but the event is keeping its 2020 name) will see the debut of skateboarding as an Olympic sport. Huston will be there with Team USA.
“It’s wild to see skateboarding get in there,” Huston says. “I think it's good for the growth of skateboarding and good for the Olympics. I feel like they needed some new talent and some new vibes in there. It’s obviously a way bigger stage with way more people watching it. There’s a lot more on the line. So I’m going to be going for it, that's for sure.”
Ripping up a street course filled with adults twice his size wasn’t a problem for Huston when he was a child, so skating in front of the watchful eyes of the entire planet should be a piece of cake. If history is to be any indicator, Huston will be adding another medal to his collection. It’s what he was born to do.
Photos by jsquared photography.
You can pre-order our 2020 Moto Issue at the Inked Shop by clicking here. And if you want to make sure you get every issue of Inked, you can subscribe by clicking here.