Nyjah Huston strides with confidence — albeit with a touch of caution — across a private indoor skate park in South Los Angeles, skateboard at the ready. The tall and tattooed Huston is wearing a gray sleeveless hooded shirt, one that displays his famed sleeve tattoos as well as his Thomas Hooper–inked neck. His thick thatch of luxurious hair is shiny and black, growing everywhere.
He’s got on his signature Nike SB shoes, which launched March 1. This makes the 23-year-old one of the select few to have his own shoe with the brand, joining other skateboarding legends Paul Rodriguez, Stefan Janoski, Eric Koston and Brian Anderson. To coincide with the shoe’s release, Huston has collaborated with revered skate filmmaker Ty Evans for ’Til Death, his first part in years, and it is unparalleled.
If you don’t have a skateboard enthusiast in your life, you may not have heard of Huston, an object of both esteem and notoriety. In the world of action sports, he is a living legend and ranked as one of the highest-paid professional skateboarders, with an estimated net worth of $6 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth and Slice. An internet search of his name shows the expected social media results and mind-melting numbers but also a selection of jaw-dropping skate parts (aka videos) with Huston effortlessly flying down impossibly high rails and landing flawless tricks.
On the other hand, the internet has more than a few reports alleging that Nyjah's hard-partying ways have resulted in criminal charges, ranging from felony battery to disturbing the peace and resisting arrest. While some charges have been dropped, he is on probation and completing community service for others. The felony battery charge is pending.
A deeper search uncovers an equal amount of grudging admiration of Huston’s undeniable talent and accomplishments and a pure hatred — not just on social media but from his contemporaries as well as skating fans.
Once settled at the skate park, a bottle of water at his side, his hands occasionally ruffling his enviable hair, Huston leans on the word “stoked” to describe every emotion. He speaks about the hate he receives on a regular basis. “Honestly, it’s something I’ve gotten used to. A few years ago when I would win a lot of contests, people were like, ‘Oh it’s rigged, the judges just like you.’ It was the opposite. Some of the courses would be built against me. Or, ‘You win too much. Why don’t you let someone else win?’ Sorry, I want to go out there and win. It’s not like this is happening easily. I worked hard to be where I’m at.
“That’s another thing I feel people don’t realize,” he continues. “I see their comments saying things like, ‘Oh you did that so easily, first try.’ I’m like, ‘That actually took hours to land. That took a lot of slams.’ This video part I have done with [Evans] shows that well. There are a couple of scenes with me just battling a trick, slamming over and over. It’s good for people to see everything doesn’t come as easily as you think.”
A rundown of Huston’s wins can help explain why every other street skater feels they don’t stand a chance. From before he hit double digits, Huston has been entering competitions, placing admirably from the start. He has won many championships — from X Games to Maloof Money Cup to Street League to Dew Tour to Tampa Pro. He was awarded Best Male Action Sports Athlete at the ESPYs in 2013 and 2014. Most recently he walked away with 2017’s SLS Super Crown, not his first.
He is also a TransWorld triple winner: Best Street, Reader’s Choice and Best Video Part — although Thrasher’s coveted title of Skater of the Year continues to elude him.
And Huston is never short of sponsors. He currently represents the drink company Monster Energy and Hawkers Sunglasses Co. as well as Nike SB, of course, and the ever-present Element Skateboards.
Even with all the young pro-skater talent in the skating world, Huston’s accomplishments are extreme for his 23 years. And if that’s not enough, he has Tokyo 2020 in his sights — skateboarding’s first foray into the Olympics. He speaks of qualifying in 2019 as something that is a matter of course. He says he hopes there will be a good skate park with an inclusive format that everyone can be “stoked” on, including some big rails for him.
Huston’s very public backstory is unconventional, even for a skater. In an emotional video interview on ESPN U.K., and an in-depth interview with skateboarding platform Jemkem, Huston’s mother, Kelle, described the way her children, Huston in particular, were raised.
The middle of five kids, the multiracial Huston, a blend of Japanese, black, British and Norwegian heritage, grew up in a family of skateboarders. In addition to treating skateboarding like a religion, the Hustons, headed by father Adeyemi, followed a strict Rastafarian way of life that included a vegan diet and growing their children’s hair into dreadlocks. The family lived in Davis, where the children were homeschooled.
They bought an indoor skate park, further committing to the sport for which Huston was showing a marked ability. It’s not hard to find videos of a 7-year-old dreadlocked Nyjah — already sponsored by the giant skateboarding brand Element — his locks flying as he flawlessly lands unfeasible leaps.
As Huston’s career was ramping up, his father, now his manager, moved the family to a remote farm in Puerto Rico, bought with Huston’s money. By that point, the boy was supporting his family. In her Jemkem interview Kelle says, “We purposely separated ourselves from society and basically lived as a mini cult.”
According to the ESPN U.K. video, Nyjah Huston: Growing Pains, “Nyjah’s contact with the skate world was limited by Adeyemi and he lived in social isolation.” Huston started missing his skating commitments, including opportunities to compete for prize money. Additionally, Kelle’s and Adeyemi’s beliefs started to diverge. In Jemkem Kelle says, “Basically, the kids were getting older and wanted to be a part of society — go to school, have friends, meet girls, etc. They wanted to have choices and become themselves, not just be a reflection of us. I was supportive of their teenage curiosity but their dad was not in agreement. So I chose them over him.” Kelle separated from Adeyemi and moved back to California, taking the other four children with her but leaving Huston with his father.
Later, she filed for divorce and sole custody of the children, which she got. When Huston joined his mother and siblings in California in 2010 at age 15, the teen became estranged from his father. In a cover story for the March 2018 issue of the skateboarding tome Thrasher, Huston speaks candidly about his father: “There was never that feeling there of an apology or feeling that he chose wrong by choosing to control my skateboarding career over just being a father figure in my life. So I expressed to him one day, I was, like, ‘Hey, I think this isn’t right. You never gave me a good apology, I feel, and your intentions just aren’t really there.’ After that it just kind of faded away and now we haven’t talked for years.”
Kelle has taken over management of Huston’s career and has done very well for both of them. “My mom and dad are very, very different,” Huston says guardedly. “My dad definitely did a really good job at getting me to where I’m at as far as just pushing me. He pushed a little too hard at times, yeah, I couldn’t say I would be where I’m at if it wasn’t for that. I’m definitely thankful for most of it. Everyone has to go through some struggles like that in their childhood to get to where they want to be, so I’m grateful for that.
“Being able to deal with one of your family members when it comes to handling all your personal side of things is definitely an ideal situation for anyone,” he continues, “My mom handles all my day-to-day stuff, all the stuff I don’t want to and I have to trust someone to deal with. She and I are really close. I’m always going to trust my mom and she does a great job. I have to thank her for that.”
Let It Flow, a nonprofit that brings fresh water to communities that have no access to clean water or difficulty getting it, is a joint venture Huston does with his mother. The idea came from the family’s firsthand experience when they lived in Puerto Rico. Let It Flow’s primary focus is on repairing wells that already exist and its secondary focus is on digging new wells, Huston says. Although he is not physically doing the work, he visits the locations and keeps up to date on the operations.
While he provides his mother a percentage of his earnings, Huston no longer supports his siblings. His two older brothers, also great skateboarders but not choosing the competition life, are doing their own thing; his younger brother works for Element on designs that go on skateboards and his younger sister has entered NYU on a full scholarship to study business, the first of the Huston children to go to college.
In an interview, Huston is prepared for personal questions. His responses are tailored and efficient, his tone practiced and final, not inviting further questioning into such subjects as his father, his partying, his haters. He gives a nervous sniff at the end of each of his responses.
Yet Huston is very relatable. Forget his wealth and indulgent lifestyle, which, according to the Los Angeles Times, includes his purchase of a multimillion-dollar San Juan Capistrano home when he was a teenager. And his three custom luxury cars, including a Lamborghini Aventador, all purchased by the time he was 21.
He’s relatable because of his looks, which reflect the diversity of the United States rolled into a cohesive whole. And while his tattoos can be overwhelming at first glance, there are so many intricate and beautiful drawings that there is something to connect with for everyone.
“This whole arm was done by one person, this arm was mostly another person,” he says looking down on his left and then right arm, twisting them around and indicating with his chin particular designs as favorites. “Before I got my first one I was like, ‘Oh, I’m never going to get tattoos.’ After my first one, I got addicted. When I first started I picked out random things that I like that were meaningful to me, ‘Skate and Destroy’ was my first one. This one of a cross I used to wear every single day when I was a kid. Once you get past that stuff, you collaborate with your tattoo artist.”
Collaboration is becoming more natural to Huston, most recently with his Nike SB shoe and with Evans for ’Til Death. The shoe, priced at $95, is white with a black swoosh and a design not dissimilar to the Nike Free and Air Presto. “I was able to make it everything I wanted it to be," Huston says. "I wanted it to break in really fast because I don’t like skating new shoes. I also wanted it to last a long time. I know kids who skate a ton more than I do, every day, practicing tricks and doing kick-flips all day, so I wanted them to be able to wear the shoe and enjoy it as long as possible.”
Huston has been working on the video for the past year with Evans, who has made his mark in the skating world with his videos The Flat Earth, We Are Blood, Pretty Sweet, Fully Flared and The Land of Skate. The last title is a documentary he filmed for Skateistan, the nonprofit organization that uses skating and education for youth empowerment.
“It’s the first video part I’ve really been involved in,” Huston says. “All the spots I wanted to skate, picking out every trick I wanted to try, picking out the music I wanted to use. It’s 10 minutes long. That’s something you can do with someone like [Evans] who has the best equipment, the best angles, the most experience. All his videos are amazing. In between B-roll, slams and shots, it doesn’t feel like trick, trick, trick, it’s more meaningful than that, like a little mini-movie.”
Although he is no longer a vegan, Huston still maintains healthy eating habits and daily physical therapy. He’s fortunate not to have the host of major injuries many skaters have, but he does have a bone bruise on his left kneecap that keeps him from being able to skate as long as he’d like. He’s quick to minimize its severity.
And he says he’s cut back on his newsmaking partying, although the felony battery charge from February 2017, for allegedly jumping a man at a party and giving him a broken nose and cheek gash, is still pending. He pleaded not guilty, calling it self-defense.
Huston won’t talk about his scrapes with the law but he will address his partying days. “There was a point where I’d just moved into my house and I was the typical kid your neighbor hates that throws parties all the time. I was 19, not allowed to go to clubs and stuff, so my friends were trying to have a good time.
“It all happened really early for me,” he says, sounding a bit like a public service announcement. “I moved out on my own when I was 17. I’ve grown up a lot since then. You can’t be going out spending money on unnecessary things like tons of cars all the time. I bought a Lamborghini — I actually just sold it — because that’s something I’ve always dreamed of having. If you’re doing well you can afford yourself some things sometimes, but you can’t go out there all time, being a wild child and not saving your money and not thinking about your future.”
Nowadays Huston lives in an apartment in Hollywood, with one roommate. That’s a big change from the tribe of friends he had living with him in the San Juan Capistrano house (the list is included in the Thrasher cover story). He recently sold the private gated estate for $3.2 million, according to the Orange County Register. If he wants to party, Huston says, he calls one of his club promoter friends and takes his posse there. But he is keeping a balance now, he insists.
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“It’s something I’ve always been good at since I was a little kid,” Huston says. “I would always handle my homework so I could go out and skate. I feel like no matter how much fun I’m having or whatever I’m doing with my friends, I am always coming back to that point where I realize what has gotten me to where I am and what’s important.”
Sometimes, Huston’s rehearsed talk can be off-putting — you never get a sense of the actual person. The same can be said of his skating, which is so seamless, with an exacting perfection, that it makes his tricks look easy. Huston gives off the air of uber-professionalism, skating to win, not for the love of it — something that rubs a lot of skaters the wrong way.
“I’ve always been super concentrated and super competitive,” Huston says. “Ever since I was a little kid and I would go practice at my little skate park, the same tricks every day, that’s how I got good. After that I would allow myself to try some new tricks. I was just constantly focused on progressing and getting better at skateboarding because I wanted to become professional, but also because I loved it.”
Nyjah Huston's grooming courtesy of Harper by Exclusive Artists.