Skateboarding is making its grand debut in July 2021 as a full pledged Olympic sport. Gucci has created a skateboard and Louis Vuitton has collaborated with skate brands. Skaters are now winning hundreds of thousands of dollars with lucrative shoe deals comparative to their more traditional counterpart sports. Safe to say, skating is now a far cry from the former affiliation with rascality and has completely rebranded itself with the turn of the decade. Ahead of the curve, Nyjah Imani Huston rises as the new face of skateboarding as a five-time World Champion vying for an Olympic medal and a lifestyle influencer with the cash and clout in tow.
Having smoked the Street League Skateboarding competition series as the overall champion in years 2010, 2012, 2014, 2017, and 2019, Nyjah has claimed the title of being the highest paid skateboarder in the world.
“Skateboarding has become so much more accepted and thought of as an actual proper way to make a living, instead of parents seeing their kids skating and being like, ‘Oh you need to go to college and do this instead.’ It’s gradually getting to that point,” Nyjah said.”
Boasting a net worth of $6 million at age 25, Nyjah earns his money through winning competitions and lucrative sponsorships from Nike SB, Element, Monster Energy, Black Prague Brewing, Social CBD, and Privé Revaux.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to make good money and a good living off of skateboarding, but for most of these guys out there, it’s hard. There’s really not a lot of money in skateboarding,” he said.
Hard as it may to imagine it now, but the ‘King of Street Skate’ knows the life in the wringer by heart. Nyjah did not always live the hype life. On the contrary, he lived the polar opposite.
Nyjah Imani Huston’s Early Life
Nyjah was born in Davis, California but was partly raised in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico. He was raised in a Rastafarian lifestyle by his father, Adeyemi Huston, who was also the one who taught him how to skate at age 4. From then on, Adeyemi wanted Nyjah to skate everyday and was strict with this regimen.
In 2005 at age 10, Nyjah won first place at the Tampa Am, beating out competition twice his age and size. The following year, he entered the X-Games for the first time in Los Angeles as the youngest athlete to ever compete at the time.
Dreadlock-clad with undeniable talent, the young Nyjah’s rise seemed to be on an upward trajectory when his father intercepted with a drastic move to a 26-acre farm in Puerto Rico outside of the city purchased with Nyjah’s earnings.
It was there that they lived to the fullest extent of their father’s chosen lifestyle. They adhered to a vegan diet, was home-schooled by their mother, and spent most of their days working on the farm where they lived off the grid, 30-minutes away from the city.
Because of their remote living, Nyjah was constantly at risk of being dropped by his sponsors, which at the time included Elements Skateboarding.
They stayed in Puerto Rico until 2008 when Nyjah’s mother, Kelle, decided to pack up her belongings and take slot bonus new member her kids back to California while Nyjah and Adeyemi were in Barcelona for a skate competition. Nyjah was stuck with his father for almost two years afterwards until a judge ordered him to be placed under his mother’s custody.
Finally free and back in civilization by 2010, all Nyjah wanted to do was skate. However, with all of his earnings misappropriated by his father, the family was left flat broke.
Hence, when Nyjah was invited to his first ever Street League Skate Competition, his mother had nothing but the will and a prayer to drive to Arizona to make it happen. Luckily, Street League founder Rob Dyrdek offered to foot the bill for their hotel during the competition. This proved to be a worthy investment paid in hundredfold as Nyjah actually took first place for that competition and won $150,000.
“That was the most important and best feeling I’ve ever had in a contest. It saved our lives,” Nyjah said.
Since then, Nyjah has been hard at work competing and winning non stop. Praised for having athletic discipline likened to LeBron James or Lionel Messi, Nyjah arrives early, leaves late, and performs best under pressure – qualities he still credits his father for.
“I’m thankful for the way I was raised, and I think it definitely helped me to get to where I’m at right now. There were obviously some hard times with my dad being really hard on me and really strict and really always pushing me so hard. I mean it was hard moments, but I’m thankful for it all because I was able to get through that and it only made me strong,” he adds.
Eccentric as his upbringing might have been, Nyjah took a lot from his experience in Puerto Rico.
“I don’t believe I would be where I’m at now if it wasn’t for being raised the way I was, coming from a really humble background and spending those years in Puerto Rico where I didn’t even have a very good place to skate all the time,” he said.
In an interview with Paper Magazine, Nyjah admits that even basic needs such as water were a scarcity growing up.
“We were pretty far away from everything, and the water would go out every now and again. When the water was out, my brother and I would go down with these big jugs for carrying water. What people don’t realize is that water’s really heavy.We lived near this little stream that was probably about 300 yards away from the house, and having to carry that little amount is not easy.”
In a press release with the X-Games, Nyjah’s mother Kelle described that this experience would actually get in the way of Nyjah and his skating.
“We had a water system and modern plumbing, but weekly storms would fill our pipes with debris and clog the water lines, causing us to lose water for up to seven days until Mother Nature built up enough pressure in the lines to push the debris through so we could access clean water again. During these times, our children would carry five-gallon buckets of water 200 feet uphill from a holding tank at the bottom of the property to the house. Some days Nyjah’s back was so sore from carrying water that he couldn’t skate,” she said.
It was because of this experience that Nyjah set up a non-profit that aims to provide or repair clean and sustainable water wells and build sanitation stations for people in desperate need of clean water. They sold reusable water bottles at their local farmer’s market to raise money to build well in Ethiopia. They have since raised more money to build more wells in Cambodia and Thailand.
Nyjah in Ethiopia during the Let it Flow Project activation in Ethiopia.
Road to the Olympics
Now boasting 12 X-Games gold wins, 4.1 million followers on Instagram, a popular YouTube channel, and his own signature Nike shoe, Nyjah has his eye on an Olympic medal.
Niyah Huston Nike Skateboarder Shoes
“That is definitely one of my ultimate goals in life,” Nyjah said. “But at the same time I try not to think about it too much and put too much pressure on myself because when it comes down to it I approach all these contests the same. I’m always going out there giving it my all and doing the best I possibly can to win.”
Nyjah was chosen by USA Skateboarding as a delegate for its first-ever Olympic National team for skateboarding.
After bagging his Fifth Street League Skateboarding World Championship title with the highest final score in the series history, Nyjah is set to qualify for the games.
Having essentially grown up alongside the sport and as a major part of its cultural evolution, Nyjah expresses that skating has always been a lifestyle rather than just a sport.
“I think skateboarders have always influenced style and certain brands. So, it’s not just a sport, it’s kind of a lifestyle and I think that’s the really cool part about it,” he said.
While he expresses disdain on how long it took for skating to finally be recognized as an Olympic sport, he is now just happy to be able to do it while still being dedicated to the love of skateboarding.
According to Nyjah, however mainstream it gets, the true love for skateboarding will persist and that’s all that matters.
“Hitting random rails and getting kicked out of places by security guards, that’s where skateboarding came from. I think as long as that stuff sticks around, which it will, it’s not going to matter,” he said.
True to this statement, when asked about what keeps him motivated, he kept his answer clear and concise: “It’s really just the feeling of being on a board. I never fell out of love with street skating.”
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