A 2021 TIME100 Next honoree (the foremost honor from the distinguished publication, celebrating the next 100 most influential people in the world), and 2021 Dew Tour World Champion, Huston remains the winningest skateboarder in history. With 19 X Games medals (13 gold), six SLS Super Crowns and three ESPY Awards for “Best Male Action Sports Athlete,” the goofy-footed Laguna Beach-based Olympian is the most-decorated professional skateboarder in history with a collection of titles and trophies that rival sport legends across all disciplines. Making good on ESPN Magazine’s 2013 prediction that he will be the sole athlete to change the course of his sport over the next decade, Huston is primed to dominate on the global stage this Summer— he stands head and shoulders above the next closest American skateboarder in Olympic qualifying points.
Born “Nyjah Imani Huston” in 1994 in Davis, CA to a secluded family practicing an anti-social lifestyle, school, friends, and the simple joys of childhood often fell to the wayside. Nyjah’s father, a former skater himself, disallowed team sports entirely, and encouraged only the solo sport of skateboarding for Nyjah and his four siblings. He built skate ramps and obstacles in their own backyard, which quickly led to the opening of the Huston’s own family-run indoor skatepark. With the countless hours of daily training, Nyjah, with his signature dreadlocks and lean frame, started to make a name for himself in the skate industry. Already a phenom by seven years old, Nyjah then entered into his first contractual sponsorship with Element Skateboards. Soon after, he won Tampa Am in 2010 at only 10 years old, and then entered the X Games circuit by age 11 (the youngest to ever do so at that time). He was all the skate community could talk about: Child prodigy and irrefutable future of the sport.
Then came 2006, when the family was abruptly uprooted by his father to Puerto Rico, away from California and into total isolation. Daily life on their 26 acre farm made it difficult for Nyjah to practice, but with the push of his father, he used local skateparks and street spots to improve. Farm life in the middle of this tropical island often left them with no electricity or running water (which ultimately led him to start a clean water charity). The remote island location limited his ability to make appearances for sponsors or compete in contests. He went from being on the cover of skate magazines, then quickly falling off the face of skateboarding Earth— all but derailing his promising career. His mother Kelle’s concerns for Nyjah’s career as well as the happiness of all her children, resulted in her desperate and unsuccessful attempts to convince their father to move back to California. She then made the emotionally difficult decision to leave the farm and the arduous legal battle that followed resulted in her worst nightmare: two years apart from Nyjah and his sister (Isha) while they remained in Puerto Rico with their dad. His brothers (Kiade, Ahbi, Jahmai) went with Kelle back home to Davis. She eventually won back custody of all her children in 2010, and vowed to help Nyjah reclaim his skateboarding fame. Only this time, it was because he wanted to.
Reunited and with her last paycheck in hand, Kelle purchased flights for Huston to compete in the first-ever Street League Skateboarding event in Arizona, leaving less than $100 to her name. Huston won that contest, and with it the $150,000 first place prize, stabilizing his family’s finances and reinstating his dominance. Since then, he’s won more prize money than any other professional skateboarder in history.
Huston joined Nike SB’s pro team in 2016 and launched his ﬁrst signature Nike SB shoe in Spring 2018. The Nyjah 2 followed in 2020, and will be the shoe he wears in his Olympic debut.
His fans and rivals alike attest to his alien-like skill with which he “ticks off tricks as if controlled by a joystick,” and “lands tricks the first time he tries them.” And while that technical prowess may seem unattainable, Huston is on a mission to show the world the potential and promise of the once-disenfranchised sport that has afforded him the ability to support many of his loved ones to this day.
Looking at him now, you’d never guess on appearance alone that the fully tatted, larger-than-life Olympian, entrepreneur and philanthropist with Superbowl commercials, 8 million followers on socials, and an entire room for just trophies, once lived a strict Rastafarian life. But that’s the thing about appearances – spend any time with him and it doesn’t take long to see those values permeate: a calm and coolness, a sense of community, and the desire to keep life simple.