The Nyjah Huston Interview

Photos: Herman Jimenez
Words: Chris Nieratko

I am very happy to say that Nyjah Huston is a free man. I interviewed him three years ago and he was a prisoner in his own home who gave two-word answers. He always seemed so sad. You know the look: It’s the one we’ve seen on his face since we were first introduced to him. When he came to do a demo, I saw him constantly looking for approval from his father, almost completely afraid to speak. He was never permitted to stand by his teammates. I knew instantly what was going on. I had the same look for the first 12 years of my life, before I found my freedom through skateboarding. My father psychically abused my family to the point of hospitalizing us. Once he broke my nose on my 11th birthday. I know what fear looks like and I know how hard it is to live under tyrannical rule.
I felt awful for Nyjah from that day forward because whereas skateboarding was my freedom, for him it was his trap. When I interviewed him last, I wrote an intro that shed light on the fact that his father’s hard-headedness and control of his finances arguably got Nyjah kicked off all his sponsors and how he was ruining the boy’s life. Then I asked Jaime Owens to remove the intro. I know it takes very little to send an angry man into a rage and I didn’t want to make any problems in Nyjah’s home.
Not all abuse is physical. Mental and psychological abuse often hurt worse than being beaten, and it takes many years to undo. Whether the abuse is mental or physical, it’s unacceptable. Men who prey on women and children are not men at all.
But here we are, three short years later, and Nyjah is smiling, laughing, joking and enjoying life in ways he’d never experienced before. He’s making friends and experiencing the world, and it would’ve never happened had he and his family not broken free.
We always knew he was an amazing talent on a skateboard; I’m just happy that we’re finally going to get a chance to know who Nyjah Huston really is.

How did it feel making $300,000 in the first six months of 2011 off Street League? It’s more than some Americans will make in a decade.
It feels amazing. I just feel so blessed to be in a position for something like that. Thanks to Rob [Dyrdek] for putting on such a great contest. He’s really rewarding the skaters in the right way. It feels super good. Going onto the third one should be no pressure; I feel like after winning the first two I have to win the next one.

So after winning two, beating those guys is a breeze to you, right?
Ha! I definitely would not say that. The second one was some good competition. It was between me and five other guys. We all had a chance of winning. I definitely say that the Kansas one was the best Street League yet.

Who’s the one guy who is a real threat in those contests?
Shane O’Neill, for sure. It’s always between Shane, Chaz and Cole, but Shane for sure because he’s just so crazy. He can land shit so easy. He’s definitely my favorite skater right now, such smooth style.

Frontside half-Cab flip

What makes Street League better than the other contests you’ve entered?
To me it’s a lot more professional and better for the crowd. It’s easier for them to understand. The format is a lot mellower; it’s not like a jam session where you’re wearing yourself in a session of chaos. Street League you need to have a strategy and big variety of tricks. I think it comes down to all-around skating and being good at everything.

You’ve won 300K. You buy yourself anything nice?
Yeah, I bought myself a car after the first one. I’m super hyped to get that. It’s a really rare Mercedes, a CLS 63MG. It’s pretty fast, 6.3-liter engine.

What’s the price tag on one of those, Nyjah?
I didn’t buy it brand new. Brand new it’s $100,000. I got a 2009, used, with only 13,000 miles on it for $70,000. What really gets you is the insurance; it’s $1,000 a month.

How much better is life now that you’re back with Element and not having to try and run a company?
It’s a lot easier and life is going really good now because all I have to concentrate on is skating. That’s what I should have been concentrating on all along. About that: I’m thankful for my dad starting that company and looking out for my future, but he didn’t understand that it wasn’t the right time for that and I’m still young and I shouldn’t have to worry about business right now.

You’re going to be only 17 in November and this is the worst time to start a board company. Did it feel like you were just pissing your money away?
Yeah, honestly, it all started when I was 14. I never put too much thought into my money; I was always so focused on my skating. But when I was 15, I just trusted my dad with my money. Now that I think about it, it definitely wasn’t the right thing to do.

Was your dad running all your finance? There are so many cases of young Hollywood actors where all their money just disappears on them because of their family.
Yeah, that’s honestly what happened. Ever since I was 11, I was making pretty good money. I never gave a thought about my money. By the time I was 15, it was pretty much all gone. I’m thankful for it because it’s not something that I should be thinking about when I’m that young, but now that I’m a little more mature it’s something I’m more concerned about.

You’re saying at 15 you had no money left?
Pretty much, yeah.

You realize that most people don’t get a second chance to make another fortune?
Yeah, for sure. That’s why I’m so thankful for Street League. Rob is doing such a good job and putting such good money out there; it’s really helped.

Are you now in charge of your own finances?
I have an accountant and everything is under control now. My mom definitely looks out for me and I thank her for that.

In those young years you had big sponsors and you had to have made a lot of money. Where did it all go? Did you have a crazy-big mansion?
No, I guess I can say that my dad made some interesting life decisions. He wasn’t the kind of guy that was going to buy himself a Benz. He was more into the Rastafarian religion and nature and stuff. We took a trip to Puerto Rico for this contest when I was 11, and he really liked it and he really wanted to move there so that’s what we ended up doing. I think a lot of my money got spent on that, but I am thankful because I do have property in Puerto Rico that could sell for quite a bit so at least it’s not all gone.

Sounds like it all went up in smoke. Last time we did an interview for Skateboarder, you were living there and you’re such a different person now. You seemed so timid and scared.
I’m going to say it has a lot to do with having some freedom. I’ve been living with my mom for a while now. My dad was always this really controlling, protective person. He always wanted me to stay really focused and not get into partying or girls or anything. I’d say it affected my social life, and now I’m feeling like a more normal kid. That’s probably why it seems more normal to talk to me now.

I heard after you won in Kansas you celebrated in a big way.
I did for sure. That was my first time really being drunk. It was definitely the right time for it. Sheckler bought me a couple shots and the Monster Girls kept giving me drinks, and I ended up drinking way too much. Luckily I didn’t throw up—surprisingly, because I drank so much. I had to stumble back to the hotel with my mom. I hurt my foot a little bit in the contest, and then while I was drunk I think I tripped on something in my hotel room and hurt my foot so much worse.

Nollie noseblunt slide

I heard you didn’t walk home with your mom but with someone else and that you tripped over a Monster Girl in your hotel room.
Ha! Hell no! What the fuck? I was pretty drunk; I can’t remember anything.

I heard you mashed out on a Monster Girl. And now I’m hearing from your teammates that you’re out on tour and they’re joking with you and getting to know you. Does it feel like you’re on a different team this time around?
Yeah, of course. I guess I was always under my dad’s wing. He wanted to keep me away from anything he thought was bad for me. But now I can think for myself and I have so much more freedom and so much more fun now laughing with everyone. The only thing that’s not fun is when Evan Smith tips my bed in the middle of the night. I honestly thought it was an earthquake because there were earthquakes going on in Spain at the time.

I’ve seen you at contests, and in the past you always looked so sad to me. Seeing you now, you always seem to be having a good time.
Yeah, I love life right now; it couldn’t be going better.

Would you say you were that way because your household was so strict?
Yeah, I’d say that had the most to do with it. Me and all my siblings were always so intimidated by my dad because we always wanted to please him. I didn’t feel like I could ever be, like, “Dad, I’m going to do my own thing.” I couldn’t say that to him. I probably felt weird on trips or just being around anything I knew he wouldn’t like, like girls or something like that.

Growing up, my father was physically abusive to me and my siblings. It was a scary house to live in. Was there any of that going on in your house?
No, that was one thing that never happened with me. He was like that a little bit more with my oldest brother but I think he learned to not be like that. That temperament is really wrong. Being strict and controlling is one thing, but being abusive is another thing.

Is he still a part of your life?
I want him to be and I want us to have a good relationship, but I think what’s holding it back is all my footage I’ve gotten with him in the past three years. He doesn’t want to give to me, and I think that has a lot to do with us having a grudge against each other.

Kickflip backside tailslide bigspin out
Photo: Kyle Camarillo

Your dad is holding your footage captive?
Yes, that’s true. So, I’ve been working really hard lately to get enough footage after I got on Element to put out my iTunes part, which should be dropping around September.

How much footage is being held prisoner?
About two full parts.

Shut up! Can’t you buy it off him?
No, my dad doesn’t care about money.

Sounds like he cared enough about it to spend all yours, and he’s mad the cash cow is gone.
I think he feels like after me going to my mom’s side and doing my own thing that that’s the only thing he can hold against me. He wants me to regret my decisions, I guess. But we’ve been talking a little lately; hopefully things get a little better. I haven’t brought up the footage to him in a while. I know when I did for the first time he got pretty mad at me and shoved me against a wall. I’ll try and bring it up again and hope for the best.

I read that you felt you haven’t had your definitive video part. Do you feel like this part you’re filming now will be that part? Or do you feel like he’s holding such bangers that you can’t even redo them?
There’s a few tricks he’s holding that I couldn’t redo and they mean a lot to me, like the noseblunt on the La Hoya 18 in San Diego and the kickflip backlip on Wilshire 15. Those tricks mean a lot to me, but when it comes down to it I have the motivation to go do those tricks on bigger spots. I wouldn’t say that I’m planning on this being my best video part ever because people are waiting for footage of me so I’m not trying to take too long on it. I think after this one I’ll have some more time to really work on my best part.

Hell yeah, you’re only 17. You have the rest of your life. The thing I wanted to know most was three years ago you told me you’d never had ice cream before. Now that you’re a free man, have you had ice cream?
That’s so funny to think I never had it but, yeah, I’ve had it now. I think I was a little scared to try it at first because I was thinking I was going to throw up from the dairy, but now that I’m on trips with the Element guys I don’t want to feel left out. And ice cream is great, for sure.

Frontside bigspin hurricane

I know those guys have gotten you to eat some other new stuff.
One time they tricked me into eating octopus; that was not very cool. That shit is nasty. Seafood is cool and sushi is my favorite, but octopus is something else.

Sushi is new to you, too, right?
Yeah, I didn’t eat sushi before. This is all new to me in the past year.

Do you feel at all that you missed out on something in life?
Yeah, definitely. I think for the first 15 years of my life I definitely missed out on a lot of social stuff, on what normal kids like to do. But also I have to be thankful for it because I only concentrated on skating and look where it got me now. I think I missed out but I think I missed out in a good way.

With having your own company then returning to Element, you’ve seen both sides of the business. With that in mind, what do you feel your responsibilities are as a pro skater?
It’s just being a professional person. Whenever you’re on TV or doing interviews, you have to be professional. You have to do what you have to do. You have to stay on your game. You can’t just go pro and then be, like, “I made it,” and then just go out and party. I don’t think that’s how it is. If you’re pro and you want to be the best you can be, you have to stay concentrated and keep skating and not get lazy. And I think it’s important to not be one-dimensional. I think it’s important to both be street skating and doing contests.

Last year at Maloof in Orange County I was the commentator and I wanted to sing, “No Nyjah No Cry,” but I held my tongue because I like you and you were crying. What happened? Why were you crying?
I think it was just a buildup of that happening at all the contests before, me feeling like I should have won. I guess that one I felt I skated so good with landing every trick in that last section that everyone was telling me I was going to win. I didn’t expect to win because I got second so many times, but I guess it was just a buildup of feelings that were hard to hold back.

I think we can all agree that you won. Even Chris Cole said you beat him. Why do you think they gave it to Cole?
That’s a hard question. I’m pretty sure the contest is sponsored by Monster, and Cole is on Monster. Maybe that had something to do with it. Honestly, I don’t know. I think it has a lot to do with me being a really young skater and people feeling weird to let such a young kid win.