ABOVE: NYJAH HUSTON IN LOS ANGELES, DECEMBER 2014. PHOTOGRAPHY: BRIAN HIGBEE. STYLING: SEAN KNIGHT. GROOMING: DAVE STANWELL/SOLO ARTISTS.
"People were definitely surprised," Nyjah Huston remembers of his skateboarding start as a six-year-old in Davis, California. "It was cool, but I just had to be careful not to get run over out there as a little kid."
Instantly recognizable by his Rastafarian T-shirts, long dreadlocks (he cut them off in 2011), and lithe frame, Huston first gained notoriety as a skateboarding wunderkind, who at age 11 became the youngest competitor in X Games history. Four years later, Huston won the first-ever Street League Skateboarding competition, beating out riders twice his age for the inaugural title and $150,000 prize.
Now 20, Huston is a skateboarding veteran, who has made the leap from kid star to top adult competitor look as seamless as his 360 kick flips. For proof, look no further than this past year in which he clinched the 2014 X Games Championship, won every competition he entered, and earned more prize money than any other skateboarder ever. Though he may not be a household name outside of skating circles just yet, Huston—who bears a large script tattoo on his forearm that reads "ambition"—is poised to land a pop culture crossover soon.
HOMETOWN: Davis, California
CURRENT LOCATION: San Juan Capistrano, California
SEEING STARS: I first started skating pro contests when I was 11 years old. That's when I skated my first X Games. I'd say the experience was a mixture of being star struck and being intimidated because those guys weren't just twice as old as me, they were also twice as big as me.
ROLE MODELS: I was such a little skate nerd. I watched every single skate video and read every skate magazine. I looked up to Paul Rodriguez and Chris Cole a lot. I skate with them now and it's still a trip to be out there and to actually be friends with them.
COPING WITH ATTENTION: I was so young that I didn't really realize the position that I was in. At the time, I didn't really think, "Oh man, I'm already skating pro contests, so I have a good chance of making a living off skateboarding." It was more just being stoked about the situation I was in. All I wanted to do at the time was keep skating because I loved it so much. Literally, I didn't think about the money or the fame part of it at all. I'm really into the progression side of the sport, going down to my local skatepark and working on a trick for two hours and then finally landing it. That feeling will never get old.
NERVES: I've been skating contests for over 10 years now and I still get nervous out there. I don't really see how you can't when you're on live TV, skating for a bunch of money, and there are a ton of people watching you. I take contests pretty seriously in general. I'm a competitive person no matter what it is, so I'm always trying to do my best.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: I definitely try to skate every day as long as I'm not too sore or hurt, but at the same time, skateboarding isn't really something you can practice all day because it takes a big toll on your body.
WIPE OUTS: I actually haven't broken anything. I've taken some insane falls where I've thought I'm going to break something or die, but somehow I've gotten lucky with that.
CRITICS: People always say "Do you fall? Do you fall? You look like a robot." I mean, yeah, of course I fall. I'd say on the daily, I probably fall more than I land tricks because I'm always trying to work on more stuff. I'm always trying to challenge myself by trying new stuff. That's how I keep it fun.
SKATER OF THE YEAR: For the past couple years that I've been up for Thrasher Magazine's "Skater of the Year," I've been super stoked for the guys who have ended up getting it. I think I personally haven't really dedicated one year to really trying to get it, but I think I'm planning on doing that soon. I'm sure I'll make it happen one of these years.
ADVICE: I would say the main thing a good skater needs is to try to be as different as possible. There are so many skaters out there and it's good to have your own style and try to do different tricks that other people aren't doing. At the same time, just work hard and try to push the progression.
SKATING'S MAINSTREAM APPEAL: There are a lot of people out there who want skating to stick to the "core" side and stick to where it came from and all that. Me personally? I'm always down for whatever is going to help skateboarding grow. When Street League started up a few years ago, there were so many people who were hating on it. When it comes down to it, there are people coming out to the contests or watching it who have never seen skateboarding before. It might be parents who are watching it and then might want to sign their kid up for it. I think it's helping a new generation of kids to get it into skateboarding.
WHAT'S NEXT: I recently got my own private skate park about 10 minutes from my house. I'm actually filming a video there right now for something called "The World of X Games," which Monster Energy is putting out. I've also been working on a lot of stuff for my signature clothing line with Asphalt, my clothing sponsor. Also, look out for me in the next contest season. Hopefully 2015 will go like this year did. I'm just going to keep shredding.
For more from the 15 Faces of 2015, click here