Nyjah Huston just won another contest this month, Canada's West 49 "Take the Cake," and watching him pile up these wins begs the question of whether he's actually a human being -- only a machine could be so automatic. OK, so it's common knowledge that he is in fact human, but what is it exactly that makes him so good at what he does? This interview gets to the heart of how he approaches contests, how he feels about his father and a surprising dream he plans to pursue when he's done skateboarding.
Also, in case you missed Huston's near-prefect performance at the final Street League stop, we have the full digital rebroadcast of the Aug. 26 championships in the video player above, or right here: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3.
Nyjah Huston in 2012
From Street League to X Games to destroying the streets, Huston went on a skateboarding tear in the last nine months. Gallery
ESPN.com: Everyone learns differently, but how do you learn a new trick?
Huston: Honestly I don't practice tricks like I'm training for a contest. Learning a new trick will just happen randomly when I'm skating and if I feel good doing it, I take it to a street spot. If I'm really confident in it I practice it a lot, so I can do it in a contest. Contest skating is about figuring out the hardest tricks you can do that you can also land every time. It doesn't matter if it's a kickflip back lip or a kickflip front board or a hardflip. Any trick you feel really confident in and you can land any time, those are the tricks you bring to the contest. You have to pick and choose and really find those tricks.
How are you able to skate in an arena full of people with so much on the line?
It's hard. I'm going to be honest, it's really hard to handle all the nervousness and pressure you feel when you're about to take a run. Street League changed contest skating in such a dramatic way because before contests would be about a one-minute run. You get really nervous for your first trick in that one-minute run but afterwards you get in the flow of things and start to loosen up a little bit. On a higher level there were jam sessions which are super mellow because you have a few chances to fall and when you're going for your hardest trick you don't feel as watched by everyone. Street League made it so much more nerve-wracking that you have to try to keep yourself calm out there because each person is going one at a time and the whole crowd is watching you when you're going and you honestly don't have a choice but not to fall. In the big section you have to land 4 out of 6 tricks but realistically you want to land 5 out of 6 to keep building up your score, so honestly you only have one time to fall. When you're going for it you're thinking I don't have a choice right now I have to land this trick."
Most people expect you to win all four Street League stops, but as competitive as you are how would you feel if you didn't win any and only won the championship?
If I didn't win the first three stops but I won the final I would be stoked. I'd feel better within myself. Not winning that third stop this year gave me the motivation to win the last stop and I think that really helped me out.
How much in total have you won in Street League?
I've never really added it up before. I won one stop the first year. I won three the second year, so I'd say the total is right around the million dollar mark, which is awesome. That's another thing that Rob Dyrdek and Street League really changed in contest skating – through it he's allowing people the chance to make an awesome living. He's really taking the sport to the next level like other action sports like motocross or something like that, especially since he made a series out of it, and it's not just one contest per year. There were four stops this year and four stops last year and I'm sure they're only going to keep expanding, so I can't wait for it to be like ten stops a year. I look forward to every single Street League stop. I think they're really fun and like you said I'm a competitive person so I look forward to every one and have a lot of fun out there. As long as Rob keeps doing what he's doing it's only going to get bigger -- it'll be awesome.
Are you smart with your winnings?
I would say I'm fairly smart with my money. After I won the championship I wasn't thinking to myself that I should take that money and go buy a Lamborghini. I think I'm smarter than that when it comes to my money. I know that I need to save it up and invest in good things like buying a house next year and right now I already have two cars – so that's already enough to handle. After I win a contest the only thing I allow myself to do is buy a little bit of jewelry -- but that's only if I win. And that's about it. Honestly so much money gets taken for taxes from contest winnings that you have to be smart with it. People think that because I won 200 grand, I actually got 200 grand, but a big chunk of that gets taken out. You have to be very smart with your money.
You're only 17 and have a great career. Has retiring on top ever crossed your mind?
I never really thought about that before because I'm probably not planning on retiring for a while. I feel very blessed and thankful to be in that position at such a young age. I have to thank my mom and dad for getting me into skating when I was 5. Ever since I got on a board I loved it. When you're so young starting a sport like that and you have a lot of love for it, you're really going to progress at it quickly because you have no distractions at such a young age. I had absolutely no interest in trying any other sports or anything like that after I started skateboarding. I think when you start at a young age like that it allows you to keep a lot of focus on yourself. I'm really thankful for that.
I also want to thank my dad for helping stay on a focused path. My dad was a pretty strict person who probably took it a little too far at times, but I have to be thankful for that at the same time because that's what got me to where I'm at now. He helped me stay focused and not get into alcohol, drugs and girls so that helped keep me focused on what was important. He taught me that there's plenty of time down the road for me to have fun, you know?
Would you say point-blank that if your father hadn't been so strict you wouldn't be as good as you are today?
Totally. I would say he could have handled the situation of raising me in more of a mellow and mature manner instead of being so hard on me. Like if I was feeling sick and not trying to skate he would tell me that I have to skate and I have to go practice. I think a situation like that isn't something a father should push on his son, but then again that's how great athletes are built. You kind of have to have a harsh upbringing to become a smart, focused person. I have to be thankful for that. It was tough to get through, but what can I say? It got me to where I am now. I'm having so much fun in my life that if I could, I wouldn't change any of it.
How is your relationship with your dad?
Not so good. We definitely had quite a bit of a falling out. He and my mom got divorced. I haven't talked to him in six months, but I have faith that he'll come around and realize the situation. I know it's hard for him. He was my manager and he helped me with my career my whole life so for him to be gone I understand the situation. I'm hoping he'll come around soon and realize that I'm still his son and I still need and want that father figure in my life. I still have respect for him no matter what.
I'm hoping he'll come around soon and realize that I'm still his son and I still need and want that father figure in my life. I still have respect for him no matter what.
You just bought your first house in California -- are you ready to own your own home?
I think I feel like I'm mature enough to take care of my own home and I feel like I can handle the responsibility of keeping the place nice. I'm not going to be having rager parties every night so the place can turn to trash. I have a good group of friends that I hang around and I also live with my older brother. I think it's cool to be living with him. Not living with mom, it was going to come to this point some time and she feels I'm ready for that. She gives me so much freedom with everything so I thank her for trusting that I'm going to make the right decisions for myself.
We know about your Mercedes CL 63MG, but what's your other car?
The other car is all black Chevy Tahoe. It's kind of like the skate car or the homie car, I guess you could say. It's the car that I drive my friends around in when we're going to throw down in streets and stuff.
You injured your knee this year and it cost you X Games Gold but you still won the Street League Championships. How did that injury happen and how did you recover so quickly?
I injured it in January on an Element trip to Florida. I was skating this rail at a street spot when I fell the wrong way, and banged my knee so hard that it didn't fracture, but it bruised the bone pretty badly. Supposedly bone bruises take really long to heal, actually longer than a break. After I fell on it I struggled for a few months but then it started feeling really good during the first two Street League stops. Afterwards I fell wrong while practicing one day and re-hurt it. I was told I was skating on it too much so it wasn't healed all the way and the muscles around the knee kind of tightened up, which allowed it to get re-hurt easily. Unfortunately the X Games happened to be the week after I re-hurt it. When that contest came around, I was really struggling. It was very painful during that time and I was questioning whether I should skate the contest or not. Luckily I didn't end up going through that. But during the Arizona Street League stop, it hurt pretty badly too. I'm glad in the finals it was stronger, and lately it's been that way. Right now I'm just trying to build it back up to 100%.
Who is your favorite skater and why?
Chris Cole is the best skater ever honestly. He can skate anything and pretty much do every single trick. I've been on trips with him for DC and just watching him skate a spot, like a ledge spot is insane. The amount of tricks he can do is absolutely insane, that's why he's one of the ones I look up to. I've looked up to him for a while ever since the TransWorld "In Bloom" video. Paul Rodriguez is also one of my favorite skaters ever for a while now. I can't explain what it feels like skating a contest with them, it's like a dream. To also be on the same teams as Chris Cole like DC, Monster Energy and Stance Socks, is unreal. I think he's an amazing guy and a smart business man and definitely one of the best skaters ever.
Who's an Am that should be pro in your opinion?
I'd go with Evan Smith. He's an Am on Element. He's put out a couple of nice video parts over the past year. I think he's ready to transform. I'm pretty sure Element's working on really soon. They definitely should be. He's definitely doing his thing and has a professional mentality in the way he handles and carries himself.
Chaz Ortiz recently graduated from high school. Do you go to school or are you home-schooled?
No, I don't go to school. I was home-schooled until I was 15. I was living with my dad for a while and he's always been against the whole school system. I did the independent studies thing for a little bit, but you're so busy as a skater traveling and practicing a lot and my mom just realized that with school -- it wasn't really the time for that right now and skateboarding is my career, so I should just put all my effort into that.
What do you do when you're on the Internet?
I watch car videos, any kind of car videos -- whatever honestly. I go on YouTube and search different cars and learn stuff about them. I'm honestly addicted to cars. I love cars. In about ten years when my skating career is starting to slow down a little bit, I want to become a rally car driver. I love the feeling of going fast and stuff like that. So yeah, I'm definitely addicted to cars.
It may not have worked out for you the first time, but do you see yourself in the future owning or running a skateboard company?
Yeah, absolutely. It's not something I'm worried about right now because I'm young. Once I start figuring more stuff out, I think I'll definitely get into the business side of skateboarding. In the next couple years I'll be trying to learn everything I can. I think it would be awesome to have my own team and create my own graphics. I think that would definitely be awesome some day down the road.