Nyjah Huston First Appeared in Tony Hawk at 11 Years Old. At 25, He’s Back.
The upcoming remasters of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2, an update to some of gaming’s most celebrated and influential sports releases, is a delicate balance between the old and new. One way the remasters will acknowledge the passage of time is including the original lineup of skaters at their current age, alongside a handful of modern skaters.
One of those skaters will be 25-year-old Nyjah Huston, and it doesn’t mark Huston’s first appearance in a Tony Hawk game. Huston burst onto the skating scene at 10 years old, and found himself as part of the sprawling cast of Tony Hawk’s Project 8 at just 11 years old. More than 10 years later, now Huston is one of the stars of the 2020 skating scene.
Back in January, I had a chance to chat with Huston after he'd stopped by for a motion capture session for the remaster. (He also got to pick out the clothes he’d wear in the game.) We talked about Tony Hawk Pro Skater’s influence on his career, how his parents managed to get him his own skate park, and what it was like to show up in a video game at only 11 years old.
VICE Games: Is doing capture stuff intense for you? A really physical process?
Nyjah Huston: No, no. It was pretty easy aside from all the weird faces I have to make. [laughs]
Because this isn't this isn't your first time doing something like this, right?
No, I've done it before, but it was so long ago, I can barely remember.
When I was doing some research before jumping the call, I saw that you were actually in Project Eight , the Tony Hawk game from years ago. And when I loaded up that video, I was watching a kid!
Yeah, it’s crazy. I think I was only 11?
Is that your last memory of doing something like this?
Yeah, yeah, it is. But yeah, I'm finally coming back.
It's hard to imagine what it was like being 11 and doing something like that, but like, what are your memories of being like on set, being involved in a Tony Hawk game?
I remember I was tripping—I'd never seen anything like it. I was skating around with all the crazy old dots on me and stuff. But man, it was exciting. I mean, me and my brothers had been playing the game for a while already, played one and two and the Underground ones a lot. And yeah, it was crazy, man. It was pretty surreal at the time. I remember everyone that I was around when I was a kid, they're like, “oh my god, I can't believe you’re in the game. I play you. Do you play yourself?”
What's the big difference between that and now? What is it like to come back to a similar sort of room, being in such a different place personally and professionally?
It's crazy. A lot has changed since back then. I’ve grown up, I was a little kid back then. I'm stoked that I’ve made it this far and I'm still at the point I am. I'm only 25, but I've already been skating for like 20 years. We all know how hard skating is on the body—all the plants and whatnot. So it's just more motivation to just keep it going, man.
Do you remember the first time you played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater?
I started playing the game after I'd already started skating. I don’t remember the first actual time playing it, but I remember playing it all the time with my brothers and stuff. They actually played him more than me, because I was always on my board, skating every day.
I was such a little skate nerd. I knew every little trick done on every spot, watched every video, read every magazine. The video game was just another added on thing to [have] my life always [be] around skateboarding.
It's obviously an honor being in a game from someone like Tony himself. I mean, he's a legend, and my first skateboard ever was a Tony Hawk board. One of my first memories was watching him. I think it was just when I started skating, or maybe a little before, it was a demo like him and Bam [Margera] everyone was doing in Sacramento. Man, he's the best.
"It's obviously an honor being in a game from someone like Tony himself. I mean, he's a legend, and my first skateboard ever was a Tony Hawk board. One of my first memories was watching him."
I guess if you can't be skating at three in the morning, then at least you can play the video game.
At this point, I mean, I can only skate normally like four days out of the week anyways? I just get super sore, knee pain and stuff. So at least I’ve got a game now.
Obviously, the game meant a lot to you growing up. What did it mean for the people around you? For the other skaters in your life, did the game take on a larger meaning for them? Or was it just another thing to do that kept skating on the brain?
From what I remember, if you were in the Tony Hawk game, you were one of those dudes, one of the top dudes that everyone looked up to, so I think it was a big honor for everyone.
For you and your friends, it was sort of like “well, if you make it into Tony Hawk's Pro Skater then, on some level, you've made it.”
[laughs] Yeah, I think that's kind of what it was, in a sense. And it was so weird for me, because I was so young. I mean, my whole career just kind of started out that way.
Everything just started happening so fast. I won the biggest amateur contest when I was 10, and I was into X Games the next year. And then I was in a Tony Hawk game the next year! And it was just like—it was crazy how fast everything happened. But I feel like it was good in a way because I wasn't even thinking like, “oh shit, like, I'm already doing this, I'm already doing that, now I'm already getting paid.” I didn’t even know what was going on, I was just stoked to be out there like skating with all these dudes and being a part of all these cool things and just super focus on just getting better at skateboarding.
How strange it is to see yourself in these games over the years? I imagine it's like a big honor at first, but does it weird you out at all?
It is kind of weird. I mean, especially just the fact that I was so young. When I see things like that now, or when I watch myself winning a contest when I was 10 years old, I'm just like, “damn, I was really that young out there with all these other dudes that were twice my size and twice my age.” That’s crazy. I was doing some tricks that I don't even do now, you know?
You mentioned that Tony Hawk was someone that you looked up to a lot to when you were young. Can you walk me through how you got into skating? Was that part of your life? Your family? What got you to pick up a skateboard in the first place?
Yeah, so my dad was a skater back in his teenage days, and he used to skate pools and bowls and stuff and vert ramps—and he was actually pretty good. But his parents were just never the most supportive of it. And obviously, skateboarding was at a very different time back then than it is now. So he got me and my brothers into it basically, as soon as possible. Got my first board when I was four, really started pushing it around when I was five. I always had my bros to skate with and stuff, so we were always pushing each other and progressing really fast.
And then by the time I was almost eight, we actually had our own indoor skatepark. It was an older park before, and then my dad took it over. He and my older brother rebuilt the whole park and made it super good to skate, so I literally had a perfect park to skate every day, no matter if it was raining or whatever. So when people ask me how I got so good, that's my main answer.
I mean, any kid that has a perfect park like that to skate every day and is as dedicated to progressing as I am, the same thing can happen for anyone out there. I was literally there every single day practicing and like learning new tricks every day. Any of you kids out there? You can do the same thing, man, just put your mind to it.
Was there a moment when you knew you were good? Because I imagine you have a lot of friends that skated as well, and everyone's got kind of varying degrees of skill. But was there an actual moment when you realized like, “oh shit, I'm actually I'm better than everyone else.”
[laughs] There's not like a specific moment, but I mean, I definitely just noticed this pretty early on when I was just skating with friends and other kids that would skate at my park. I feel like I never really let it get to my head that much. But I would say the main time is after I won Tampa AM when I was 10, and now I’m thinking just “damn, how did I win this against all these other guys out here?” That was probably the main moment.
When you talk to other skaters, how do people talk about the game and what its impact on the skate culture was?
Man, I feel like I hear people talk about the old Tony Hawk games all the time, and that's what got them into skateboarding. That’s the coolest part about it—people really fell in love with skateboarding from that game. I mean, I'm sure you can only play a video game so much before you go, you're like, “damn, I love this. I actually need to go get myself a board now and actually start skating.” That's definitely a beautiful part about it, and that's why I'm excited the game’s coming back [with] Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2, and I'm hoping that same thing’s gonna happen, inspiring kids to get out there on the board.
Did you find that the game informed how you skated, gave you ideas, let you be creative in a different way that maybe your own personal skill set didn't let you do?
The main things I remember is I would be always trying to hit like the biggest rails and stuff in the game—just the craziest rails and drops and stuff. And I mean, ever since I started skating, I've always gravitated towards just big stuff—just big gnarly shit. Andrew Reynolds, Chris Cole—all those guys are the people I grew up watching and they're some of the gnarly gnarliest dudes out there. I mean, even still to this day, that's that's my favorite thing to do, get out there and grind big rails. There's no feeling like it, and I definitely tried to do all the same stuff in the game.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the actual process of what you kind of had to do today. I know you mentioned you had to do a lot of different facial expressions. Is it a similar sort of thing where you’ve got all small balls on you and you're skating around and they're capturing the video footage?
No, it was pretty, pretty painless. There actually wasn't any skating. There were just some shots of me with my board and stuff, the little facial expressions, me picking out what outfits I'm going to wear in the game. But yeah, I'm assuming everything's probably way more high tech now than it was in the game like 12 years ago. So it's probably a way easier process. But yeah, it was fun.
I'm not a skater myself, but I was hugely into Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 & 2 . The other legacy of that series is the soundtrack and how that informed a lot of people's musical tastes at the time. Was the soundtrack at all important to you?
I haven’t heard a lot of those songs in so long. There's not there's not any specific names of the songs I remember, but if I hear one of the songs near any of my friends, we’re like, “oh shit, that was like one of the ones in Tony Hawk.” It’s very easily recognizable because it did play over and over and over. I think it’s cool, man. It's cool when you hear those songs again. And I hope some of those OG ones are in the game.
Before we leave, if I just say “Tony Hawk,” what is the first thing that comes to your head?
Man, the first thing that comes to my head: an absolutely absolute legend, obviously. The 900 and that moment, and definitely the video game is up there. I mean, really, just being thankful for what he's done for skateboarding—it's about to be in the Olympics for the first time. I think we all owe a lot of thanks to that to Tony for getting into where it's at now.
And also just inspiration. He's 50 years old now, and he's literally still a good ass skater on a board. I mean, I'm half that age and I know how hard skating is on the body. I hope 20 years from now, I'm still out there shedding like he is. He’s a legend.