VISTA — Nyjah Huston is still the most popular street skateboarder in the world.
He’s just no longer the best.
The 27-year-old Laguna Beach resident who has called Orange County home for the past 12 years is motivated to reclaim that status beginning Saturday afternoon at the summer X Games.
“Ever since I’ve been a little kid, I’ve been very competitive,” Huston said. “The fact that I have been competing in pro contests for almost 20 years now, and I still have that same drive and motivation, is awesome.”
Yuto Horigome of Japan has emerged as the athlete to beat in the X Games skateboard street competition after winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics last summer in the sport’s debut.
Horigome also beat Huston the last time they met in the X Games in 2019, and he landed more new tricks to win the opener of the Street League Skateboarding series last weekend in Jacksonville, Florida.
Huston, meanwhile, finished fifth.
“Yuto and all these guys out there are always coming up with some crazy new tricks,” Huston said on Friday afternoon after practicing at the California Training Facility in Vista, the site of Saturday’s competition. “They definitely make you go out there and have to try harder, but that’s what skateboarding’s about, the progression.”
Huston won every X Games gold medal in the skateboard street competition from 2011-15.
He barely missed out on the top spot the next two summers before bouncing back to win gold again in 2018.
Horigome, a 23-year-old from Koto City, didn’t win his first summer X Games gold medal until holding off Huston two years ago in Minneapolis.
After most competitions were shut down or delayed in 2020 because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Huston entered the Tokyo Olympics last summer as the favorite to win gold, but he finished seventh, making it one of the bigger upsets of the Games.
Huston is keenly aware that he’s no longer in his physical prime.
“When it comes down to it, skateboarding is just a very young sport,” he said. “I feel like my easiest years winning contests were in my late teens into my early 20s.”
Huston closely watches what Horigome and the other top skaters attempt during competition and warmups, but he’s not about to mimic them.
“You’ve got to just figure out what works for you,” he said. “I don’t see a guy do a trick out there and then I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m going to go learn that trick now.’ You just have to find your style and find what tricks work for you, and that’s what’s cool, everyone skates different. It’s not like we’re shooting at the same basket every time.”
Huston had a disappointing performance at the Tokyo Olympics, but he’s already gearing up for Paris in 2024. He won the first Olympic qualifier at a World Street Skateboarding event in Rome on July 3.
Horigome was eighth in that WSS event, but he bounced back to win the SLS season opener last weekend.
Horigome landed a switch 360 kickflip and a nollie backside 180 switch front side smith in the trick round, maneuvers that had never been attempted in the SLS series.
“Every contest is just new tricks going down,” Huston said. “It’s crazy.”
Sora Shirai of Japan finished second last weekend, Gustavo Ribeiro of Portugal was third and Vincent Milou of France finished fourth, just ahead of Huston.
Milou is also entered in the street event on Saturday, as well as Kelvin Hoefler of Brazil, who finished second at last summer’s Olympics.
Horigome also won gold at X Games Chiba in April, leading a sweep of the top three spots by skaters from Japan.
REYNOLDS’ BMX STREET GOLD TIES RECORD
In the lone X Games event on Friday, Garrett Reynolds took gold in the BMX street competition.
It was his 13th X Games gold medal in the event and 15th overall, tying skateboarder Shaun White for the most medals in history.
Reynolds, a 31-year-old from Tom’s River, New Jersey, moved from third to first on his second run and didn’t need to take his third as he was already locked into first place.
Felix Prangenberg of Germany finished second and Devon Smillie of Huntington Beach was third.