Already one of the most popular and successful professional street skateboarders in the country, 17-year-old Nyjah Huston has a difficult time recalling his earliest memories on a board because he was only 5.
But not much has changed in 12 years at the skatepark in Huston's hometown of Davis, Calif., where if he ever returns, he might have a case of deja vu.
On a recent 90-degree day at that skatepark, a dozen 6- to 12-year-old skateboarders are in perpetual motion, the sun reflecting off their various helmets to splash dots of color against the modest gray concrete ramps and bowls. If Huston had been there, the little boarders likely wouldn't have recognized him -- he last frequented the park when he was their age -- but their instructor would have.
"Around here? I would say he's definitely reached that legendary status," said George Montes De Oca Jr., a 22-year-old from Sacramento.
Huston started in the skatepark where Montes De Oca now teaches his class, and just as the young skateboarders test their abilities, so, too, did Huston.
"I just remember cruising around the park with my dad, just trying to figure it out," Huston said in a phone interview.
It didn't take him long. At 9, he started competing. At 10, he won his first big event, the Tampa Pro Am. At 11, he became the youngest-ever X Games competitor.
At a more seasoned age of 15, he won the inaugural Street League Skateboarding championship. In 2011, his first year with a driver's license, he won an X Games gold medal. Huston won this season's first two Street League stops, most recently June 16 in Ontario, netting him $300,000 and putting him over $1.2 million in career contest earnings. No skateboarder had surpassed $1 million, according to Street League publicist Hannah Stember.
Although Huston will defend his gold medal at the X Games, which run Thursday through Sunday in Los Angeles, he said if he had to pick, he'd rather win the Street League championship. Huston won the first three stops last year, each with a $150,000 prize, but finished second in the fourth and final championship event to Sean Malto.
"We call (Huston) the 'soul crusher,' " said Rob Dyrdek, the founder of Street League Skateboarding and star of MTV's "Rob and Big," "Fantasy Factory" and "Ridiculousness." "He's just out there breaking people's spirits on the tricks that he's doing. When they think they're chasing him down and they're going to get him, he just does two back-to-back insane tricks and breaks the spirit of these guys trying to get him."
Dyrdek, a 20-year skateboard industry veteran, said there's not a skateboarder past or present who reminds him of Huston.
"Maybe call him a street Tony Hawk? I don't know," Dyrdek said. "He reminds me more of Tiger Woods, you know?"
Hawk is the biggest star the sport has produced. His rise to fame coincided with the growth in popularity of the X Games, which highlight the half pipe contest. In a similar vein, Street League's success can be correlated with Huston's, and vice versa.
"He's going to go on to be a very, very big superstar," Dyrdek said. "And it's going to help take Street League to the next level."
Street League events are held at arenas across the nation and broadcast live by ESPN. The league attempts to draw in casual viewers with an instant scoring system that adds drama akin to the late stretches of a close basketball game. It is divided into three portions: run, best trick and a big section, which is the most heavily weighted and is also Huston's specialty.
Street League touts Huston as its star. During the live broadcast of the Ontario stop, he was featured in a promo narrated by Dyrdek that aired twice. That's roughly the equivalent of NBA Commissioner David Stern touting LeBron James in an ad during an NBA playoff broadcast.
"I have so much belief in not only how good he is but how good he is going to be," Dyrdek says in the commercial. "He is going to go down as one of the greatest skateboarders in history."
When Chris Cole, a 30-year-old pro skateboarding veteran, first saw Huston at a competition about six years ago, he recognized the youngster's potential but wondered if Huston would make it as a professional.
"There have been so many people where it's like, 'Oh my God, this dude is the next thing,' ... and then they disappear," Cole said. "The difference between Nyjah and all of those other people, though, is that nobody was as good."
Huston's work ethic also makes a difference. He's never satisfied with the status quo.
"I'm a pretty hard-working guy," he said. "I like progression. I like challenging myself. When I go to a street spot to film a trick, I don't just settle with what I know I can do. I definitely try the hardest thing I can do at that spot."
With that mentality, Huston has left his mark all over Davis and the Sacramento area. There's not an obstacle on University of California-Davis' campus, which Huston calls a famous skate spot, that can't be associated with one of his tricks, Montes De Oca said.
"Nyjah Huston definitely is changing the game of skateboarding. He's constantly influencing new creative styles," said Montes De Oca. "He inspires a lot of people. He inspires a lot of the 'legendary skaters' that are older than him."