Normally the biggest news for a pro skater is the release of their signature shoe or winning SOTY. The exception to that is when everyone on the internet is talking shit about what you said in Thrasher. People might say that print media is dead, but there’s a huge difference between saying something on the internet and having a quote published in a physical magazine. If you think I’m full of shit just ask Nyjah Huston.
Nyjah’s pro model DC shoe dropped last week and he got the cover of Thrasher doing a front 5-0 down a kinked rail, but no one really mentions that. Why is Figgy crooked grinding a triple kink the coolest thing in the world and Nyjah’s trick semi-ignored? Figgy has a cool image–he plays guitar, likes pizza, and rides for a cool company. Nyjah has energy drink sponsors, rides for a “little kid” company, and seems a bit quiet and reserved–hardly an image that a dude wearing a Palace T-Shirt is going to be psyched on. In many ways Nyjah and other pros who get labeled “contest skaters” are handicapped in the same way the Birdman was in the ‘80s. They’re young, rich, and really fucking good, but if you ride their board you’re a kook. Welcome to the world of skateboarding–it’s confusing I know.
By now you’ve probably read about his comments from the issue–specifically the pull quote, “Skateboarding is not for girls at all.” As you can imagine several well known people in skateboarding called out Nyjah’s statement, including Patrick O’Dell who posted the quote on Instagram. Why did O’Dell take Nyjah to task? Here’s what he said via email, “I was really disappointed by his comment, why shouldn’t anyone that wants to skate be allowed? I think some skaters forget that 99% of skateboarding exists outside of magazines, pros, skate gossip and especially contests. Skateboarding is something you do and anyone can do it. But on the pro level there have been so many girls and women that have contributed so much that it’s absolutely insane to discredit them. I know for a fact I’ve said some stupid stuff in my life–thank god most of it was off record–so hopefully this will all be forgotten. I appreciate that he apologized to all the girls out there.”
Along with O’Dell and several others, Ed Templeton wasn’t particularly psyched on Nyjah’s answers either. “There have always been girl skaters. Life Magazine did an article in ’65 that showed girls skateboarding,” Templeton said. “In my childhood I skated with girls at my local spots, and of course Toy Machine was responsible for turning Elissa Steamer pro as the first female pro street skater. Before her was Cara-beth Burnside who was pro for skating vert. There’s been and underground movement for years with zines and videos like Villa Villa Cola, and the one Luciana Ellington did, and companies like Zero with Marisa Del Santos, and Hoopla skateboards which is dedicated to sponsoring and promoting girls in skateboarding.”
In order to uphold the integrity of journalism, I went out and bought a copy of Thrasher. I thought the quote was pretty ridiculous, but I wanted to read the whole thing to give it some context. I remembered reading another interview about what a train-wreck Nyjah’s dad was and it made me feel shitty for thinking he was kind of an idiot for his comments. Papa Huston basically bankrupted Nyjah and almost fucked up his entire career. Nyjah recently wrote him off–that’s a lot for a kid just entering adulthood.
After reading the entire interview it was obvious that Nyjah wasn’t the only one in Thrasher who made questionable comments. Phelps led in saying “It (skating) ain’t for pussies” and “The women do the downhill stuff because they think it’s sidewalk surfing. They don’t realize how dangerous it really is.” Phelps also revels in the fact that he saw a girl get “served-up so hard” in a downhill contest.
Throughout the issue there’s plenty to take issue with if you’re looking potentially sexist, racist, or homophobic stuff. Jamie Tancowny talks about everyone getting “beaver fever” on tour, Leo Romero recalls people tripping out because a man kissed him at a signing (it was his dad), James Hardy is asked about his “girl cars,” to which he clarifies that the Honda Element is the “ultimate chick car,” and Al Davis is asked why his name is Alex and if he’s been to jail because he’s black. No one is buzzing about any of those interviews though.
Male skaters talking shit on women in or out of skateboarding isn’t really anything new. In fact, for a culture of outcasts and creatives, skateboarding can be pretty racist, sexist, and homophobic, but that’s also because the skate world is just a microcosm of the rest of society. “Our culture is crude. There is the polite above ground political/professional culture–the one where you hide your tattoos and don’t say offensive things to keep your job. Then there’s the one when you go home and watch your porn, make racial slurs, and leave shitty comments on Instagram and YouTube.” Templeton said, “Look at the comments anywhere online. Women, or “chicks” are pieces of meat to be looked at, judged and ultimately fucked. I have always been saying that 95% of skateboarders are open minded and accepting people. Because skateboarding is creative and mostly illegal to do it attracts a certain type of person. That same percentage is true for pro skateboarders. But there’s always that 5% that make us all look bad.”
So why is the skate world fixated on Nyjah and not Phelps? Nyjah Huston is an athlete. When he files taxes on the large sums of money he gets for winning skateboarding, his occupation is listed as “athlete” and that puts him in a different category than your average pro skater. No one really cared when Jeremy Klein said “Oakley Blades are so gay” in a Transworld interview or about 97% of Big Brother’s content, because using sexist, racist, and homophobic language was tolerated in skateboarding and Jeremy Klein’s relevance had faded. Klein also wasn’t on your television everyday making a ton of cash. So, like Roy Hibbert, Adrian Peterson, or John Rocker, Nyjah’s going to be taken to task for anything he does because he’s looked at through a different lens. Luckily for him it wasn’t in Sports Illustrated or some other large publication or he might be stripped of his sponsors like other pro athletes.
But is that fair?
Templeton certainly thinks so, “He’s a big pro in this industry. He is one of the most talented. Thousands of people follow him and take inspiration from him. I felt bad for the amount of hate piled on him over this. That is why I felt obligated to also post his apology. I think it’s a good thing that there are no ‘fines’ or anything like in the NBA, it’s just fellow skaters holding his feet to the fire.”
Nyjah’s fame and monetary success does make him an easy target and you can pile on the fact that he’s better than almost every human that rides a skateboard, but not everyone is quick to take shots at him. Rob Brink sent over some thoughts which I’m quoting in their entirety:
“I’m excited and proud of what the future holds. The public’s reaction to Nyjah’s ridiculous statement in Thrasher speaks multitudes. It sounds like everyone’s prepared to put their money where their mouth is, which can only lead to progress.
I mean, who would’ve thought we’d ever reach the point where the skateboarding internet masses were comfortable and flawless enough to cast the first stones? They are, after all, so very accepting of people—regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality, socio-economic status, sponsors, how they push, how they hold their skateboard, their taste in music, the clothes they wear or their hairstyles.
I’m really looking forward to seeing all the skate companies—whether they be footwear, boards, trucks, wheels, apparel, bearings … whatever—adding female ams, pros and pro models to their lineups and paying them buttloads of cash. I also can’t wait to see more girls in contests, interviews and videos.
As a result of the industry’s example, I’m excited to see hundreds of thousands of skateboarders across the globe spending their hard-earned money on female-endorsed signature product—an extension of the support they are showing now by lashing out at Nyjah. In turn, female participation and acceptance in skateboarding will increase, become the norm and incidents like these will no longer happen.”
Nyjah might have apologized but the stink is there. It’s a safe bet he wasn’t thinking about all the girls who buy his skateboards, wear DC shoes, or drink Monster when he made his comments and he probably didn’t think his line would be a pull quote either. That’s interviewing 101 and he’ll learn the art of it, which may mean giving vanilla answers like Derek Jeter or Tim Duncan. Could he suddenly have the swagger of Lebron and change his whole shit? Sure, he’s 18-years-old, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to back up his comments, but framing him as a sexist asshole isn’t completely fair either.
No matter how much of a sport skateboarding becomes, it still operates in it’s own sphere where we govern ourselves. Aside from getting blacklisted from mags or sponsors for being a kook, there’s plenty of leeway to act however the fuck you want. There’s a higher tolerance for shit that wouldn’t fly in “real” sports. Good or bad, that’s bound to change, it’s just going to take a minute.
“As skateboarding progressed from sidewalk surfing to gaps and rails and the media surrounding those actions covered it, female skateboarding became less visible.” Templeton explained, “The same reasons people watch the NBA as opposed to the WNBA apply to skateboarding. But the girls are starting to dunk. And there will be that moment in skateboarding when a girl is doing the biggest gaps and the biggest rails. That breakthrough is coming.”