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This week’s Photographic Memory features a photo of Nyjah Huston backlipping a rail in the Bay Area back in 2008, a point in time when Nyjah was still living in Davis with his family and riding for éS. Nyjah needed an éS ad so Scuba Steve and I drove up to San Francisco on a Friday night with a plan to link with Nyjah, skate with him the whole weekend and hopefully get a photo. Nyjah’s dad Adeyemi sent us a pin to a meeting point for around 10 a.m. on Saturday, we assumed it was some kind of warm up spot as is the normal convention with meet ups, so it was weird when we met them at a random apartment building off the side of the freeway. As we pulled into the apartment complex Nyjah was cruising around skating flat in the gritty chunky parking lot and Adeyemi was setting up a couple of cameras on tripods. I was thought we would make our introductions and then figure out what was going on, but Nyjah skated up to Steve and I, shook our hands, ran up the stairs of the apartment building and casually jumped straight into a back board on a rail that neither of us had considered having much skateable potential.
Having heard the stories and seen plenty of Nyjah video, I felt I knew what to expect, but when you see someone with that level of confidence jumping on to a 14-stair that has a vinyl run up when you’ve barely got out the car, it’s nothing short of shocking, irrespective of how old they are. Time to pick my jaw up off the ground and set up some flashes before he makes it! Nyjah rolled away from the back board the next try whilst I was still trying to roll away from getting my flash stands out of the trunk of Steve’s car; fear and embarrassment pumped through my veins, this kid who I’ve just met is going to remember me as the guy who blew his photo by being too slow, so it was nervous laughter that greeted Adeyemi’s declaration that Nyjah was going to back lip the rail.
To digress into rail construction at this point, the majority of rails that people skate are set in concrete into the stairs or ground that they are running down and are normally anchored at both ends by a support that shoots deep into the floor, that’s how you get a nice sturdy rail and there are a multitude of building ordinances that outline this building code. Closer inspection of this rail shows that it is only anchored at the top of the stairs and that anchor is to a wooded beam that is attached to a wooden floor and wooden ceiling by four screws and a bracket. Running down the stairs, the rail is only fastened at three flimsy attachment points which look like they’ve been glued in one-inch squares to the sides of the stairs. Throw a long period of wear and tear in the mix and you get the idea that this rail was wobblier than a frat boy at midnight on spring break—everything about it reeks of a granddad’s Home Depot project and most people would be sketched if it was a seven-stair. It took Nyjah a handful of tries to stick the back lip and every time that his 100-pound frame shook that thing loose like he was a sumo wrestler—it speaks volumes that no one else has ever skated this rail. Afterwards, Adeyemi took us out for lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant and by 3 p.m., Steve and I were back on the I-5 freeway with full bellies heading south towards Los Angeles. In those few hours I saw the beginnings of the terminator Nyjah has since become and I learned firsthand that he’s really gnarly to watch in video footage or contests, but his real life street vibe will melt your face.
Photo & words / BARTON