SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. (AP) — Nyjah Huston says he isn’t going out to the clubs much in Hollywood this year. He also isn’t throwing many of his infamously wild house parties, even though he recently learned to DJ while he was laid up with a torn knee ligament.

Huston is rising earlier and trying to get to bed earlier. He’s maintaining a rigorous daily morning stretching routine, and the ex-vegetarian is still eating healthy.

And for the past few months, the greatest street skateboarder of his generation has suppressed his lifelong compulsion to explore his world by board. When he spies a tantalizing new spot, or when a risky old trick calls out from his memory, Huston tries mightily to resist doing anything that could overtly jeopardize his health for nothing more than a thrill or a video part.

In other words, the 29-year-old Huston is growing up.

It’s an Olympic year, and that means something to him now.

After he shockingly missed out on a medal three years ago in Tokyo, Huston wants the best opportunity to succeed in Paris.

“I’ve been taking it a little more cautious and mellow this time, because when you’re a true street skateboarder, that’s just always what you want to be out there doing,” Huston told The Associated Press in Orange County at his private skate park, a spacious facility filled with rails, concrete ramps and thousands of gallons of Monster Energy drinks (they’re a sponsor).

“Every single day, there’s tricks that pop up in my mind that I want to be doing on a specific spot, or I’ll be driving down the road and see a big rail and think, ‘I want to hit this, but now I have to wait three months,’” he added. “It’s not ideal, but I was cutting it a little too close the last time around. I’m going to keep it safe until Paris.”

A missed opportunity

Several days before the inaugural Olympic skateboarding competition in Tokyo in 2021, Huston tore a ligament in his wrist while skating a bit too hard. The injury hindered his subsequent practices, and he finished seventh in men’s street after four consecutive falls.

Arguably the greatest contest skater of his generation didn’t execute in the biggest contest of all.

The injury wasn’t the only reason he came up short in Tokyo. But Huston is determined to give himself every chance to add another superlative feat to his career in Paris, even if it means curtailing his natural instincts both on and off the board.

Playing it smart is antithetical to a sport that’s largely about flinging yourself at concrete and hoping you’ll be preserved by your skills and a wooden board with wheels. Injuries are not only common, but expected — even by Huston, who had somehow never undergone any surgery at all before his knee injury in August 2022.

“That’s actually crazy, right?” Huston said. “You guys have seen some of the falls I’ve taken. It doesn’t really make sense why it took that long. When you’re doing the stuff I do out there, skating these big rails and taking gnarly falls, it’s bound to happen. It’s part of the game.”

A new Nyjah

The fact that the surgery happened one year after arguably the biggest fail of his professional life forced him into a period of self-examination.

“The longest I normally go without being on my board is a week or two, so having to take four or five months off was brutal,” Huston said. “It did make me question how I was going to feel once I was back on my board, if I was going to have the same confidence. But it really made me appreciate being on my skateboard, having that free feeling it gives me. If anything, it only made me even more hungry to take care of my body and stay healthy for as long as possible.”

This maturity is a logical next step for Huston, who had a sheltered upbringing partly in rural Puerto Rico before he became a teenage millionaire skater and made up for lost time.

Huston has always had interests outside skating: music, fashion, business, houses and, of course, fast cars. He has also become an avid dirt bike racer who thinks he could have competed in Supercross if he had started earlier. He’s now into hiking and exploring the natural world, including a trip to Yosemite National Park with friends recently.

An artist first

After two full decades in a sport he took up under relentless pressure to excel from his now-estranged father, Huston has somehow remained not only happy, but hungry. While he’s still an intensely competitive athlete with a forest of trophies as proof, Huston has also maintained an admirable mindset on what’s really important about skateboarding, which he calls “technically a sport.”

“To me and to most skateboarders out there, it’s more of a way of life,” Huston said. “A lifestyle. An art. That’s the way I like to think about it, and that’s the way I’ll always think about it. I always put street skateboarding first and then contest second. That’s the way I was raised. But being able to go out there and represent your country and skate in the Olympics is also a plus, and that’s why I’m excited.”

Huston is still competing with passion. He traveled to Budapest this month to earn his spot in Paris during Olympic qualifying, and he’ll compete in the X Games in Ventura, California, this weekend.

He’s just doing it smarter.

“There’s definitely some specific tricks I’ve been working on (for Paris), and some tricks I’ve been trying to save and not do so much in the contests leading up to it,” Huston said. “But yeah, I’m always working on new stuff. Always trying to push myself.”

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games