/ Sport

Text by Molly Simms. Photography by Ben Rayner . 04/17/2017


Nigel Sylvester - Eighty-Nine Magazine

Nigel Sylvester spends a good chunk of his life on planes. In fact, when we speak over the phone in October, he’s gearing up for a two-week trip to Tokyo. But it’s not his first trip to Asia—not by a long shot. In fact, the 29-year-old athlete has visited places and inked business deals he could never have dreamed up as a kid in Jamaica, Queens. It’s all the result of his single-minded pursuit of his life’s passion: BMX biking. Being at his level, Sylvester has the right to be jaded. But he’s still thankful—and humble—about all the accolades. Asked about the long, unexpected route to where he is now, Sylvester gets quiet and muses, “It’s nothing short of a blessing.”

Born to immigrant parents from Grenada, Sylvester says his interest in BMX was a “natural progression” that started with his family’s influence. “My older cousins and brother were super into them, so I’d watch them ride and fix their bikes,” he says. “It was always around me, and something I just fell in love with. It was a form of expression that felt so pure. I didn’t think it would lead to what it led to, but it just felt right, so I did it.” Sylvester’s parents were strict but supportive of his obsession. “When my parents could afford it  they’d get me a bicycle,” he says. “As long as I was staying out of trouble, they were fine with it.”

As he got older, Sylvester taught himself a slew of tricks and perfected his skills but wasn’t especially open about his love of BMX. “I hid it for a very long time. I don’t think anyone really knew how serious I felt about bikes until maybe a year or two before I turned pro.” His parents weren’t quite as thrilled when he opted to go pro instead of pursuing higher education. “I knew it wouldn’t go over well with my mother at all,” he says. “But as a child, I learned how important it was to chase your dreams and follow your heart. And my heart was pointing me in the direction of that bicycle.”

At 18, Sylvester started getting sponsorships and has since been endorsed by the likes of Nike, Gatorade and bike manufacturers Animal and MirraCo. He chalks some of his success up to the “natural hustle” and “go-getter attitude” he got from growing up in NYC and ascribes the rest to his parents. “I saw how hard my mother worked her entire life, and how much she sacrificed,” he says. “So I knew I had to go out and give it my all every single day—whether it was a trick, a video piece or a business deal.” By his late teens, he was traveling all over the world: Australia, China, Japan, Dubai, Europe and South America. “It’s so crazy,” he says, “because a lot of these places that I was traveling I’d been reading about in high school just two or three years before and thinking I would never get there. Then as fate would have it, I’m there doing the thing I love the most.”

Unlike most pros, Sylvester didn’t build his career on BMX competitions. “In New York City, our scene was more focused on street riding, where you use whatever the actual environment offers you,” he says. “I was curious how much could I push my riding by not being in contests and going a traditional path.” But Sylvester’s choice wasn’t entirely due to innate rebelliousness—it was a result of him going with his gut. “I’m not going against the grain just to be different,” he says. “I’m going against the grain because that’s what feels natural and right to me.”