Nigel Sylvester Is a Different Kind of Superstar

At first, the children zipping around on bikes, roller skates and skateboards took little notice of the world famous athlete riding among them. Lot 11, tucked underneath a bustling Interstate I-95, is a haven for all things wheels. That’s where Nigel Sylvester perched on a ramp and surveyed the concrete slabs covering the skatepark’s landscape.

His opening cleared. Sylvester churned his black and blue Air Jordans, gaining speed on his Specialized bike. He jumped and the bike did too, causing it to dance across a rail. Sylvester rotated the handlebars in a circle before hitting the ground. He turned left sharply, twisting the bike’s frame in a complete rotation before using his left hand to rotate the handlebars again.

To most, the quick moves would have looked flawless. But Sylvester had felt a hitch. Like an actor trying to nail a scene, he attempted the same moves several times. With each try, another child or two stopped skating or biking to bask in Sylvester’s array of explosive tricks.

They received a preview of what Sylvester’s legion of fans would soon see. During each trick, Sylvester’s friend and longtime collaborator, Ralphy Ramos, pedalled in his shadow, leaning low, camera extended to record every move. The best series of successive tricks would be plucked and broadcast to Sylvester’s significant social media following, which includes nearly a million Instagram and YouTube followers.

Nigel Sylvester has been riding BMX professionally for almost 20 years. The bike company Specialized is one of many that he is sponsored by.Credit…Brian Karlsson for The New York Times

“Riding is one thing,” Sylvester said. “Riding in front of the camera is a whole other thing. It’s like when you go to the gym and you’re by yourself and then you’re at an actual basketball game in front of 30,000 people.”

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