In an era overflowing with social media stars, few have captured the zeitgeist like Nigel Sylvester. As a professional BMX star/filmmaker/brand ambassador, Nigel is the true epitome of a hyphenate. Wielding bike and camera fluently, he spins through New York, Tokyo, Dubai, Paris and London for the hyper-kinetic, time-bending mashups of his BMX-driven GO series; his freewheeling tours across borders, dotted with wry moments of calm (chance encounters with fans, or the chance to sip tea from a china cup).
While the BMX scene has, until recently, had less crossover appeal to fashion or media than skating, Nigel has translated it into a globetrotting social media-led project; he’s taken Pharrell on tours of NYC, and been name-dropped in Jay-Z and Frank Ocean lyrics. But for Nigel, nothing is as simple as point-and-shoot: “I want to take my expression of BMX to levels people never imagined; I have the ability to break down doors, and smash through glass ceilings - I'm extremely focused on accomplishing everything I set out to do.”
“At first, I didn’t want to do Instagram—but then I changed my mind quickly, ‘cause I saw what the platform can do”, says Nigel, whose 296k followers view his life on the bike. It’s a life he’s lead since 12 when BMX was “at first just a hobby, it was something I did to release energy but also was a mode of transportation.” Growing up in Queens, Nigel starred in a video for BMX legend Dave Mirra at 17; after, doors didn’t so much fly open for Nigel, as he did push them down himself: “I gravitated towards it, I would work tirelessly, I would be there for hours until I landed a trick, and it quickly went from a hobby to – ‘Man, I wanna do this for the rest of my life.’”
Nigel’s fluidity of footwork and camerawork is, by now, second-nature, but equally instinctive is his business nous, and impulse to remove existing barriers to the industry he admires: “So many came before me, broke down so many barriers and doors, and changed the perspective of what is it to be a creative…I just hope to continue that cycle of life.” Citing Jay-Z, Kanye, Pharrell, Will Smith, and Michael Jordan as predecessors for those mechanisms of change, Nigel has a 24/7 work ethic, and open, expressive attitude, which drives such success—a success he attributes to his family: “I’m such a big believer in hard work and work ethic; I learned that from my mother, who worked so much, and was such a key example for me growing up, on what dedication really is, having tunnel vision, and understanding sacrifice.”
With GO, Sylvester translates the kinetic, immersive pull of his BMX to his broadest audience yet; an idea born out of “that DIY spirit, that f**k-you attitude… not letting anyone tell you no, not waiting for permission.” As with the best social media phenomena, GO has at once the impression of being hyper-curated, but also spontaneous—in the industry, Nigel acknowledges, it’s unlike anything else out there: “I wanted to make something new, and create something that was a bit more immersive, that was off the beaten path of the traditional BMX content I was making.” As the first to blend these worlds together, Nigel has erased certain conventions of the sport, both inside the industry and out, at times met with controversy. As GO becomes truly global, hitting more marks on his atlas, and scoring millions more viewers (GO New York for example, has 6m views on YouTube), Nigel himself remains humble, come so far since his 17-year-old self, bruised after stunting too many tricks: “Back then, I couldn’t imagine it would be what it is now—to truly live out my imagination—but I feel I’ve always had this blind faith.”
By Jonathan Mahon-Heap for Semaine.