The challenge of looking good | Simply Ranked

Plus: Ronnie Kessner, Jacuzzi Unlimited, a good trailer, another great week for the media industry, and more.

The challenge of looking good | Simply Ranked

The definitive weekly ranking and analysis of all the skateboarding and other things online that I cannot stop consuming and how it makes me feel, personally.

The challenge of looking good

Rank: 1
Mood: 🪞🙍

What I'm about to write might seem entirely subjective, but rest assured it is an objective reality: hyper-technical skateboarding rarely looks good. Flip-ins? Manageable, sometimes even naturally beautiful like a kickflip-backside-tailslide. Flip outs? Those are tough, skill-wise and aesthetically. A crook-nollieflip is clearly difficult to do but also generally difficult to stomach as a viewer. But flip-in flip-out territory? That's where skill and style violently clash; the make often a pyrrhic victory.


Micky Papa in SIDE HUSTLE.

In his SIDE HUSTLE video part from earlier this year, Micky Papa does a kickflip-crook-nollieflip down a handrail, a trick that requires a level of skateboarding mastery that only a handful of people on this planet possess. He executes it flawlessly, and it's likely the best this trick has ever or will ever look. Yet, it still has the appearance of mashed buttons and the intent of an over-produced pop song. It is simultaneously too much and empty. Addition for the sake of addition. The act of raising the bar without realizing the bar is too high for anyone to notice it anymore.

Can anything override this? Is it simply a question of trick selection? Perhaps, but even the grace of a kickflip-backside-tailslide becomes awkward when another kickflip bookends it. What about someone with really, really good style (no offence, Micky)? That's a question Ronnie Kessner's Cherish video part for New Balance Numeric, which Thrasher released on Monday, can help answer. Because Kessner is not only hyper-technical but looks damn good on a skateboard.

He skates fast, and the shape of his body — crouched low to the ground with shoulders open — functions like a skipping stone, sending him from obstacle to obstacle with an uncanny pep and bounce. His sartorial choices are also pretty on point — an underrated variable in this discussion.

In Cherish, when it comes to spot selection, Kessner presents a mostly well-rounded front. He hucks, there are handrails, hubbas, some standard and more wonky bank spots, and, of course, ledges. It's on these that he gives us a few eye-popping maneuvers to consider. First, a bigspin-backside-tailslide-heelflip-to-forward. A lot is going on there, and it straddles the line of excess with a toe or two over, but heelflipping out to forward and the slight swerve out of frame on the ride away gives it a little extra something. Taste. Later on, a backside-bigspin-fakie-5-0-heelflip flashes past. The shot is tight, focusing only on Kessner's legs, and cuts to the following clip almost immediately after he lands, leading one to believe its execution may be subpar (for Kessner, at least).


While a technical marvel, we are not given the time to do any marvelling, so the trick passes and we are left to make sense of the mess of bodily movements on our own time. Does it look good? Perhaps in the way that Will Hunting finishing the impossible math equations looks good, in that it is both unexpected and impressive.


Kessner's penultimate combination, a kickflip-backside-smith-360-flip, is nearly perfect. The smith lacks a pronounced dip, but the whole motion is so poised that you'd be surprised to learn that Kessner isn't PRO yet. But does it look good? Can you be graceful with only 1-3 seconds to stuff as many of your belongings as possible into a gym bag? Do you need three aisles worth of Home Depot materials to build a birdhouse? At what point do all these different seasonings make a dish taste bad or like nothing at all? Ultimately, how much is too much?

Even with Kessner's style and next-level ability, I'd say no, these tricks do not look good. To me, they're akin to "sludge" videos. However, that doesn't mean they shouldn't be done. We don't have to like everything. And, for those of us incapable of these feats, we'd be lying if we said we wouldn't kill to be able to do them ourselves. I love mashing a bit of everything together, evidenced by my dinner plate and the forkfuls that skewer a bit of every dish on it.

It just isn't pretty, is all.

The process of taking shape

Rank: 1
Mood: ⚪🔶🔺

Following the release of Jacuzzi Unlimited's first video, Monnie, in September, I wrote that it was hard to tell what aesthetic or brand narrative the board company was going for outside of its deep orange brand colour and party-centric b-roll. Now, some eight months later, with the release of their latest video, Long Distance Relationship, I still don't know. The deep orange and party b-roll remains, so maybe that's the extent of it.

To be fair, Jacuzzi Unlimited is the spiritual and literal successor of enjoi skateboards, one of the most thoroughly-branded board companies of all time. From that iconic bright orange, its panda logo, their potently silly ads, and the lighthearted approach to marketing and video production that made even the highest level of skateboarding still feel fun.

While enjoi now lives a zombie-like existence in the grip of a private-equity-funded sporting goods conglomerate, they still cast a long shadow for Jacuzzi to move out from under. Perhaps that's the point of Jacuzzi's more lax approach to brand building. Creating a brand identity can often feel forced and, even if successful, traps one inside of it, leaving less room for experimentation. Why paint yourself into a corner?

What is gaining definition, however, is their team. The last selection of enjoi AMs has started to come into their own on Jacuzzi, specifically, Tony Latham, whose part in Long Distance Relationship is fantastic. He employs a level of creativity and inadvisable risk-taking that is a thrill to watch. And this comes just a month after Latham's section in 510 Skateshop's ANYWHERE'S FINE.

While it might not be apparent what the board brand is doing aesthetically, what they're doing on board is clear (ripping).

Tease me, a sicko

Rank: 1
Mood: 😷

If I'm a sicko for anything, it's essay collections about niche topics I have little familiarity with or the birds on my balcony and the twittering and flittering they do as they go about their daily lives. Also, getting the fold on an omelette just right so its contents stay perfectly sealed in that eggy pouch when you transfer it from the pan to the plate, and I can't forget about hanging out with friends in a park at the end of a warm summer's day as night slowly presses down, squeezing the sky into bleeding oranges and purples.

I'm a sicko for a lot of things, I guess. That also includes a good trailer. Whether it's for a movie I'll never watch, a video game I immediately wishlist, or a skate video we're promised is coming soon. I've lamented before about the decline of the skate video trailer and how we're often teased with a new project just a few days before it goes live on Thrasher's website, usually by just a quick cut of clips in an Instagram post or a photo roundup from the premiere none of us were invited to.

But the trailer has a purpose. It's designed to build anticipation. To inform, misdirect, hype. The trailer for Daniel Wheatley's upcoming video Blanket does just that. Its production value is high. It throws big name after big name at us — some of which may or may not be in the video. It makes Blanket feel like something to look forward to, something that we should be excited to spend time with. It makes me feel like a sicko in wait.

What a time to be alive

Rank: Ahhhhhhhhh
Mood: 🙀

Meet AdVon, the AI-Powered Content Monster Infecting the Media Industry
Our investigation into AdVon Commerce, the AI contractor at the heart of scandals at USA Today and Sports Illustrated.

On Wednesday, Maggie Harrison Dupré at Futurism released a genuinely wild investigation into AdVon, a for-hire content farm that has cranked out thousands of poorly written and, at times, completely incomprehensible AI-generated product reviews attributed to AI-generated writers for everyone from The Los Angeles Times to USA Today and Sports Illustrated. For the latter, it was a huge scandal that led to the CEO of SI's licensor, The Arena Group, stepping down and the company's stock price losing around two-thirds of its value.

These garbage reviews are potent SEO traps filled with affiliate links that often kick back money to publishers, which explains why, as Futurism reports, over 150 different outlets have used AdVon's services. They also reveal that the owners of AdVon brazenly run a separate company called SellerRocket, "which charges the sellers of Amazon products for coverage in the same publications where AdVon publishes product reviews."

It should go without saying that no one is using the products being reviewed, and it doesn't appear that anyone even reviews the reviews before they go out.

... consider an AdVon review of a microwave oven published in South Carolina's Rock Hill Herald, which made a similarly peculiar error. The first portion of the article is indeed about microwaves, but then inexplicably changes gears to conventional ovens, with no explanation for the shift. 

In the FAQ — remember, the piece is titled "Amazon Basics Microwave Review" — it even assures readers that "yes, you can use aluminum foil in your oven."

Great stuff. This story comes on the heels of National Geographic looking to replace the entire editorial staff it laid off last year with "social media managers, content strategists, SEO editors" and the like, as tweeted by former Nat Geo writer and editor Doug Main.

All of this embarrassing bullshit is simply an effort to not have to pay writers. To devalue labour. It's a desperate hunger for immediate but ultimately short-term profit at the expense of long-term vision and respect from audiences and consumers. For most media entities, means of making money are increasingly scarce, so they're either scrambling for scraps or owned by private equity vultures whose goal is to squeeze every last dollar out of these notable "brands," regardless of reputational or ethical damage.

These schemes are on par with those of junk sites like ShredderNews, which I wrote about last month, whose goal is to get you to click by whatever means necessary (in ShredderNews's case, by rampant bigotry), not to develop an audience or produce quality work.

Anyhow, this is all thoroughly depressing. I need a pick-me-up. Something, anything to get me out of this morass.

A pick-me-up

Rank: 2
Mood: 😌

The middle class writer|David Hill
Writing as labor.

No! While it is an excellent piece, not that! How about this:

Oh, that's a bummer. Anything else?

Managing Up
Over the last two newsletters (three, if you include my reply to Google’s “rebuttal” of the Prabhakar Raghavan newsletter), I’ve made the case that while rot economics are responsible for making technology products manifestly worse, this transformation was only possible thanks to the interventions of a managerial class.

Fuck. Okay, okay. Let's turn this ship around. Here we go.

That's better.

Something to consider: RIP

Steve Albini Was Proof You Can Change
To a certain kind of listener, it sometimes felt like he was the last honest musician in the industry.
The evolution of Steve Albini: ‘If the dumbest person is on your side, you’re on the wrong side’
The long read: Steve Albini was long synonymous with the indie underground, playing in revered bands and recording albums by the Pixies, PJ Harvey and Nirvana. He also often seemed determined to offend as many people as possible. What led him to reassess his past?

Good thing: Chandler Burton's Epicly Later'd.

Another good thing: Some pals from Vancouver Island with a fun lil edit.

A good written thing about an audio thing: Ben Komins at Jenkem interviewed Gianluca Quagliano from the NTS Radio show Skate Muzik.

His episodes centered around different skate themes give you a musical deep dive found nowhere else.

A nerd thing:

Until next week… live, laugh, love. Seriously. Just try it.

Laser Quit Smoking Massage

NEWEST PRESS, available April 1, 2024


My new collection of essays is available now. I think you might like it. The Edmonton Journal thinks it's a "local book set to make a mark in 2024." The CBC called it "quirky yet insightful." lol.

Book cover by Hiller Goodspeed.

Order the thing

Right, Down + Circle



I wrote a book about the history and cultural impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater that you can find at your local bookshop or order online now. I think you might like this one, too.

Here’s what Michael Christie, Giller Prize-nominated author of the novels Greenwood and If I Fall, If I Die, had to say about the thing.

“With incisive and heartfelt writing, Cole Nowicki unlocks the source code of the massively influential cultural phenomenon that is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and finds wonderful Easter-eggs of meaning within. Even non-skaters will be wowed by this examination of youth, community, risk, and authenticity and gain a new appreciation of skateboarding’s massive influence upon our larger culture. This is my new favorite book about skateboarding, which isn’t really about skateboarding — it’s about everything.”

Photo via The Palomino.

Order the thing