Consequential spin | Simply Ranked

Plus: Heelflip champ retains their title, rigged! (camera), an essence of skateboarding, and more.

Consequential spin | Simply Ranked
The definitive weekly ranking and analysis of all the skateboarding and other online things that I cannot stop consuming and how they make me feel, personally.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Today’s newsletter is late (and probably typo-laden) because I got home after a few too many ciders last night and then spent an indefinable amount of time catching up on Mano A Mano and eating gelato instead of going to sleep.

Retention, expansion

Rank: 1
Mood: 👑

In the halcyon days of March 2022, I declared Vitória Mendonça the new heelflip champion of our era.

Every crew has one, but it’s not often one of these figures rise, ready to don the heavy crown of skateboarding’s heelflip champion. From Donny Barley to Marcus McBride, Lindsey Robertston to Neen Williams, and now, Brazil’s Vitória Mendonça. Her recent “For Us All” video part for Thrasher begins and ends with heelflips, but these aren’t just bookends. We’re treated to a glut of the heelfip and its variations throughout the five-plus minute offering. It’s a fantastic technical display and one that should leave us confident that her reign will be an inspired and benevolent one.

A year and some months later, not only has she retained that title, but she turned PRO earlier this month in Copenhagen, and Thrasher released her debut Element Skateboards PRO video part Vitória on Wednesday. This latest offering is a testament to talent at the top of her game who’s continuing to evolve. We see Mendonça not rely solely on or stray from her greatest strength: the heelflip. Yes, she does heelflip the shit out of spots, but does so in a variety of ways so it never feels overdone. In fact, Mendonça’s evolution shows signs that she might be gunning for a second, even rarer, title: fakie gawd.

Vitória Mendonça in Vitória.

A marker of time and place

Rank: 1
Mood: ⏱️ 🌍

At the risk of going terminally self-referential in today’s newsletter, readers of Simple Magic are aware that I often bemoan the increasing amount of content that floods our feeds, turning our devices into churning portals of forgetting. This is the basis of my whining: not that we’re spoiled with so much amazing skateboarding, but that there’s so much it becomes desensitizing and difficult to retain what it is we’re all seeing.

Is there a solution to this? Do you ask for less content from a culture and industry where the creation of it is baked into its DNA? The former is in service of having fun with your friends, and the latter promotes products, which then keeps the industry alive. Also, if there was less content, what would I even write about every week?

Too much of a good thing — what a problem to have. Self-inflicted rapture. However, there is something we can do: watch, remember, and watch again. It would feel like a venial, nay, mortal sin to let Nike SB’s latest video, 7 Ball, become a blip in the content churn. Unfeeling corporate kaiju responsible for the title aside, it is a special document of what is possible on a skateboard. A galaxy brain so expansive it extends beyond the meme template.

From Chris Jones and Korahn Gayle going blow for technical blow on some of the crustier spots imaginable, Noah Mahieu living up to the potential we didn’t see during his stint on Thrasher’s “Am Scramble,” to Eetu Toropainen finding ever-more creative ways to risk his health and safety for our enjoyment — this is an effort that could easily be dubbed with titles like “video of the year.” And, hopefully, it is, so years from now, when we look back on our collective history, we at least have 7 Ball as a marker of time and place. The way Photosynthesis or Sorry captured and defined the zeitgeist doesn’t seem possible anymore, but maybe that effect doesn’t become apparent until those years have passed, so fingers-crossed our memory holds out that long.

Rigged! (The camera)

Rank: 1
Mood: 📹

“Four of the world’s best skate teams have been invited to compete in a skate video competition like no other.” Reads the homepage for Red Bull’s No Rewind contest, which kicked off last week. “No other” speaks to a pretty novel gimmick, as far as skateboarding contests go, as the website explains.

Each team is provided one VX1000 Camera, a Fisheye Lens, and a MiniDV Tape.

Each VX1000 camera is modified to disable the “Tape Eject” and “Rewind” buttons. As soon as the record button is pressed, the tape starts rolling and cannot be rewound or reused.

With a limited tape capacity of 60 minutes, each skater faces pressure to capture the best skate footage in as few takes as possible.

Teams are given 14 days to film and fill the tape.

The raw footage from the VX1000 cameras will be exported by Red Bull and provided to each team for editing.

This seems… really fucking hard! And given the, frankly, stunning results of each team given the constraints they were placed in, it only speaks to the separation of PRO from JOE. While perhaps an obvious sentiment, watch the entries from Real, Blind, Santa Cruz, and Plan B skateboards and think of the last time you tried to film a trick and how long it took you.

A still from a two-trick line that took several hours to land — poorly.

It’s a truly impressive feat that most teams could produce 5+ minute entries. While Santa Cruz’s is more of a scripted piece of performance art, the work that went into wrangling it all onto a 60-minute tape is equally wild.

After they received their footage, the teams were then given two weeks to edit their videos and now an expert judging panel of Beagle, Jaime Owens, and Torey Pudwill will decide the eventual winner of the contest, with a public vote crowning one edit as the “people’s choice.” What those winners get is a bit unclear, but considering that Red Bull recently rented out London’s Natural History Museum so Leticia Bufoni and pals could kickflip over dinosaur bones, you know the energy drink behemoth is good for a big ol’ novelty cheque or two.

Consequential spin

Rank: 540
Mood: 🌀

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about how the X Games was looking to hire a new director of digital content and how the importance placed on a strong online/social media presence for any type of sports or entertainment property can often fragment their product and work to distance the audience from engaging with it in full — why watch an entire event broadcast when you can just catch the highlights online?

However, that’s just a function of how we consume media now. But, as Steve Flisler — the new X Games CEO (and formerly the vice president of original content at Twitch) — would explain in a Sports Video Group article from January, that doesn’t so much distract from their broadcast but gives them the opportunity to extend it.

“I like to call us a 27-year-old startup… because, even though X Games has been one of the most incredible action-sports and lifestyle-media brands for years, we’re coming at this with a totally new mindset. We want to create a true 360 audience experience that goes beyond the linear-TV broadcast. We’re not thinking of streaming and digital as a second screen; we’re thinking of it as an extended experience. We are inviting our at-home audience to hang out with us and sit and chat live on Twitch or YouTube so that they feel like they are a part of it. And we’ll be doing that 10+ hours a day.”

While they had seen positive signs of audience growth across television and digital, as a Forbes piece on the return of Selema Masekela to the X Games broadcast booth would note.

On one hand, there have been positive indicators of X Games’ future health. Digitally, X Games Aspen 2021 saw triple-digit growth on social and digital media platforms (+483% year-over-year) as onsite spectators were nixed that year due to the pandemic.

There was a catch.

The TV broadcast—which airs across ESPN, ABC and ESPN 2—did see a spike in viewership from 2021 (605,000 average viewers) to 2022 (622,000)—but those figures are marked drops from 2018, which brought in 851,000.

And a subsequent dip. According to U.S. TVDB, “X Games Japan 2023” pulled in just 92,000 viewers on ESPN back in May, while its Men’s Skateboard Street YouTube replay clocked a healthy half a million viewers. I’m no ratings expert, so there could be any number of factors at play if the U.S. TVDB numbers are accurate, but it does lead one to wonder what success for X Games means anymore. Traditional television viewership numbers? Live gate? Streaming counts? Ad dollars? Virality? Some rickety composite of them all? Given they’re employing a “true 360 audience experience” — which sounds like action-sports-inflected marketing mumbo-jumbo attached to a brand development strategy — it seems like Flisler thinks it’s the latter.

Speaking of consequential spin, Tony Hawk’s “Vert Alert” contest, which served as the qualifiers for the upcoming X Games California, took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, last weekend. One of the standout moments that made waves online was the Birdman riding away from a McTwist — the trick he snapped his femur trying a little more than a year ago — in front of an adoring crowd.

“Don’t you wished [sic] you watched this live?” An X Games Instagram post asked in the aftermath.

Essence of skateboarding

Rank: 2
Mood: 🌭

One of my favourite things about skateboarding is once you start doing it, it opens up a whole new world of things that feel like skateboarding but aren’t — using a pencil as a pseudo-fingerboard to slide along the edges of your school desk instead of paying attention to the lesson at hand; standing on the blade of a shovel as if holding a manual instead of returning to your manual labour; and even flipping a wiener into the air with your feet and stomping it perfectly into a smear of aggregate animal parts.

Via @/stokboader on IG. H/T Chris Giamarino for the vid link.

These things all have an essence of skateboarding, which is what makes them fun or at least enjoyable enough to waste our precious few moments on this earthly plane doing as we avoid doing the things we’d rather not. What else would compel you to jump all over a bunch of wieners until you got it just right? If that doesn’t speak to the power skateboarding holds, I’m not sure what does.

Something to consider: A refreshing summer drink.

Via @/James_Dator on Twitter.

A good thing: Friend of the newsletter, Farran Golding, gave me the heads up about Troubleshooting, a rad new video from Joe Allen out of Leeds that features full parts from James Kelly, Jono Coote, Naidan Glover, Logan Riley, and Golding. You can watch it and read about it now.

Another good thing: “Starting a New Skateboard Magazine and Other Radical Acts of Love,” by Mike Munzenrider for Quartersnacks.

One more good thing: Lucas Wisenthal explores why board prices are on the rise for Jenkem (welcome to our longstanding Canadian-pricing hell, America).

An enduring, transcendent legacy of Fred Gall thing:

Via @/potzach on Twitter.

Until next week… if weather and air quality permit, try to meet up with friends in a park. Maybe have a potluck of sorts. Ask one friend to bring a can of ginger ale and another to bring a lemon — you’ll be responsible for the beef broth.

I wrote a book about the history and cultural impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and I will keep posting about it at the end of the newsletter for the foreseeable future. Apologies. Right, Down + Circle will be in stores on September 26 and you can pre-order it now from your favourite local bookshop, my publisher ECW Press, or all of the usual devils (Amazon, Barnes & Noble). I think you might like it.