Donkey on deck | Simply Ranked

Plus: Tony Hawk makes iced coffee at home, some whinging about consumerism, Nyjah Huston is a free-spirited creative badass(?), and GO OILERS.

Donkey on deck | 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.

Hey, that guy making iced coffee at home looks like Tony Hawk

Rank: -2

As a celebrity, one of the promises of maintaining a personal brand is that you may become an attractive vector for companies with deep pockets looking to market their wares. Depending on what your "brand" is, that public perception is generally used to speak to certain demographics. Take, for example, Bud Light. Last year, the company collaborated on a social media post with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney that one would assume was meant to signal Bud Light's allyship with the LGBTQ2S community. Afterwards, and due to this single post, the company was besieged by a transphobic hate campaign and boycott that even had noted dipshit Kid Rock shooting packs of Bud Light with an assault rifle.

So what did Bud Light do? They didn't stand their ground or support the person they paid to promote their product, that's for sure. Instead, they looked for another brand whose demographic they could signal to and signed a new partnership deal with the UFC. They've been releasing commercials featuring famous fighters and the organization's prominent right-wing "anti-woke" president, Dana White, ever since. It's a clear attempt at brand management, or "repair," if you consider flagellating yourself for bigots a form of damage control.

But this is what big businesses do because they do not care about people; they care about the people willing to give them money and the reasons why people are not. That's why it's not a stretch to imagine that a company like Starbucks would partner with Tony Hawk, whose reputation as skateboarding's beloved fatherly frontman is as sterling and brand-safe as it gets, to help repair their own.

The coffee-chain colossus has, in recent months, seen a dip in sales from boycotts related to its union-busting efforts and its perceived support of Israel as it continues its ongoing genocide in Palestine. Starbucks isn't officially on the BDS movement's boycott list and has denied financially supporting Israel or the IDF. However, the company did sue Starbucks Workers United for its pro-Palestinian messaging, which could be seen as political retaliation or a craven attack on the unionization effort, as summarized by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME).

In 2023, Starbucks condemned and then sued Starbucks Workers United over a tweet posted on October 7 with the text “Solidarity with Palestine!” alongside an image of a bulldozer breaking through the Gaza fence. The tweet, written by a single individual and not approved by union leaders, was quickly deleted and later replaced with a full statement in solidarity with Palestine. Starbucks accused the union of showing “support for violence perpetrated by Hamas” and claimed that the lawsuit was necessary to protect itself against the unauthorized use of its name and logo. In response, the union accused Starbucks of “seeking to exploit the ongoing tragedy in Gaza and Israel to bolster an anti-union campaign … by falsely attacking the union’s reputation with workers and the public.”

Inevitably, Starbucks’ mistreatment of the union has been widely viewed as a form of retaliation against support for Palestine, and many people have therefore decided that the company does not deserve their business.

There are lots of reasons not to support Starbucks, you can take your pick, really. They don't need your money. Does Hawk taking theirs contribute to the whitewashing of those issues? Potentially. It's doubtful that it's intentional on Hawk's end, but if you have a popular brand like he does and are being paid by another prominent brand to endorse its products, you may not explicitly condone their business practices, but you're also not bothered enough by them to turn down their money.

Also, iced coffee Keurig cups? C'mon, Tony.

Donkey on deck

Rank: 1
Mood: 🦌🐴🦌


Clip via @maxfennell on Instagram.

Remember in the '90s and early '00s when seeing a vert skater in a skate video felt something like this? They were creatures of similar shape and form and moved in mostly familiar ways, yet they were not of the same world as the street skateboarders around them. They were an oddity humoured, at best.

In the intervening years, transition skateboarding returned to the fore in concrete parks, but traditional "vert" skateboarding languished. Massive half-pipes dedicated to the art were few and far between unless you had the formerly deep pockets of DC Shoes or the ever-deepening pockets of Tony Hawk.

But, despite decades of irrelevance, vert is not dead. In fact, in the last few years, you could argue that vert skating is having a resurgence. On top of skaters like Jimmy Wilkins and Arisa Trew's awe-inspiring ability, events like Hawk's X Games-affiliated Vert Alert contest are consistently one of the most entertaining competitive skateboarding products going.

Nearly every time they're broadcast, something stupidly impressive takes place. Some trick or historical breakthrough that might not be as culturally relevant as it was, say, in 1999, but is still absurd nonetheless, like nine-year-old Ema Kawakami doing three 900-degree rotations on his skateboard in a row. Kawakami is a literal child, barely out of his toddler phase, and here he is executing one of skateboarding's most difficult and notable maneuvers in the triplicate while its progenitor, Hawk, is on commentary.


Clip via @shatteredjaw on Twitter.

Vert skating may still be the donkey among street skating's elk, but fortunately, the difference seems to matter less and less lately. At the end of the day, we all run in the same pack anyway.

Nothing but the truth

Rank: 5
Mood: 🎥🥱

If I were to hazard a guess, to cobble together a hypothesis from skateboarding's cultural id, which one becomes more-or-less attuned to if subjected to skateboarding media for an extended period of time (years, decades, lifetimes), I'd say skateboarders and skateboarding's industry and culture are, or more accurately now, were so sensitive to outsiders, interlopers, and the mythic poseur because we were deathly self-conscious. Self-conscious because we are conscious of — or it at least lingered in the subconscious — skateboarding's foundational truth.

That truth we rarely address is why movies and television can never convey skateboarding quite right, why athletic shoe conglomerates once struggled to gain traction in the market, and why it remains wack for a professional skateboarder to don an energy drink logo, even if that logo is now an accepted benchmark of success in the role.

There is — although to a far lesser extent these days — a historic and instinctual reaction to protect skateboarding from those monied outsiders because they don't "get" the culture. Charges of "selling out" were once commonplace. And those weren't just seen as bargains made in exchange for your own soul, but skateboarding's, too. However, that's where the truth lies, because skateboarding has always been for sale because skateboards are an item for sale.

Everything produced and branded by a skateboarding company is an advertisement — they're just advertisements we like. Skateboarding media has almost always been a marketing vehicle for skateboarding-related products. It doesn't matter if a video helped shape skate culture, made you feel something, or is art of the highest order; its purpose remains the same. Skateboarding can only survive on a global scale if we buy things. Consumerism is the lifeblood of this sport that many of us connect to on a spiritual level, and we did a good job of making the purchase of hard and soft goods feel like a spiritual event. To be a skateboarder was to consume as a skateboarder. We forked over cash for an identity.

In recent years, we seem less concerned with maintaining our distance from that truth. Maybe that's because things have become more desperate. The industry, from all accounts, is treading water. It's no longer financially feasible for it to remain insular, to lie to ourselves in the same ways. The Osiris shoes that made cash hand over fist, and subsequent cultural freakshows like The Storm, could not and does not exist today. Money works as a decent buffer from reality. When it's there, priorities change. When it's not there, priorities change.

How else do you explain Ty Evans? His is a creative evolution that's hard to reconcile. He's responsible for some of the absolute best and worst skateboarding videos ever produced. There are cultural touchstones like Modus Operandi, Yeah Right!, and Chomp On This — projects that feel like "skateboarding videos." All are branding exercises in one way or another, but it's easy to get lost in them, to hail them as classics. Then, at some point, something shifted. That distance between Evans and the truth shrunk until he stopped caring about whether or not his work felt like art or protracted ad spots, efforts so highly polished he'd worn a hole right through them.

Fully Flared has a warning sign. Pretty Sweet was so overproduced it was left sickly. Subsequent videos, We Are Blood and The Flat Earth, are so burdened with tech and gimmicks and hollow intent that they are nearly unrecognizable from infomercials — a slog to watch once, an impossibility the second.

"He's just experimenting! Pushing his craft in new directions!" One could argue, and they'd be right. He is doing both of those things. But as he does, he reaches a painful crescendo — decades of skill, talent, and experience coming together to bring us something completely lifeless. Inert. Projects meant for a demo reel and nothing more. Pieces that check off the boxes in a pitch deck to the client. Tone: Uplifting. Dramatic. Epic.

That's how we end up with stuff like this.

Sky Brown is a generational talent; we can see that in her skating, which is phenomenal but presented here as if she were in a car commercial playing the road. When skateboarding videos are made with intention and heart and treated as art, they don't feel like advertisements. They become more and allow us to look past logos and branding and let the skateboarders grow large, becoming icons or simply people. That lie is comforting and even inspiring when we're allowed to make a home in it. When skateboarders are shown like this, just a name jammed between a brand and its product — "Nike SB | Sky Brown | Pogo Plus" — we are told to perceive them as nothing more than a vessel for selling shoes. If anything, at least that's the truth.

Free-spirited creative badass

Rank: 2024
Mood: 😕

Not every writer or journalist will be well-versed in every subject they're assigned to cover. That's an unrealistic expectation. The ultimate goal is for their curiosity to guide them to learn more so that their work is both accurate and grounded in the world they've been tasked to share with their audience.

That does not happen in Dana O'Neil's feature on Nyjah Huston's Olympic hopes and stumbles published in The Athletic this week. O'Neil is a veteran sports writer of over 25 years and appears to be a great one at that. Skateboarding is just not her wheelhouse, which is why she calls quarterpipes "bowls," doesn't mention any of Huston's competition as the reason he may have struggled at the 2020 Olympics — or even frame him amongst his contemporaries at all — and describes Huston as "a free-spirited creative badass," words that I'm not sure have ever been in his immediate proximity.

This whinging at establishment media (and all my whinging above, frankly) is futile at best. Of course, The Athletic, a property of The New York Times, doesn't have a solid read on skateboarding. Despite its popularity, to most, it is still a fringe sport, not one deserving of consistent coverage or a dedicated beat. But hey, at least they're trying. If they wanted to try a little harder, though, they could at least find a writer or editor who knows what a quarterpipe is.

Life's ho-hum pageant

Rank: 1!
Mood: 🧡💙

The Boston Celtics are the 2023/2024 NBA champions. That's nice, I guess. For them. The front runners won and it was never competitive (besides that aberration of a beatdown delivered by a flagging Dallas Mavericks in game 4). It's a victory that inspires, well, nothing. At least for me. Clinching a title-winning series in a sweep or four games to one, like the Celtics did this week, only allows for limited emotional investment. Competition without competition is just pageantry.

Remember when Greg Lutzka was winning every skateboarding contest with his frontside-270-lipslides and noseblunts? That wasn't fun either, now was it? The ease with which success in sports comes is impressive for sure, but it is painfully anticlimactic as a viewer, which is why, as a viewer, one is willing to latch onto anything resembling pushback. It is hope for more than formalities and why I find myself overly and, by some degree, personally invested in the Edmonton Oilers.

I'm originally from Northern Alberta. Lac La Biche, my hometown, refers to itself on road signs on its perimeter as the "gateway to the oil country," i.e. the oil sands. Resource extraction and the destruction of our natural world is not really my bag, but I'm not immune to some blunt regionalism. Especially when you watch the team — our boys — fight and scrape their way out of a 3-0 deficit against the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup finals to bring the series to 3-2 on Tuesday, with a chance of tying it up tonight.

Statistically, the Oilers should still lose, whether tonight or in a potential game seven. But right now, because of that faint hope of competition, I have to watch. I don't even like hockey, but I will be planted in front of the television with friends, rooting for the motherfucking Edmonton Oilers. I mean, just look at this shit:


All these Connors and Matthews want to win so badly.


And when you're not sure who will, it's not dull pageantry; it's great theatre.

Something to consider:

Running Amok | Mary Turfah
The conduct on display in Gaza is part psychological warfare, part colonial theatre, part occupation soldiers having fun, and none of it is new.

Good thing: Jenkem gave 42 notable names in skateboarding a disposable camera, and now you can peruse the results, as their "Disposable" project is now live and online.

Disposable - Jenkem Magazine
Disposable is an intimate look into the lives of some of our favorite skaters, photographers, artists, and musicians.

Another good thing:

An unknown object – how are skateboards really made?
Max Ritter tells us all about how skateboards are made, e.g. why colored veneers are not more stable and where the price comes from.

A "did management even play the game" thing:

A follow-up to the legendary Disco Elysium might have been ready to play within the next year⁠—ZA/UM’s devs loved it, management canceled it and laid off the team: ‘For a while it seemed like miracles were possible, and with them redemption’
It was supposed to be the “110% authentic, most hardcore Disco since Disco.”

Until next week… happy Indigenous People's Day and Go Skateboarding Day.

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