Four why? | Simply Ranked

Plus: Advancements in hill-bombing, return of the phantom pisser, some housekeeping, and more.

Four why? | 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.

Some housekeeping

Rank: 1
Mood: 🏠 🧹

Per my annoying email blast on Sunday, Simple Magic has moved from Substack to Ghost. This is the first newsletter from the new host. Wow. History.

If you're curious about why, mainly I was tired of Subtack's refusal to take responsible content moderation seriously when it comes to dangerous and extremist (white nationalist, neo-Nazi, transphobic, anti-vax, etc.) content hosted on their platform, a longstanding issue that has come to a head in recent weeks.

But let's not dwell on that and instead revel in how nice the new Simple Magic site looks. Seriously, go check it out. I spent way too long on it over the weekend. Plus, it's now got this beautiful custom domain:

🎉 🎉

Stunning. As far as what this means for you as readers and subscribers? Nothing. I've migrated everything over (from subscriptions to post archives), so this thing should continue to arrive in your inbox each week as usual, just from a different email address (if you don't see me in there, check your spam folder or send me a message and I'll sort it out).

I'm still getting familiar with all of Ghost's features, but so far, so good, and we'll see how it goes. If anything seems amiss or isn't working, please feel free to let me know. To log in and change your account preferences, click the "sign in" button on

Also, as tens of thousands (perhaps millions) of you dear readers have requested of me over the years, if you'd like to support Simple Magic with your readership and monies, I've finally added some paid subscription tiers in the "subscribe" section. Ghost doesn't take a cut (like the 10% Substack does), so it all goes to me. Me!

You can now become a Custodian of Simple Magic or Champion of Simple Magic for monthly/annual subscriptions of $2.5/$25 or $5/$50.

To be clear: The newsletter is always free to read and nothing is behind a paywall, so unless you feel called to part with your money, you do not have to give it to me. I just appreciate you being here and reading this thing.

Okay, moving on.

Advancements in hill-bombing (or what is a hill, anyway?)

Rank: 1
Mood: 🗻

Willow Voges Fernandes in GX1000: BILBAO AND VIGO

Making the monstrous hills of San Francisco, California, into the quotidian is something like the express purpose of GX1000. Each hill bombed and shared is bigger and scarier than the last. But that lineal advancement in challenge and risk would soon become normalized and not enough. Eventually, those hills would be bombed switch. In the rain. They would need to include at least one (or even two) street gaps.

Then, San Francisco itself wouldn't be enough. The hills of Columbia and México were calling. Tighter, hairier, and more unforgiving, these inclinations offered something new and appealing, not just as a source of adrenaline but as an aesthetic. Because as historic and iconic as San Francisco is, it is beholden to its particular architectural and infrastructural sensibilities.

Spanish cities like Bilbao and Vigo are not. They are nestled in a part of the world that is not afraid to make its cities, pathways, and plazas into places for people and their myriad personal expressions. As someone who grew up in the rural Canadian prairies, where the architecture is not so much brutalist as just plain brutal, the idea of skating a towering marble or granite embankment was a fantasy I'd watch over and over again on a screen. When I finally saw — and skated — those spots some years later, it still felt surreal.

For the GX1000 gang, once they'd exhausted the reality of their home turf, it was time to explore what else a hill could be. In their recent edit, GX1000: BILBAO AND VIGO, those hills were kinked and wound around corners. They were colourful and divided into sections by drops and gaps. Some were prefaced by wallies, jams, and grinds, each with its own distinct visual identity, not just a blur of grey concrete and street signs.

Where they go from here is unclear. If there is a limit to this thrill, to what a hill bomb can be? It seems they've yet to find it, but they sure are trying.

Frozen generation

Rank: 3
Mood: 🧊

A cultural artifact hi-jacked in service of some brief nostalgia trigger? That's fine. This is what most attempts at mainstream, wide-funnel entertainment tend to be now: reheated leftovers. Known products. Dependable wins. Not that there's anything wrong with that — besides the worry that generations' worth of navel-gazing will lead us off the edge of a collective creative cliff.

Perhaps that's a bit much. It is, admittedly, kind of fun to see Tony Hawk's Pro Skater being played up on the jumbotron at the United Center in Chicago. Whoever is piloting Hawk's digital avatar plays the "Skate Park" level, dubbed the fictional Chicago Municipal Skatepark by the game. So, it's a nice, somewhat subtle tie-in.

Which is how everything works now. Tie-ins. Easter eggs. History remembered through era-specfic consumer products. Stranger Things. ABBA hologram concert. Board reissues. But it is fun! To have the past shrunk down, repackaged, recontextualized, and resold at a premium. Isn't it?

Maybe I'm just grumpy. We got our first big snow of the year here in Vancouver. It's another reminder that things always come back around, just a little different each time. Sometimes, they're a bit heavier. Messier. And, as is the case in Vancouver, it shows that we still have no idea what to do about it.

Return of the phantom pisser

Rank: 1!
Mood: 🕵️💧

On Sunday morning, as I sat in my designated reading chair, reading, as the chair designates me to do, I looked out my window and watched a house sparrow perched on the railing of my balcony. The way its feathers puffed out against the cold made it look more like a balled-up gym sock. And perhaps that was the reason it was so, well, loud.

The bird chirped and chirped. Small clouds of condensation floated around its little face and vanished as it yapped. To whom and for why was unclear. The feeder was full; its friends were flitting about the tree just feet away.

What a treat it is to be able to take these creatures in. To witness them do their thing, however good or bad they are at it. Was the bird a gifted orator? A crank yelling at anyone willing to submit to a chiding? Do the birds even grade ability like we do? Like an artist judged on skill, intent, and merit, or is it all relegated to our lay understanding of peacocking — expression with the sole intent of getting laid?

Whatever the case, the guy was going off. Its little body pluming with each bellow. When it was finally finished and flew away, I stood and moved to the balcony door to watch it go. That's when I saw it — a flashback. A ghost pooled on the ground.

There it was, that vexing stream of yellow liquid that sure looked a lot like piss. A mysterious excretion whose first appearance I'd investigated some years ago had returned.

Who pissed on my balcony?
A special investigation.

What was a person to do? Is the phantom pisser back? Was the bird's racket a warning? Its cheeping a call to action ignored. There had to be someone who could help me solve this.

Four why?

Rank: Ugh
Mood: 🤷

Last week, Deadline regurgitated a press release from MindRiot Entertainment — a company whose very serious website describes themselves as "A Global Collective that Unearths, Discovers & Develops Content to Impact & Benefit Others" — announcing that they're developing the currently unpublished memoir of former pro skateboarder Josh Swindell into a feature film, which is tentatively titled Four The Yard.

The Deadline article is a bizarre document, rife with inaccuracy and omission, describing Swindell as "one of the most celebrated pro skaters of his generation [who] had been regarded as the future of the sport by grandees such as Christian Hosoi, Tony Hawk, and Steve Caballero," and also claiming that he's still "sponsored by Vans." None of which appears to be true.

That isn't surprising given what this is: a company looking to hype up their project. However, it also leaves out a critical piece of information. The memoir and film are apparently centred around Swindell's incarceration, which the Deadline piece attributes to his conviction of "second-degree murder in the [1993] killing of Keith Ogden, whom he beat to death outside a bar in Azusa, California. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison and was released in 2012 after spending almost 20 years behind bars. The case has been the center of controversy over the years, with George W. Trammell, the judge who presided over the case, later being charged and pleading guilty to federal corruption charges."

Has Swindell's conviction been at the "center of controversy" due to Trammell's (genuinely disturbing) corruption charge in an unrelated case? Without any illuminating evidence, that's certainly a leading way to frame what happened when Swindell himself would make clear in a jarring interview with Muckmouth in 2014 that he was involved in the attack and it was hate-motivated, which the Deadline piece doesn't mention. The assault followed Ogden's alleged propositioning of Danny Way (who was also involved but never charged), and as Swindell told Muckmouth, "What’s tolerated now wasn’t in that era and a guy coming on to another guy in a bar that isn’t a gay bar was all bad."

Will that missing context be in his memoir, which is (and prepare yourself for a strange string of words) ghostwritten by Scott Carbonara of Spiritus Communications? What about the film? Because it's certainly not in this press release.

Steven Banks Jr., Head of Sports Content & DEI at MindRiot, told Deadline that “What makes Swindell’s story so cinematic is how two Black men, a Mexican immigrant, and Swindell, banded together like brothers on a prison yard where different races mixing can get you killed... My community has suffered systemic racism for centuries, and how these gentlemen broke racial barriers to regain their freedom is a story that the world must see.”

Jonathan Keasey, founder of MindRiot and Banks Jr.'s longtime friend would add, “Sometimes we scratch our heads as if we were destined to become childhood friends to tell such socially redeeming stories 30 years later.”

...okay? And by "socially redeeming stories," do they mean their development of a docu-series and fictionalized account of the OceanGate submersible accident? The former is described as being "about a hero and a vision for exploration that is beyond courageous." A hardy el-oh-el.

Swindell did a horrific thing, served his time, and hopefully was able to come out a better person on the other side of a calamitous and inhumane carceral system. It's not that this story doesn't deserve to be told; it's that you hope the whole story is told, or else it's just the manipulation and exploitation of a tragedy to use as a minor plot point in a B-movie.

Also, will any of this stuff actually get made? Who knows. But at the very least, MindRiot guys, if you're going to keep at it, for the sake of the people whose stories you want to tell, can you stop being so goddamn weird about it?

Something to consider: RSVPing to this webinar taking place on January 23.

Image via Skateboarders for Palestine Alliance and Forever Playground on Instagram.

Good thing:

Hiding And Seeking With The New York Times | Defector
A story changes simply by dint of The New York Times covering it, and how the Times covers it will go a decently long way in deciding what kind of story it will become. That is something that the people in charge of the Times surely know, and no doubt take some pride in, but […]

Another good thing:

Back in the ’90s, when Cab was in his 30s, he used to come skating with us all the time. I am grateful to have been around because this was an incredible era of his skating to witness. One time we were watching Marc Johnson skate a box in a parking lot and he unexpectedly half Cabbed out of a fakie 5-0. I was near Steve and heard him say softly to himself, “Whoa, half me out.”
Jerry Hsu: More People I’ve Known
Fun fact: Jerry Hsu’s first People I’ve Known was the only one that didn’t require any kind of major rewriting by the staff. That’s right—he’s not just pro at skating, but spelling and grammar, too!

An obvious to anyone using the internet thing:

Google Search Really Has Gotten Worse, Researchers Find
“The majority of high-ranking product reviews in the result pages of commercial search engines use affiliate marketing, and significant amounts are outright SEO product review spam.”

A beautiful thing:

A book talk thing: Big thanks to Josh Sabini from Monster Children for the nice chat about Right, Down + Circle.

‘Behind Right, Down + Circle: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’, a book about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with Author Cole Nowicki — Monster Children
How to 900 on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.

(Full disclosure: I've clearly been using this book promotion cycle to get skate photos of myself published and I am NOT ashamed.)

Until next week… if you happen to be in a place beset with snow, make the most of it. Build a snowman and — this is very important — give him a well-defined buttocks. Cheek 'em up. The world will be better for it.

Via my friend Chris' Instagram Story.

Laser Quit Smoking Massage

NEWEST PRESS, available April 1, 2024


I have a new collection of essays coming out this spring that you can preorder now. I think you might like it. The Edmonton Journal thinks it's a "local book set to make a mark in 2024." Please do not tell them that I no longer live in Alberta.

Book cover by Hiller Goodspeed.

Preorder 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