SSOTY (Skateboarding Stories of The Year) 2023

An incomplete collection of the year's best writing.

SSOTY (Skateboarding Stories of The Year) 2023
Wordy, illustrated by Aaron Read.

There are many ways to enjoy skateboarding. The most direct is to simply get on a skateboard and ride around. However, you can also take photos of the riding around or make videos about said riding and the life that exists through and orbits around the act. These modes of enjoyment may feel supplementary to the physical “skateboarding” of skateboarding, but I assure you they are not. These are extensions, pure as can be. Eyes and hearts that exist outside your person and subject but help you see and feel all the same. These pieces work in concert to make the riding around all the sweeter.

I’d contend writing works in a similar way. The difference is that writing about skateboarding allows us to poke, prod, and add much finer detail to the highlights, lowlights, and everyday whimsy that attracts us to this thing. But, much like the deluge of other forms of skate media that wash over us in the unsparing firehose of daily “content,” we seem to forget about the writing that moved us not long after we’ve read it.

That’s why Simple Magic is back to present its second annual SSOTY (Skateboarding Stories of The Year) awards. Consider the following list an effort to catalogue and celebrate some of 2023’s best skateboarding-related writing and the people compelled to write about this stuff.

If your piece is on this list, you’ve won SSOTY. Congratulations! Send me a message and I will mail you a print of whatever Wordy1 you like. There are four to choose from, all wonderfully illustrated by Aaron Read. Happy reading.

(Check out the SSOTY 2022 here.)

Making Skate Films Into Art
Jonathan Smith, The New York Times (December 24, 2022)

“I think when Bill first started doing the zoom-in thing he was trying to get to the character of said individual who was about to do the trick,” said Jason Dill, a professional skateboarder who has filmed with Mr. Strobeck for more than 20 years. Character, Mr. Dill said, has a lot to do with facial expressions. “When you’re determined, doing a physical act, your face is different,” he said. Mr. Strobeck, he added, “just wants to show the person for 100 percent of what the person is.”
Bonus Jonathan: “Good-bye to The Green Mesh Garbage CanCurbed (December 28, 2022)

The Killer of a Skateboarding Legend Went Unnamed for Years. Could Deaths Have Been Prevented?
David Sjostedt, The San Francisco Standard (January 23, 2023)

When it was reported that San Francisco skateboarding legend Jake Phelps died peacefully in his Bayview home on March 14, 2019, the legions of global fans familiar with the brash counterculture icon knew there had to be more to the story.

Phelps, who would rather crack his head on the concrete than walk away from a skateboard trick he couldn’t land, wasn’t known for being peaceful.

Who's Up? Digging Deep on the 2022 #QSTop10
Pete Glover and Harrison Lisewski, 4PLY Mag (February 2023)

With inflation out of control, unrest at home and abroad, and extreme weather patterns disrupting our lives and livelihoods, there are few things one can rely on in this world. 99¢ pizza slices are endangered if not extinct, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is no longer streaming on Hulu, and Ville Wester quit Polar after closing out their latest video.

But fear not; We can all still find comfort and stability as the tastemakers at Quartersnacks tirelessly continue to round up the freshest clips from around the globe every Friday-ish and, inevitably, 4PLY once again extracts every possible analytic angle imaginable.

So gather around while we spin yarns of skateboarding derring-do based on over 11000 cells of neatly organized data derived from every QSTop10 of 2022.
Bonus Pete: “The Tom Karangelov guide to success” (July 2023)

Black skateboarders on the life and death of Tyre Nichols
Niloufar Haidari, The Guardian (February 7, 2023)

That could have been me. It’s a recurring thought for any Black person in America when there’s a Black person killed by police officers, but this one really hit close to home. We often talk about the way that Black people are portrayed in media, and the clip that has been circulating of him skating has been refreshing because it’s something so joyous, this stark contrast to the footage of him being beaten by cops. When I saw that video I felt this deep, personal grief, something I didn’t anticipate.

One More Try: A Ben Brown Story
Al Brown, Al’s Skate House (February 9, 2023)

One more try is a great skateboarding fable. Like pretending to make a basket in the final seconds or hitting a walk-off home run, most skateboarding is about that guts or glory attempt. Truth or consequences stuff. It’s where people become heroes.

Another legend of skateboarding is getting the trick and getting it again. “You got one more try in you?”

The answer for these cannon moments should mostly be no. This is a lesson I did not learn from skateboarding. However, it will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Bonus Al: “Y’all Stay Laced Up?Al’s Skate House (January 12, 2023)

Stories About Shirts — Skate Shop Tees And The Meaning of Life
Mike Munzenrider, Quartersnacks (March 15, 2023)

Skateshop shirts, from the iconic to the obscure, occupy their own space in skateboarding. They’re a way to prove you’ve been somewhere, an inside joke, a point of pride in where you’re from. “[They’re] a unique piece that you can rep and no one is going to know what it is, outside a couple other skaters,” says Andrew Luecke, skater and author of Cool, a history of youth subcultures told through fashion and music. He says shop tees aren’t mass produced like a brand-logo tee sold at Zumiez, and they’re potentially more rare than something out of the latest hyped-up drop. “It’s a covetable item to skaters.”
Bonus Mike: “Starting a New Skateboard Magazine and Other Radical Acts of LoveQuartersnacks (June 28, 2023)

What Makes Skaters So Swaggy?
Wes Allen in conversation with Blackbird Skyplane (March 21, 2023)

If I was gonna try and explain the allure of skate style, I’d point to a powerful contradiction at the core of skaters’ self-presentation. On one hand, they tend to carry themselves like they don’t care at all about what they’re wearing. Their whole s**t, athletically speaking, is about coming off chill and effortless while attempting extremely difficult things — and that attitude extends to how they dress. Their clothes are typically well-worn, which is always dope, and feel purpose-driven: chosen for comfort, freedom of motion, and the expectation of constantly eating s**t.

On the other hand, most skaters clearly do care a lot about how they look, because 1) they’re in the business of sharing videos they obviously don’t wanna look wack in, and 2) if you roll up to a skatepark looking goofy — even / especially in microscopic ways perceptible only to the well-trained insider eye — you risk inviting mad sidelong glances, if not getting clowned on and shunned outright. All of which creates strong social incentives for rocking dope s**t and, on the flipside, strong penalties against rocking lame s**t.

It’s Time for Skateboarding’s Environmental Reckoning
Sam Haddad, Huck (April 11, 2023)

At first glance, the DIY skate park looks like a stock photo of an urban wasteland. Weeds, long grass and litter crowd the perimeter, while unwieldy tree branches reach over the graffiti-covered ramps and ledges, on which skateboarders repeatedly practise their tricks. Yet this makeshift spot on an old factory site near Newcastle is actually a haven for biodiversity – a little oasis in the city, where moths, butterflies and other insects are as at home as the skaters. It’s also a testing ground for alternatives to concrete, as researchers look to reduce skateboarding’s reliance on carbon-intensive cement production.

Ishod the Great
Sam Korman, Waxing the Curb (April 28, 2023)

There’s something different about Ishod Wair these days. Lately, he reminds me of the nerdy kid in high school who gets their braces off during summer break. They come back to school in the fall totally transformed. They’re hot. They’ve got a newfound confidence. Even if their style is the same, it somehow looks better on them than it ever did before. They’ve got it now. They’re magnetic.

In Ishod’s case, summer break was the pandemic. Or perhaps it was his Saturn Return, a period during which many young people begin to question the trajectory their life is taking. Or both. In any case, the 31 year-old skater underwent a pretty holistic transformation, one not just in his skating or fashion, though those things changed. Rather, his outlook changed. His perception of the skate world, and how he fits into it has broadened. He has become more self-aware about what he puts out there. He seems to have gotten himself a decent agent, and has begun to cultivate his public image more seriously. Along with a constant output of skate content, he partners with luxury car companies. He models. He is the face of non-skate brands. He has sponsors, but in many ways, he is a brand of one.

Skateboarding’s New Rules
Ian Browning, Max Harrison-Caldwell, Christian Kerr, and Village Psychic, Village Psychic (April 30, 2023)

Plenty of skateboarding etiquette is intuitive. Don’t snake anybody on the session, don’t one-up strangers’ tricks, stop asking if I want to play SKATE, (and if I do, no pressure flips) and so forth. Some rules and taboos are more subtle though, and they’re changing all the time. The last few years saw granular but pervasive changes to the fabric of general society (as cataloged by New York Magazine in their list of modern etiquette rules, which we are respectfully biting,) and skateboarding was not immune — it wasn’t that long ago that selfie filming a trick in public was shameful, all decks cost $55, and Blue Park just consisted of three cursed concrete obstacles.

What else has changed? And what’s stayed the same? We tapped in with pros, shop employees, media moguls, and a bunch of people in New York to find out. Here’s our inexhaustive list of skateboarding’s new rules — at least until next year rolls around and things change again.
Bonus Ian: “An August To Remember — How August 2023 Became A Landmark Month In Skate Video HistoryQuartersnacks (November 22, 2023)

Bonus Max: “Is The Full Length Dead? Let’s Ask Josh StewartVillage Psychic (November 16, 2023)

"Skatepark Allyship Starts With Sound
Anthony Pappalardo in conversation with Dani Abulhawa, Artless (May 3, 2023)

I got involved with a research project and one of the main things I was responsible for, was producing an audio artwork. The idea had been on my mind for like working with communities and doing some kind of artwork that would be produced with the people we were researching —something participatory and creative. The project didn’t pan out exactly as I had hoped and one of the things we weren’t able to do was to work in this participatory way. But the idea for the artwork came from my experience as a skateboarder. I saw a need and wanted to get out this message in some way to people who occupy skateparks that their behavior makes a big difference to other people, but not in a way that's instructive. I wanted to do it in a way that was more contemplative—something that makes you think and you can act on it if you like.

Can Skateboarding Help People Deal With Trauma?
Ben Komins in conversation with Joel Pippus, Jenkem (May 5, 2023)

Overcoming fear is a huge part of skating. Does overcoming the fear of dropping in translate to dealing with fear outside of skating?
For a lot of the kids that we work with, the world has been a scarier place than it has been for a lot of people. It has been hard, it has been dangerous, and it has caused them to be hurt. Dr. Perry would talk about it in the context of stress, or the pattern of stress. People who are experiencing extreme, prolonged, and uncontrollable stress leads to a sensitized stress response and general vulnerability. Stress that is predictable, moderate, and controllable leads to a higher tolerance or resilience.

For example, when we do the teaching we say “listen, skateboarding is hard, you are going to fall, and it’s going to be frustrating.” That’s the predictable component of it. I’m not going to ask you to do anything or suggest you do anything that is way beyond the scope of something you should try. That’s the moderate dose of stress and the controllable component.

Really we are focused on providing doses of stress that lead to resilience versus supporting what their experience has often been, which is a pattern of stress that has led to vulnerability. The reality is that stress has become kind of a bad word but no change or growth happens without stress. That’s how everything works.

Alexis Sablone and Converse Have Made the Next Iconic Skate Shoe
Farran Golding, GQ (May 16, 2023)

I mention a story that Sablone’s Converse teammate Ariana Spencer recently told me about seeing Sablone show up to a contest with her school books in hand, skating the competition, then sitting back down to study. “I’ve always had skateboarding and ‘other stuff’,” Sablone says. “Design and studying, not that I have to compare, but they’ve held equal importance. I feel strongly about everything I do, and none of it’s like work to me. It’s all just something I really want to do, and there are only so many hours in the day.”
Bonus Farran: “How Tyshawn Jones and William Strobeck Changed Skateboarding ForeverGQ (April 11, 2023)

Ed Templeton’s Unsparing Photographic Diary of Skateboarding Life
Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker (May 28, 2023)

Ed Templeton has spent a big chunk of his life as a travelling salesman. He became a professional skateboarder in 1990, just before the end of his senior year in high school, and a few years later he started his own skateboard company, Toy Machine. The process was pretty simple and pretty gruelling: he signed up some of his fellow-skaters as endorsers, got some boards printed up, and then embarked on an endless series of cross-country promotional tours. The itinerary was determined by the location of skateboard shops, which hosted get-togethers where Templeton and his friends showed fans what they could do. “The shop might pay us eight hundred dollars, or a thousand dollars, for the demo,” he told me. “That would pay for hotels and gas to get to the next stop.” Often, Templeton was not just skating but also driving the van, and acting as de-facto tour manager. He was at least a few years older than everyone else, and he was also sober and married—an anomaly even within his own tight-knit group.

The results are in: Mariah Davenport’s eye-opening skate survey
Mariah Davenport and Yeah Girl Media, Yeah Girl Media (June 3, 2023)

Interestingly, the report shows that participation rates of women [in skateboarding] have increased 790% over the past 10 years, while participation rates of men have decreased 47% over the past 10 years.

Mariah noted in her analysis, “The logarithmic growth of participation rates among women is largely due to the ability for women to find representation for themselves on social media platforms to compensate for the lack of representation in mainstream media. Women and GNC skaters were finally able to see themselves in the act of skateboarding and building community to support one another’s progress from a distance. The more gradual growth leading up to this explosion is also credited to the on-the-ground work of women-led organizations and meetups. Some examples of these are Skate Like A Girl, Exposure Skate, Lisa Whitaker, Briana King’s Meetup Tour, and many more. All of whom were teaching, advocating, filming, and organizing in order for more women to have access to the sport of skateboarding.”

Preparing surfaces for shredding: Skateboarding, repair, and care across scales
Duncan McDuie-Ra and Jason Campbell, AREA (June 9, 2023)

In cities around the world, skateboarders repair surfaces and objects for the purposes of play using techniques to fill, smooth, and fabricate. Skateboarders repair—and care for—material objects and surfaces for the use of other skateboarders, not the greater public good. These acts are most effective when barely visible, and knowledge of the skills and equipment needed for these acts is shared as an important cultural ethos, spreading these acts across time and space.

Seeing San Francisco Through a Skateboarder’s Eyes
José Vadi, KQED (July 11, 2023)

Barrow is the professor who can skate and dress better than his students. With a bemused grin and sharp tongue, his commentaries are part snark, part self-deprecation. In one episode, dedicated to the Embarcadero Art Ribbon project that became the skate spot Bay Blocks, Barrow details the “massive compromises” made to the project before construction, including gaps added between the concrete ledges for pedestrian accessibility — and opportunity. “It’s the gaps that activate this as a [skate] spot,” he says.

“All of a sudden these ideas crystallize around you,” Barrow tells me. “You can see the actual history of a built environment in a city and how people’s stories impacted the city through the juxtaposition of buildings and different spaces.”
Bonus José: Pre-order his excellent new book Chipped now.

Backstory: Nick Jensen & Mike Arnold
Jacob Sawyer, Slam City Skates Blog (July 28, 2023)

I don’t remember our trips there as distinct sessions at all but we had to go back three times. It’s so busy there but the way he decided to skate it really wasn’t. What I do remember is that he was committing to it every single go. Sometimes the technique would be incredible and he would pop it three feet high and get robbed, and other attempts were nowhere near. He’d commit every time which is so impressive when you’re going that fast and spinning. Like everyone else who knows him I’m so fond of Nick, and he was eating shit a lot trying this. With some people like Casper [Brooker] I kind of enjoy it when he falls over because he has a big build and takes it like a rugby player. But I get no joy of watching Nick fall over at all, it’s just horrible. You don’t want him to slam at all because he’s maniacally dedicated to doing what he’s doing and you just want him to land it. He gets tangled up in himself sometimes and always falls in horrible ways, and coppers will go flying out of his pockets. He is usually such a graceful person and you don’t want to see that grace disrupted.

Iannucci Made Me Hardcore
Ted Barrow, Free Skate Mag (July 31, 2023)

Was it Napoleon Bonaparte who said, ‘to understand the man, you have to know what was happening in the world when he was twenty?’ The truism has survived in some form, regardless of attribution. I was twenty in 1996, and I saw the end of a once major cycle in skateboarding, and quickly saw the next take shape, leaving an indelible mark on my life, constituting the luminous lens through which I see the world to this day.

Let me explain: in 1996, the three best skate videos of that year — arguably the decade — were Toy Machine’s Welcome to Hell, World Industries’ Trilogy, and Girl’s Mouse. Dan Wolfe released Eastern Exposure 3, 411 #19, and Thrasher’s Skate & Destroy were also released that same year. In the US, it was a great year for skateboarding, perhaps the best year for US-released videos featuring American pros ever, the height of the nineties.

Frozen in Carbonite Presents: Song of the Summer x Video Part of the Summer 2023
Frozen in Carbonite, Quartersnacks (September 14, 2023)

What do St. Louis rapper Sexxy Red and New York professional skateboarder Dick Rizzo have in common? They both had productive-as-fuck summers. The opening stanza of “Pound Town” achieved instant notoriety and evolved into a rallying cry of sorts. The way I see it, it’s the latest evolution of the Luke Campbell school of absurdist humor. Furthermore, not even Shakespeare himself could construct multi-layered wordplay like “I’m from St. Louis / say he like my arch.”

Plotting the Lifecycle of a Trendy Trick
Lucas Wisenthal, Jenkem (September 19, 2023)

It was June 1993, and I was rolling across a street course at an evangelical skate camp in Ontario, Canada, on 38-millimeter wheels. Inching along, I scraped out a pressure flip, a trick that had tortured me the previous year, prompting Eddie Elguera—the camp’s resident pro—to let out an earnest “Yeah!” Part of my 13-year-old self was satisfied: I’d earned the praise of an actual professional skateboarder. But pressure flips were a relic of a bygone era—that era being the first half of 1992. So I thought that Eddie, who would have been about 30, was out of touch, and that I was a kook for doing one, even if, yeah, they were still kind of fun.

And that’s basically what skateboarding was like in the early ’90s. Doing a trick that was a month past its expiry date could get you vibed out of a spot, and the self-worth of teenage skaters worldwide hinged on how closely they could emulate a group of slightly older teenage skaters from San Francisco.
Bonus Lucas: “Why are Board Prices on the Rise?Jenkem (June 26, 2023)

On the Accidental Art of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
Jeremy Klemin, Electric Lit (September 22, 2023)

Within this question of flow versus unpredictability, there are more unresolved issues. Do you value large, difficult stunts pulled off during runs, or are you instead attuned to the small, interesting decisions made at every turn? Particularly bombastic players might incorporate stunts called “transfers” into their runs. It’s a slippery term, but I’d define the transfer as a unique move that gets a player from one part of the map to another in a creative way—exploiting a ramp with glitchy physics to grind an impossibly high scaffolding, for example. The community’s tolerance of incorporating transfers into prov runs depends on what’s trending. It’s a question of subtle economy vs. absolute vitality: do you prefer, for example, the restrained quietude of Marilynne Robinson’s writing, or the maximalist intensity of Thomas Bernhard’s?

What I Learned About Cities From ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’
Jack Sheehan, The New York Times Magazine (October 11, 2023)

Growing up in suburban Dublin, I felt an instinctive kinship with American skate culture. After all, skaters had emerged from dull commuter belts of their own and worked together to turn their cities and towns into sites of play. The original games demonstrated an obvious love for that culture — the clothes, the language, the music.

Outside the confines of their digital playgrounds, the game and its sequels carried the promise that my suburbia could be exciting, too. The cheap construction materials and bland, functional architecture that made certain cities and suburbs feel so similar to one another also allowed a kind of cultural affinity. Through beige cladding, concrete stair sets, brushed-chrome railings and rickety plywood ramps, Ventura, Calif., and my own anodyne Leopardstown in Ireland became related, versions of one another thousands of miles apart.

chrome ball interview #168: ben raybourn
Eric Swisher in conversation with Ben Raybourn, The Chrome Ball Incident (October 30, 2023)

How serious do you take your video parts and has that outlook changed at all since you started working?

It has changed a bit because I no longer feel like I have anything to prove with them. When I was younger, I always felt like there were these necessary steps you had to take in skating if you wanted to do it right. That was a big part of my drive back then, which was really fun at the time. Just pure adrenaline addiction.

But anymore, I just like filming with my friends. Like, I’m probably never going to jump on another handrail for the rest of my life, you know? Because I think there’s something to be said for skating when you’re feeling good and having fun. I think it comes across in the footage. You can film a simple frontside grind and people will think it looks rad because they can pick up on that feeling.

Skateboarding, Power and Change — an Interview with Indigo Willing, Anthony Pappalardo and Adam Abada
Jono Coote, Vague (October 31, 2023)

It can’t be understated how impactful it can be to hear and learn from so many skaters who aren’t afraid to push past the whole ‘shut up and skate’ attitude that buries a lot of important issues that hold skaters back, including their mental health; who put the same energy and love they have for skateboarding towards being there and standing up for others; and who have lived experience of being marginalised and just get shit done in the hope they can skate as freely as everyone else.

End of The Line: Static VI
Andrew Murrell, Closer (Issue 06)

633 DV tapes, 60 featured skaters, 30 contributing filmers, four continents, dozens of cellar door clips, three Jahmal Williams parts, two half-cab double flips, one bad back, and a legacy equal parts curation and dedication—after twenty-five years and six full-length videos, the Static series reaches the end of the line this fall with Static VI.
Bonus Andrew (and Alex Coles): “Video Essay: The Year Modern Skateboarding BrokeJenkem (May 1, 2023)

The Art Of The Un-Trick Cover
Boil The Ocean (November 6, 2023

The ethics of publishing photos of skateboarding center around truth-telling. A photo, even a sequence, shows a person* only one moment in time, leaving the observer to trust that a trick was landed – trust in the skater’s ability, the photographer’s veracity, the personal morals of the team managers, brand managers, photo editors and innumerable others who may shepherd a pic to the masses. If this trust erodes, the line between truth and fantasy blurs. The fabric of reality frays, and in the dark places of the universe, cosmic gates are thrown wide for ageless, blasphemous horrors to move among us, bending our world to their own loathsome purposes.

On skateboarding, solidarity, and Palestine
Maen Hammad, Skate Jawn (November 8, 2023)

Skateboarding is a transnational subversion to systems of oppression. Where state-sanctioned violence erects walls from Mexico to Palestine, our craft transcends borders – transcends skateboarding. We are connected through pavement, sharing our streets, our struggles, and pushing for solidarity.

What Blessing Is This #4: Sarah Meurle
Kyle Beachy, Village Psychic (November 29, 2023)

During the years when I was a professor of creative writing, I took as my primary task teaching students to read. Most of us are pretty good at moving our eyes across words and gathering information, but this isn’t reading, not really. Reading, as I understand it, is a kind of labor not unlike the labor of listening and conversing, or the labor of making art, or even the labor of skateboarding. Reading is not collecting, nor is it like cleaning up a spill. Reading is an act of creativity.

That was the idea.
Bonus Kyle: “Naked Wives and Surprising PenisesSouthwest Review (July 31, 2023)

A Mindful Approach To Watching Skate Videos
Thomas Barker, Jenkem (December 6, 2023)

I know many of us feel the need to watch every video that comes out, but the overload of media coupled with the fact that skateboarding is more diverse stylistically than ever means we end up watching skate videos that we simply don’t enjoy. It’s no one’s fault, but with so much content being put out clips get redundant, songs feel repetitive, and filming styles feel contrived.

All of this is to say it has never been harder to be a good skate nerd, so this year I came up with a few tactics I use to help ensure skate videos continue to feel special. I hope they can help you be a better (god forbid we use the word) fan of skateboarding.

An important note: the pieces above were compiled by me, and I am merely some guy on the internet, so I’m sure there is a lot I’m missing. If there’s writing that was published this year that you loved and think should be on this list, leave a comment below.

  1. Yes, this is the name of the trophy.