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Dog medicine in a piece of cheese – data analysis with 4ply mag

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We love the nerd shit in skateboarding. That’s why we’re fans of what 4ply mag is doing. Watching every Koston part to check why he has no signature trick or finding out that only 1% of Fred Gall’s footy is in slow motion – how could you not love shit like that? That’s why we wanted to hear more about what Jared Wilber, Harrison Lisewski and Pete Glover are up to and laid an overseas cable to Australia to talk to Harrison.

Solo skateboard magazine harrison lisewski 4ply magazine

Harrison Lisewski

I read 4PLY consists of a mathematician, a different kind of mathematician and a statistician. What’s your background and how did it all start?

That’s a joke but maybe it’s a little bit true. I went to school for that sort of stuff but that was really just to study abroad. I honestly kinda hated it until Jared got me back into it. He did a breakdown of Greco’s career for Jenkem maybe like 5 years ago and I guess that kind of snowballed into what 4PLY is now.

Let’s do a quick background check if you’re a legit data guy. What is 12 x 12?

144

36 x 24?

700 and uhh…

More like 864.

Yeah that’s what I was gonna say. [laughing]

"Basketball, baseball, every sport has data on everything. Skating doesn’t really have anything."

How did you guys meet?

I met Jared at a skatepark in Arizona when I was out there studying but that was a few years before he started 4PLY. He posted the first article around the start of the pandemic and I guess me and Pete were the two dudes that hit him up about it. I’ve never met Pete in person but he’s such a good writer, one of the best writers in the world and Jared’s actually like a legitimate data scientist at Amazon. He lives in San Diego, Pete lives in Portland and I got deported so I’m back living in Australia right now. It’s just us three but Jared’s out for the season with some coding injuries so we're a little short staffed.

Oh wow, I didn’t know coding could take you out like that. How did you get into counting tricks in skate videos in the first place?

I guess there was a point where I’d spoken to Jared about 4PLY but wasn’t involved yet and around that time I was trying to show this girl Boo Johnson’s voicemail. I had his phone number from this prank call session – that’s another story. I’d just called him to show her his voicemail but he texted me back and I guess I saw that as an opportunity to interview him. He was cool, he wanted to know in how many clips he’s wearing a hat. I think there are two clips where he’s not wearing a hat. That interview never came out but it got the ball rolling and from there I just kind of hit up whoever I thought would be cool to talk to.

You’re doing interviews and it’s called 4PLY magazine, so it’s important to you that it’s not only data analysis?

Yeah, if it wasn’t framed as a skate magazine I don’t think anyone would be interested. The data analysis is kinda the easy part but framing it as something that skaters would want to read is so hard. Interviews are kind of the best for that, like putting dog medicine in a piece of cheese.

How do you think AI will change the game of data analysis?

In the last few months it’s been writing some code and crunching numbers for us but nothing I’d really consider game changing. Having said that, it’s maybe at a point where we could write something that logs and tracks skating for us. We’ve joked about that in the past but everything has changed so much recently and we might be the only people that have the training data right now.

Talking about the training data. In general there’s not much in skateboarding, right?

The Boardr and SPoT [Skatepark of Tampa] are really good with certain types of data but yeah, nothing like that. Basketball, baseball, every sport has data on everything. Skating doesn’t really have anything. Until last year you couldn’t even find X Games results online.

What is the benefit if you have all that data?

Trick data? Maybe nothing. Outside of entertaining skate nerds it’s almost beautiful how useless it is. In a lot of ways I think it paints a really nice picture of what actually matters in skating.

"Outside of entertaining skate nerds it’s almost beautiful how useless it is"

Just fun for people that enjoy it to nerd out on stats.

For sure. There’s definitely more practical data we don’t have yet that could help in terms of injuries, longevity, consistency etc. One day we’ll get there but yeah, for now it’s just a bit of fun.

I talked to the German Olympic team coach recently and she told me that they’re working with sports scientists to find out if there’s something like a perfect body size or perfect age for contest skating. Did any pro or federation ever approach you to figure stuff out for them?

That’s funny. We’ve never been hit up by anyone like that but we’re always down to help. I don’t think skating really works like that but if the Olympics were more like the Dime comps, maybe it would work. That seems like such a good format for the Olympics. Who ollies the highest? Who slides the longest? Who has the coolest shades? But who do you give a gold medal to for a park run?

Do you think it would be possible to do an analysis of all the “cool” videos that come out, check which tricks happen, which spots are skated, which style shots used, which clothes worn and then film the coolest video based on this?

I feel like a lot of big videos coming out at the moment are an attempt at that to some degree. Maybe it’s possible to do that well but it seems really hard to side step the fact that doing it automatically makes it kinda weird. The analysis part is roughly what we do for the Quartersnacks articles but I think the things that actually make skating ‘cool’ or worth watching are pretty hard to put in a spreadsheet.

What about predictions like data analysts do for elections? I mean you already predicted the date of the SOTY announcement quite accurately. What else could be predicted? Could you tell Nyjah what he has to do to finally get SOTY?

I was actually trying to work that out pretty recently and hit a dead end. I guess Mike Burnett is the only person that gets to see the votes but I get the feeling they don’t really count anyway. I don’t even know if Thrasher pretends that the votes count. I think Grant Taylor should get it again.

How do you collect the data? You just go through a video pause-play-pause-play and write everything in an excel sheet?

Yeah, lots of spreadsheets. It can be a really nice way to watch videos sometimes but it's also like, is it a bigspin? Late bigspin? Back 180 late shuv? Older videos are nicer for that but I’m kind of horrible with transition tricks, especially plants. What the hell is a backside boneless? I know what a backside boneless is but it really shouldn’t be called that.

You analyzed some Thrasher stuff, did stuff for Jenkem and Quartersnacks – do brands hit you up or do you want to collaborate more with brands?

Yeah, that’s probably my favorite stuff to work on, it feels a lot less like a school project. I don’t think we’ve ever had to say no to working with anyone. Obviously we’d have to draw the line somewhere around Cariuma but I think we’ve been really lucky with who we’ve been able to work with so far.

"I think the things that actually make skating ‘cool’ or worth watching are pretty hard to put in a spreadsheet."

What analysis would you do with unlimited time and resources?

I think a big industry-wide survey could definitely get some of the more practical kinds of insights. That would maybe be the easiest way to build a foundation for skate research. How are Koston and Tony Hawk still skating? How did Antwuan get so good so fast? How do people learn tricks in general? We would need a pretty insane amount of people to participate but I think that could get to the bottom of some real shit.

What I forgot to ask is, what does 4ply mean? Somewhere I read that it’s definitely not foreplay.

I don’t even really know, I think it just sounds kinda nice. [laughing] In my head it’s somewhere between a toilet paper joke and a skate joke but that’s a question for Jared. I interviewed Bobby Puleo recently and he actually said ‘four ply’ in conversation talking about his shitty bootleg board situation, I don’t even think he realized. If you can avoid reading it as foreplay I think it’s something like that.

He’s crazy into numbers, right?

Yeah, that’s a big part of why I wanted to interview him. That interview is coming out soon and he explains really well why he thinks the numbers may or may not be significant. A lot of people seem to think he’s crazy but he’s not. He definitely has some ideas some people might not agree with but he’s a cool guy.

What other stuff have you planned?

The Bobby Puleo article is coming out soon and Pete is working on something with Tom K. I’m working on some Bunt stuff at the moment which is actually going to be banging. Maybe I should start working on that survey too. We’re all pretty busy guys in real life so things just come out when we have time but it should be a good year.

Bts

Coding with Drake

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