With the legions of incredibly boring, unimaginative, and dull leaders who rule the land of Don Diego, it is hard to believe that our autocracy shares the distinction along with the O.C. and L.A. of being ground zero for global youth culture. The under-30 crowd whose lives are centered around skateboarding, surfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding, hip-hop, punk, emo, techno, metal etc., – do not follow the intricacies of the Kroll report or attempt to understand why Jerry Sanders has no opinion on whether or not San Diego needs a new airport.
San Diego (or North San Diego County) County is the southern end of the Action Sports/Youth Marketing empire that brings in profits to a handful of companies such as Rusty, Aaron Chang Clothing, Surf Diva, Sector 9, and DC that have built their brands as lifestyle and identify icons. These companies won the hearts and minds of our kids because they create a culture of cool that is more relevant than budget politics down at City Hall or the inane culture war waged against them by political hacks in Washington D.C.
If you want to tap the pulse of this new world in which brands, logo, cultural identify and lifestyle are like a giant cinnamon bun on a stick – the youth culture that evolved in the 60s reshaped and imagined as a commodity of cool – than the Action Sport Retail(ASR) trade show held every September and January at the San Diego Convention Center is the place to be. This where the big guns of the surf and skate industry – companies like Billabong, Reef, OP, Rip Curl, O’Neill, Lost, Oakley, Globe, Vans, Von Zipper, and Etnies (and the ones listed above) – show their brand off to retailers and their hangers on. A legion of smaller surf, skate, bikini and fashion companies and bigger ones like American Apparel also hang out their shingles and send out their bros and babes to brand it out.
(Disclosure: WiLDCOAST, the organization I run, is supported by SIMA, an ASR partner along with Billabong, Surf Diva, Reef, OP, Oakley, Sector 9, Reef and Aaron Chang. WiLDCOAST also receives a free booth at the ASR – as do most surf and skate related non-profits – however, there was no quid-pro-quo offered by anyone or company for writing this blog).
The ASR is all about being a bro or a babe and entertaining the retail surf and skate shop owners who place orders and connect with the companies that keep them stocked with new lines and new ways for their customers to declare their originality to their friends – who look just like them. It is all about looking hot. The look now is all about the 70s – straight blond bleached hair, big afros, dreadlocks, rainbows, longboard skateboards, and retro 70s and 80s style surfboards along with a new generation of epoxy, EPS, and more sustainable surfboard components.
On the floor of the Convention Center, CEOs like Billlabong North America President and former pro-surfer Paul Naude and OP’s Dick Baker mingle with team riders, bikini models, DJs, hip-hop stars like Paul Wall and Brooklyn’s Supernatural.
Hordes of up-and-coming surf and skate wannabe stars trying to score some swag and a possible sponsorship. Just about every company has its stars on display from Rob Machado, 70s surf legend Buttons, Greg Long, Tony Hawk, and Pat O’Connell.
There are hordes of other surf and skate luminaries who my kids know and worship but, to me, look like every other teen and 20-something brodude and babe with long, disheveled hair, a trucker cap, slaps or sneakers and a undecipherable logo t-shirt.
While the surf world is still mostly white, upper-middle class and so very Malibu, and the O.C. with La Jolla somewhere in the middle, skateboarding in contrast is incredibly diverse and egalitarian, although there fashion and art have been mixed into today’s skate movement. Surfing in Southern California has always been about our ruling class gone a little haywire (think Windansea and Malibu), whereas modern skateboarding has its roots in Santa Monica, Carlsbad and anywhere else Tony Hawk set his wheels down in San Diego County.
On Saturday afternoon at the Boost Mobile and éS Game of Skate 2006 contest legions of Latino and African American kids watched the world’s best street skaters on display. Skate companies, many of them owned by surf companies realize that urban youth are a market they cannot afford to ignore. If only Mayor Jerry Sanders understood that message.
But as my bro and longtime Imperial Beach homeboy turned Oakley Marketing Manager, Jim Flanagan, told me from the hyper-modern and very cool Oakley booth (in the way that only a DJ and model filled space can be), “This market is always about rebuilding your brand and reinventing yourself and constantly reaching out.” The ASR big boys and small fry take nothing for granted and realize that their core audience continually needs to be fed, maintained and bro’ed out.
So next year, let’s get Donna to take Scott, Ben, Toni, Kevin, Brian, Tony, and Jim on a tour of the ASR. They can hang with the crazy Volcom staff dressed in their latest brand stunt outfits (this fall they were cavemen, last year they created a German polka festival theme) squat down to talk Boost Mobile Pro
heat strategy with Kelly Slater, check their MySpace pages on their laptops at the Roxy Girls booth, pretend to act cool around the unbearably foxy Reef girls, and impress everyone that even though they don’t pretend not care about being cool – they desperately need to be.
Imagine if government in San Diego mattered, was relevant to our lives and allowed us to solve problems by just hanging with the crew, shaka-ing it out and then heading out to Cardiff Reef or the Cliffs for a soulful surf or street skate. Brah,that would be very cool indeed.