Action Sports Hall Of Fame Gains Momentum

Matt Savage, Winter Park 1990
Matt Savage, Winter Park 1990

San Diego resident and action sports enthusiast Matt Savage grew up skateboarding, riding motorcycles,BMX, and surfing in the summers. Savage, like many, continued to be immersed in the culture throughout his life, going to the University of Colorado and then eventually relocating to Encinitas, where he now lives with his family and is able to surf and snowboard at just about a moment’s notice.

About two years ago, Savage began toying with the idea of creating a unified organization that recognizes all the athletes across different action sports disciplines—and one that inducted athletes based on votes garnered by their peers, fans, and the general public. The idea, not surprisingly, has been met with an outpouring of support, from San Diego’s local Hall of Champions, where Savage hopes to host a permanent Action Sports Hall of Fame exhibit, to San Diego Sports Innovators, who have helped him organize a fund raising plan to make that dream a reality. Individual athletes have also picked up on the buzz, and are beginning to share Savage’s vision via social networks.

Savage says the voting process, which is done through the Hall of Fame website www.xhall.org, allows many athletes who are worthy of recognition to have an equal chance to be honored for their accomplishments, and also steers clear of any biased judges or voting from stakeholders like companies and retailers. We caught up with Savage to  learn more.

What led you to be so interested in the action sports industry?

Throughout my life I've had subscriptions to all the magazines, so I've always been familiar with the most influential and famous athletes. When I started going to college at the University of Colorado in 1987, snowboarding was still in its infancy, and I soon traded in my skis for a snowboard like so many others were doing at the time. While riding a lot with the Coghlan brothers, Kevin Delaney, Dave Dowd, and others around Coloardo at the time, I founded the University of Colorado snowboard team, that's still in place today. During the summers we would all go out to Mt. Hood, where we would camp at night and hike up to the glaciers during the day. We would also make trips up to Blackcomb, but the bears made camping a little more interesting to say the least. After school I moved out to San Diego, where I began concentrating on surfing throughout the warmer months, and spending winters riding in Vail. Eventually I settled in San Diego after having a wife and kids, so they could stay a little more grounded, and since San Diego offers all the action sports opportunities with Big Bear and Mammoth not too far away. The funny thing is that although I've been doing action sports my whole life, nobody ever called them action sports until more recently.

How long have you been working on the action sports hall of fame idea?

About two years from the original thought process and idea formulation. After discussing the ideas with lots of pros, many of whom are likely first round inductees, I realized that there was a lot of interest, and the general feeling was that everyone couldn't believe it hadn't been done yet. I then started assembling a team, working on all the research, and finally completing the web development. Trademarking the name of the Action Sports Hall of Fame took over a year, so it's good that was started in the beginning. We just wanted to make sure this project was done in the most professional manner, with the highest amount of due diligence possible, to ensure it was done right.

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An artist rendering of what Savage hopes the Action Sports Hall of Fame will look like in San Diego's Balboa Park.

When and how did it strike you that action sports needed a collaborative hall of fame?

When we first began talking about it, we started looking around at all the major halls of fame, and how they selected their inductees. We quickly realized that sports like baseball, football, and basketball are all based on stats, and then selected by a relatively small group of sports writers, industry execs, and others with monetary influence.

The main point of contention we saw was that so many of the most influential athletes in action sports never even compete in contests. Guys like Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama, and Derrick Doerner have never won a world title, but they helped progress surfing perhaps more than any others in history. Skiers like Shane McConkey never won an Olympic Gold medal, yet broke more ground than guys like Ingemar Stenmark ever could, since they weren't constrained by contests and clock times. In a contest, if you fall, you lose. Yet falling is the name of the game in action sport progression. Same holds true in sports like motocross where guys like Mike Metzger, Brian Deegan, and Evel Kneival don't have titles, but they have done more for moto than could ever be imagined. Insane street skaters wouldn't enter a contest if you paid them a million bucks because they don't like the judged format. All the sports are like this, and it's why we include athletes from all disciplines in each sport.

With stats thrown out the window, it comes down to public opinion. Boards and committees are generally looked at with disdain in the action sports community. Snowboarders like Terje Haakonsen have been outspoken about having snowboarding in the Olympics, yet they realize it's necessary to further the sport. Therefore instead of forming a committee of just a few, we are letting the world decide. We're very happy with the results, as the fan support has been overwhelmingly supportive. So far we have received thousands and thousands of votes, and although we aren't making it public, the voting is definitely headed in the right direction.

Have you talked with any of the other hall of fame institutions like skate or surf to try and partner with them?

No. The other halls of fame in the individual action sports are mainly run out of shops. For example the skateboard hall of fame is located in a shop in Simi Valley called Skatelab, and they select their inductees through a committee, which is fine if that's how they want to do it. We just felt that a small group of individuals shouldn't wave a magic wand and dictate who's in the hall of fame, since there's only opinion to base the inductees on.

Therefore, we combine some of the older and more influential athletes, with a heavier emphasis placed on athletes that have done such huge things in progression over the last 25 years or so.

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This looks like it would be one of the most fun—and interactive— exhibits at San Diego's Hall of Champions.

Have you spoken with any brands, retailers, or organizations to get them on board? 

We've wanted to stay away from any influence at this point, since many of the larger brands and retailers are still sponsoring many of the nominated athletes, and don't want them to influence any decisions. However, we have received overwhelming praise and thanks from many people from the top brands. The general consensus has been enthusiasm, since they're happy someone has stepped up to the plate to make all this happen. Everyone agrees that it's been long overdue, and the fact that we remain more like Switzerland  has kept the level of excitement at a maximum.

When did you get on board with SDSI and how has that partnership helped you make headway?

In January of 2012 we contacted SDSI to see if there was an interest in what we were developing, and to get their feedback in general. They immediately responded saying they had actually been talking with other entities about getting an Action Sports Hall of Fame together, but at that point, it was all just talk. People were talking about it, but nobody was really doing anything about it. Then we came along with the research already in place, and they were real happy. SDSI immediately put us in touch with the Hall of Champions in Balboa Park, who had also been talking about adding an Action Sports Hall of Fame to their facility. They had space available, and action sports are such a heavy part of the fabric of San Diego and Southern California in general. Everything just started falling into place from there, and we want to thanks SDSI for being such and intregal part in the development of a physical location.

What sort of launch dates do you have set in stone right now and what’s the estimated completion for actually having the action sports hall of fame instituted?

Right now, we don't have a launch date set in stone. We're still developing our proposal for funding, and the rate at which we can raise it will dictate when we can start construction on the exhibit at the San Diego Hall of Champions, which is our preferred destination.

 How do you think this project will help change and continue to shape action sports? Why is it important?

We can't tell you how many thousands of positive comments and messages we've received, not only from the athletes and corporate entities, but most importantly from the fans worldwide. We set out to do something different. We didn't want to turn this into just another "cool thing" that people looked to make money from, but rather add more prestige and respect for all the athletes. Halls of Fame are supposed to represent the best of the best, not to help companies sell more products or promote a business. All too often in the action sports world it seems that companies are jumping on the band wagon since they see an opening to sell more products…while this helps athletes make more money and support themselves, it tends to take away from the professionalism of the sports. In contrast to other mainstream sports, action sport athletes are continually putting their lives on the line, and indeed many of the nominees have lost their lives while pushing the boundaries. They need to be recognized in a prestigious manner, since what they do is truly innovate, groundbreaking, and inspirational.

Who has the final say in who makes it into the hall of fame? How will you police the online voting to make sure it’s fair?

We currently have an advisory board in place that can overrule any judgment, and there are limits on the amount of votes fans can place. Fans are allowed to vote up to 10 times per hour, per athlete, and they must register their email and name to ensure it's not done by a robot. The good news is that the general trend is already leaning towards the most highly acclaimed athletes, so it's working out great. However, keeping this in mind, we feel that all the nominees are more than qualified for induction. In fact, we've had to leave out hundreds of nominees that should probably be on the list, but we had to draw the line somewhere. That's why we are also letting fans nominate those they feel should be on next year's list of nominees. The nominees will change year to year, based on fan support and voting numbers…that's why it's important that the fans go to the site and vote for their favorite athletes, since it's the fans that ultimately decide who gets inducted. When an athlete doesn't get inducted, there is always next year, as the whole process will start again.

 What do you hope people will ultimately take away from an action sports hall of fame? Is there opportunity to grow and evolve this project over time?

As we said before, it's important that people recognize the accomplishments of the athletes, and that they will always be remembered. This is something that will grow and evolve over time, and we are already at work on adding additional sports. Sports like Wakeboarding, Snowmobiling, and Windsurfing will most likely be the next categories to be added, while we continue to research all the athletes that have currently recognized by their peers has having the most influence. We have started with the 6 most popular sports, and adding new categories is not something we take lightly. There has been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into making this project a worldwide success, and we couldn't be happier with the results. We currently have thousands of votes coming in everyday from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Scandinavia, Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, South America, Mexico, and many more. We want to ensure that the fans have their voice, and based on the results, it's going even better than originally anticipated.

 Anything else you’d like to add?

We just want to thank all the athletes and fans that have given their support, and all the positive feedback we've received. We currently have many of the top athletes tweeting to their followers to go to the site and vote, and we're just getting started. Fans are also spreading the word at an exponential rate, where they send out messages to their friends to make sure they go to the site and vote. Everyone seems to be extremely happy that their voice is being heard, and that the inductees won't be decided by a committee made up of a select group of individuals and industry moguls. We also want to say that the women athletes will be announced soon, and will be included on our website within the next month. We will be announcing the first class of both men's and women's inductees in the early summer of 2013, so we want to encourage all the fans to go to the site, let your voice be heard, and help become a part of history:  www.XHall.org