Walking ASR is quite an experience. And if you drop your solidschedule of appointments and meetings, and make the time to strollthrough the aisles, and meet and greet new and old friends, it can bea pretty good time. If you also manage to save enough energy in theevening and happen to score a pass to one of the companyparties-bonus. Dude, it’s what the trade show is all about.
Or is it?
Actually it’s not, and over the past few years, the casual ASRattendee (read: chronic rager combing the aisles for party passes)seems to have found somewhere better to be, because these daysthe trade show is pretty much all business.
It’s nice to re-acquaint with familiar faces you only see twice ayear (February and September), but if you’re not late for ameeting, they usually are. So the quick hellos are loaded withsentiment, and encounters remain brief. But then, the people I runinto have usually traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to bethere, and they have to accomplish six month’s worth of business inthree days. Actually, in a sense, so do I.
As Long Beach is traditionally the smaller of the two shows(spring and fall), we’ll have to wait until September to truly quantifythe effects of the so-called national recession and 9/11. It’s possiblethat the dramatic growth we’ve been experiencing over the past fewyears-twenty to 30 percent annually*-may slow down. But weseem far from recession. Of course, that won’t stop competition,particularly in footwear, and if anything, shops are getting evenmore selective in choosing what to carry. Every company inevery supersaturated sector (hardgoods, softgoods, footwear) isfiercely competing for market share, and that’s a tough environmentto be in regardless of where the economy is.
If the trade show demonstrated anything concretely, it’s thatskateboard brands are working as hard as ever to develop newproducts and campaigns to attract and keep the attention of activeyouth. Never in the history of the sport has it been so diverse interms of its appeal and so broad in its promotional efforts-teams,tours, ads, contests, am-contest and event sponsorships, and thelike.
While the young street skater remains our focus, the olderpool skater is demanding some attention-and differentiatedproduct. Older shapes, bigger sizes, and even some nostalgic retroproducts have become regular fixtures at ASR. This year Visioncelebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary by bringing back some classicgraphics and shapes from the 80s, and Brigade has releasedSteve Caballero’s original first graphic, a mono-color skull-and-propeller design that never actually came out on the Powell Peraltabrand but is finally seeing the light of day thanks to themarketability of such historic artwork.
Homage to our past hasn’t redefined skateboarding’s coreconsumer, however. And this show proved that our industry’sleaders are focused on creating product that addresses the specificneeds of the young (and smaller) street skater. Decks with newconstructions and scaled down sizes for the kids; shoes withtougher, lighter, and more breathable materials; and bearingsshrouded in the latest collectible packaging scheme filled the glossycatalogs passed out to passersby unlucky enough to not haveappointments with salespeople. If the average shop is as busy as theaverage skate-company sales rep was, we’ll all have great summerand back-to-school seasons.
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This show also featured an array of events for those attendeeswho happened to have some extra time. The skate demos werehighlighted by the Tony Hawk Twentieth-Anniversary DoublesContest-won by Hawk and Lasek, with Tony Magnusson and KevinStaab beating the duo of destruction Lance Mountain and SteveCaballero in the masters division. Birdhouse also threw a surpriseanniversary party for Hawk, complete with a host of long-lostfriends and performances by Brit-punk icons The Adicts and PeterAnd The Test Tube Babies, and lots and lots of food.
Slightly less fun, but perhaps more useful to skate marketeers,was the weekend’s Board-Trac (board-trac.com) seminars,presented by the action-sports-industry market-research company.Now an ASR tradition, the lunchtime meetings cover various aspectsof marketing and retailing. Saturday’s meeting included a panel often teens who were asked what motivates them (what the pros arewearing or riding in mags and videos was a common response), andwhere they buy stuff (locations ranged from ‘core shops todepartment stores, the common thread being that they were closeby, and few said they even thought about buying online). The mostinteresting and seemingly unanimous sentiment expressed by thepanel was that drug use among athletes doesn’t impress them, andthat athletes are generally admired for their abilities, rather thantheir lifestyles. But then, a few of the panelists’ parents were in theaudience.
Sunday’s seminar was a presentation from Board-Trac’s StreetTeam Panel, a group of skaters, snowboarders, and surfers fromaround the country who canvassed their own areas to find out whattheir peers buy, where they shop, and related topics. The Board-Tracseminars seem best suited to action-sports industry newcomers, andfew skateboard-industry old-timers usually attend.
The Reese Forbes Ollie Challenge, presented in 2000 byElement Skateboards, has been one-upped. Grind King sponsored thefirst Switch-Ollie Challenge, which was emceed by SkatePark ofTampa’s own Brian Schaefer and Ryan Clements. The pair can livenup even the most mundane demo with their jackboot command ofthe crowd and ability to motivate the skaters. They brought thespectators right in to give the skaters a ten-foot-wide aisle, in themiddle of which stood the high-jump-style obstacle. With fiveattempts at each height, the competitors were weeded out, includingfavorites Paulo Diaz and Paul Sharpe, before rookie pro Alex Blandbecame the official Switch Ollie Champ with a 40.125-inch backwardbanger. Compare that to Danny Wainwright’s winning 44.5-inchstraight ollie in 2000.
The most interesting skate-industry event of the weekend wasthe IASC meeting, which included a call-to-arms from ExecutiveDirector Jim Fitzpatrick, an update on the Damn Am series fromBrian Schaefer, and a formal introduction of the United ProfessionalSkateboarders Association (UPSA) from Executive Director EllenZavian.
Despite some e-mail debate regarding the importance andeffectiveness of the California Legislature’s newly proposedskatepark law (SB 994), Fitz made the case that it’s the best law wecould hope to get passed, given that the California Trial Lawyer’sAssociation is both powerful and adverse to any legislationthat limits the right of citizens to sue municipalities (and keep thetrial lawyers very busy).
While SB 994 still includes language requiring that full safetygear be worn in all skateparks in California, individual cities will stillhave some flexibility in how they enforce that or don’t. The reasonwe need the law passed, he suggested, is that cities currentlyoperating parks, and the 100 or so with plans to build them, arewatching this particular bill, and consider its passage a reassurancethat building and operating skateparks is not a liability problem.
IASC lobbied to pass the initial California skatepark law(AB1296) in 1997, and continues to promote such legislationbecause Fitzpatrick believes that California sets legislative trends forother states, and that a law like SB 994 is necessary to continue thetremendous growth in the number of skateparks nationwide. Hesays that skateparks remain the number-one requested recreationalfacility nationwide, and that in the last four years there have beenno liability lawsuits filed against public skateparks anywhere.
Fitzpatrick asked companies to help spread the word to theircustomers and to contact their
local state legislators and expresstheir support for SB 996 and public skateparks in general. The taxrevenue skateboard companies generate and the sheer number ofpeople they employ will get the attention of politicians, and we canuse this to promote the cause of public skateparks.
The National Amateur Skateboarding Championships Damn Amseries was conceived, designed, and executed within a few shortmonths last summer, and Damn Am’s Brian Schaefer presented hisgoals for this year’s series. Schaefer participated in the old NationalSkateboard Association amateur contests in the early 90s, and spokeabout the camaraderie he felt with other skaters from around thecountry because they traveled to contests and skated together. Hehas created a comparable atmosphere over the years with his TampaAm contests, and hopes the Damn Am series provides a similarexperience for kids today, and has been working with IASC tocommunicate with the skateboard industry.
Last year Paul Schmitt and Giant Distribution funded most ofthe series, though Schaefer hopes to attract several more sponsorsto be able to carry out his expanded schedule for 2002. This yearDamn Am will include ten district contests, two of which will be inCanada, and the top ten from each contest will be invited to thefinals. The only vert event will be at the finals. A staff of eight willtravel to all the contests, including five pros who will serve asjudges.
After Schaefer, UPSA’s Ellen Zavian spoke to the group ofabout 30 company owners and pros about the new organization’sgoals and structure. Founded by a core group of pros, many ofwhom make up the association’s board of directors, UPSA isdesigned to help promote the sport and improve the workingconditions of pro skaters-and not just UPSA members. Zavian is anaccomplished Washington, D.C.-based attorney with a long record ofrepresenting professional athletes. While UPSA is the first group ofskateboarders she’s represented, Zavian emphasized that theassociation was created by and is governed by the skaters, and thatas executive director she will offer advice but will not vote on issuesbefore the board, and will carry out their agenda.
She clarified that UPSA is an association and not a union, andas of February they had 57 paid members. One of UPSA’s toppriorities is to review contracts for future contests, and to develop agroup health plan for all members. UPSA Board Member AndyMacdonald said that membership is open to active professionalskaters, and that UPSA will offer other types of memberships forretired pros and other associates.
The association’s operating revenue will be generated throughmembership dues, as well as UPSA-logo licensing and group-licensing deals. UPSA’s initial focus is to review contracts presentedto members at contests and televised events, and to negotiate anychanges they feel are needed. More information about theassociation can be found at UPSA’s new Web site at whatupsa.com.
There’s clearly a lot happening in and around skateboarding.Up the road from the trade show, Heidi Lemmon and the SkateparkAssociation Of The USA (spausa.org) held meetings on Saturday andSunday that attracted some of the top names in skatepark designand construction. Central to the discussions was the topic ofstandards, and helping create guidelines that will ultimately improvethe quality of skateparks being built, while not limiting the creativerange that top designers need to evolve with the sport. WallyHollyday proposed that the guidelines the top skatepark developersagree on could be presented to cities as SPAUSA’s recommendations,and the cities would then have the option of requiring contractorswho bid on park projects to follow the guidelines.
Two committees were appointed to help draft the guidelines:the concrete committee includes Chad Ford, Tim Payne, DaveDuncan, Mike Taylor, Geth Noble, Wally Hollyday, Jim Barnum,Brian Harper, and Mike McIntyre; the wood-and-steel committeeincludes Aaron Spohn, John Tyson, Greg Benson, Dave Duncan, TimPayne, Twister, and Mike Mapp.
Steve Hawk of the Tony Hawk Foundation was also present andannounced that THF will work with SPAUSA to draft and publish theguidelines.
With so much attention on public skateparks, the privateparks that in some areas provide the challenging terrain andenvironments to develop expert skaters are finding it more difficultto compete and survive. The group discussed developing skateparkcontests and seeking grants for after-school programs. MartinRamos of Kona USA in Jacksonville, Florida volunteered to chair acommittee to look into these and other possibilities.
SPAUSA and Concrete Disciples magazine alsopresented awards to top designers and builders. CD EditorJeff Greenwood helped make the presentations, which ranged formLifetime Achievement (Tim Payne) to Innovative Technology (RanierRichlite, developers of Skatelite).
Immediate goals for SPAUSA are to develop its membershipand hire a permanent office staff. Lemmon says that the show ofsupport for the association from top skatepark designers andbuilders at the meetings was strong, and that she hopes to build onthat and continue to foster cooperation among them that willultimately lead to more and better skateparks.
Another non-ASR event that drew a number of people from theshow floor was the ill-timed Super Bowl, and the most popularvenue seemed to be the Tum Yeto anti-trade-show installation acrossthe street from the Convention Center. Again occupying a nightclubspace, Tum Yeto served food and drinks to a crowd of about 150that showed up to watch the game while sales staff continued theirbusiness with buyers.
Tum Yeto hasn’t been in the trade show for two yearsand has instead set up shop nearby, but out of reach of ASR-at leastthey thought so. For the second year in a row, Long Beachauthorities visited the space to follow up on an anonymous tip. Lastyear it was the fire marshall counting heads, this year it was thecops investigating a report that someone was planning to unlawfullyfloat a huge balloon, which was news to Tum Yeto staffers.
Even inside the show, several booths played the Superbowl onTVs of all sizes, and traffic in the aisles slowed to a trickle for a fewhours. Maybe skateboard teams ought to start wearing matchingjerseys at contests again. Remember that? Yeah, back when skatingwas huge. So here we go again, racing through trade-show aisles,trying to keep up.
Nice to see ya.
* TransWorld SKATEboarding Business Retailer Surveys,1996-2001.
Skatepark Developers Recognized
At a meeting of top skatepark developers during the SpringASR Trade Expo in Long Beach, California, Heidi Lemmon of theSkatepark Association Of The USA and Jeff Greenwood ofConcrete Disciples magazine recognized several of them fortheir dedication to their art and contributions to skateboarding.
Lifetime Achievement: Tim Payne (Team Pain)
Twenty-Year Recognition: Jim Barnum (Canada), DaveDuncan, Chad Ford (Australia), Wally Hollyday, Mike Mapp, SimonOxemham (Australia), Mike Taylor, Twister.
Best Use Of Public Land: Calgary, Ontario, Canada-JayBlamer and Jim Barnum for Shaw Millennium Skatepark (91,500square feet).
Innovative Technology: Ranier Richlite for Skateliteramp surface, Rhino Ramps for a portable ramp system(Belgium).
Skatepark Design (overall for a body of work): JimBarnum (Canada), Jay Blamer (Canada), Dave Duncan, Chad Ford(Australia), Wally Hollyday, Monk Hubbard, Mike McIntyre (SiteDesign Group), Geth Noble, Simon Oxemham (Australia), Tim Payne,Mark Scott, Mike Taylor, Twister, Zak Wormhoudt.
Skatepark Quality Of Construction: AirspeedSkateparks, CA Skateparks, Convic Skateparks (Australia),Dreamland Skateparks, Dave Duncan, Hardcore Shotcrete, GrindlineSkateparks, Ric
k Carje (RCMC), Skateparks International, SpectrumSkateparks (Canada), Spohn Ranch, Tim Payne, TrueRide Skateparks,Twister, VPI.