|(Posted 9/18/2002) |
By JEFF OSTROWSKI for the Miami * Herald
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Zach Quintero, wearing elbow and knee pads, a baggy red T-shirt and a helmet that looks a couple of sizes too big, rolls his
skateboard down the steep side of an empty swimming pool at the YMCA of the Palm Beaches.
The gutsy 7-year-old speeds across the flat bottom to the opposite side, climbing with enough momentum to briefly launch himself above the deck of the
pool. After pulling his favorite trick - an "air" - he lands safely on the inside of the pool and continues his ride.
Zach and his 10-year-old brother, Rudy, love to skateboard. So much so that it's the only sport they participate in, or follow. Rudy even quit his football team
a couple of years ago after learning how to skate.
Why ditch the nation's most popular spectator sport for an upstart pursuit?
"It's funner," Rudy says simply.
A decade ago, the Quintero brothers of suburban Lake Worth would have been dismissed as part of a tattooed and rebellious fringe group. If a company
wanted to pitch its product to American youth, football, basketball and baseball were the place to spend its marketing budget.
Today's generation of teens, and pre-teens prefer "extreme sports" - including skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding - to traditional sports. And Wall Street,
Madison Avenue and Hollywood * have taken notice.
Old-line companies such as Disney, General Electric and Pepsi are plowing millions into NBC's Gravity Games * and ESPN *'s X Games, which airs tonight on
ABC. It marks extreme sports' first prime-time appearance on network television.
Meanwhile, "XXX", an X Games-influenced spy * flick, and surfing movie "Blue Crush" opened this month. (The former, starring relative newcomer Vin Diesel,
raked in $46 million in its first weekend, stealing the top spot from perennial box office champ Mel Gibson.)
Ask the kids at the Y's skate park if they follow football, basketball or baseball, and they'll shake their heads or shrug. But ask if they plan to watch the X
Games, and they nod as if the answer is so obvious as to make the question foolish.
Rudy and his crew are so much a part of today's mainstream that the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association of North Palm Beach says more Americans
skateboarded each of the past two years than played baseball or football.
Snowboarding, another former renegade sport, joined the very mainstream Winter Olympics in 1996 *. "Tony Hawk Pro Skater *," the video game featuring
skateboarding's clean-cut superstar, is the top-selling title in the burgeoning game industry.
Teens gravitate toward skateboarding, surfing and other high-adrenaline individual sports in part because they can play at their own pace, without officials
and time clocks.
"There's no coach standing there yelling at you that you're not fast enough and you're not good enough," says Norb Garrett, head of Primedia's Action
Sports Group, which publishes "Skateboarder," "Surfer" and a dozen other magazines. "There's more freedom. You can be as good as you want to be, or as
crummy as you want to be."
With corporate giants like AOL Time Warner, Nike * and Sony *, as well as youth-oriented retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch and Old Navy looking for ways to
tap into the formidable spending power of American kids, network officials said it was only a matter of time before action sports arrived.
"It's just another step in the evolution of action sports," ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz says of the ABC time slot. "It's definitely not a fad."
The X Games, which ESPN started in 1995 *, and the Gravity Games, launched in 1999 * by NBC, aim to draw young viewers who have tuned out traditional
sports. A slate of corporate and product sponsors including Pepsi's Mountain Dew, Sony's PlayStation * 2, AT&T and electronics retailer Circuit City, are
among the mainstream companies that are betting $1.5 million to $3 million each on this year's X Games.
Mountain Dew in particular has ridden extreme sports' growth to bigger market share. The high-caffeine drink first sponsored the X Games in 1995, when it
was the No. 6 soft drink with 5.6 percent of the market. By 2000 *, "the Dew" was the No. 4 brand and boasted a 7.2 percent share, according to "Beverage
It's obvious why corporate America is trying to catch the wave. Walk through any suburban mall and you'll see kids sporting not basketball or baseball
jerseys but shirts and shorts made by surf brands Quiksilver *, Roxy and Billabong *.
A glance at Rudy and his friends shows they think of sports much differently from their parents. Good luck finding a Marlins hat, Dolphins jersey or a pair of
Nikes in their closets. They favor shoes by Vans * and Globe *. Their T-shirts bear the logos of skate brands Volcom * and Hawk.
California *-based surfwear company Quiksilver (NYSE: ZQK), which sells boardshorts, rash guards, T-shirts and hats, has seen its sales skyrocket from
$173 million in 1995 to $614 million last year. Much of the growth has come from its Roxy line of gear for women, who have embraced the extreme sports
trend as a fashion statement.
Surf and skate retailer Pacific Sunwear (Nasdaq: PSUN) of Anaheim, Calif., which has stores at malls in Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Palm Beach Gardens
and Jensen Beach, likewise has seen sales climb steeply, from $113 million in 1995 to $685 million last year.
Meanwhile, Hollywood has spit out a spate of movies featuring extreme sports.
"When you've got something that's cool, Hollywood picks up on that pretty quickly, because you can cash in on that," Garrett says.
"Blue Crush," a movie about female surfers in Hawaii *, opened Friday. That flick follows the releases this year of "Dogtown and Z-Boys *", a skateboarding
documentary narrated by Sean Penn *, and ESPN's "Ultimate X: The Movie," a paean to the X Games that plays on IMAX-style screens, including the one at
the Crown Abacoa 20 in Jupiter.
The most lucrative of the wave of movies is Diesel's "XXX," an action flick about a super spy who snowboards, jumps a bike like a motocross star and wears
Vans shoes and snowboard boots.
James Bond he isn't. But "XXX" opened in the top spot its first weekend, seemingly validating the $10 million Sony paid Diesel for "XXX" and the reported
$20 million he will get for a sequel.
Among extreme sports stars, Hawk is the compensation king, making a reported $10 million a year, largely from his lines of clothing and skateboards, from
the series of video games bearing his name and from sponsoring products such as Heinz Bagel Bites.
A handful of other athletes, including surfer Kelly Slater and BMX star Dave Mirra *, make more than $1 million a year, while lesser lights can take in
$500,000, says Adam Jacoby, a California agent who represents action sports athletes.
The big money flowing into skateboarding doesn't sit well with everyone, however.
Longtime skater Mike Rogers welcomes the attention. But Rogers, owner of MR Surf and Skate in West Palm Beach and coach of a skate team that counts
Rudy among its members, says the companies that profit from skateboarding should support the sport by building skate parks.
"Corporations need to put back into skateboarding what they're taking out of it," Rogers says.
The responsibility of providing a place for kids to skate falls mostly on municipalities. The city of West Palm Beach last month opened a $770,000 skate
park at Phipps Park, part of a nationwide building boom of skate facilities.
At the YMCA of the Palm Beaches, Rudy and Zach are oblivious to the economics of their favorite sport. They're more concerned with honing their skills on
the skate park's ramps and three empty swimming pools.
Skaters such as Amanda Coates, a 17-year-old Lake Worth High School student and a member of Rogers' skate team, consider the sport's growing
popularity a mixed blessing.
On the plus side, the boom means more places to skate and more respect. Coates points to Rogers' tales of being a pariah in the '70s and '80s, when
skating was a marginal pursuit.
"I wouldn't like that," she says. "What if somebody beat you up just because you play basketball? Back when (Rogers) used to skate, skateboarders were the
outcasts. Now, it's cool to be a skateboarder."
This article was originally entitled "Marketers court teen surfers and skaters" and was found at
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