Youth Culture and Action Sports
Youth culture has taken on a new face in the 21st century.
Today’s youth are no different from that of the last 20 generations, they want to have fun and enjoy life. Except youth culture has taken on a new face in the 21st century and it’s being driven by a consciousness and lifestyle.
Consciousness? No, this is not a reference to David Icke’s conspiracy theories – but it undoubtedly is reflected by youth culture’s brash break from the norm, what’s expected, and what everybody else is doing. Sounds like a line from the Matrix – an anomaly – because in order for there to be a culture, surely there have to be norms that people subscribe to? In youth culture though, the norms are not tangible, they’re not prescribed by an omnipotent force or society. Rather there is an overlying consciousness that is leading young people to think beyond the nonsense that’s dished up to them daily. Lifestyles reflect the attitudes and values of a person or group. More than ever youth culture is creating its own values and attitudes within a society that is staid. The underlying nature of the lifestyle is anti-authority and unquestionably forward thinking. This is however not a rebellion! It’s an awakening.
Action sports have played a crucial role in the moulding of youth culture, so let’s get to grips with these “insane athletes” looking to get “amped” and “stoked”. Careful now – don’t confuse the action sports of the X-Games with extreme sports, because that’s the outside’s greatest downfall. Freestyle Motocross, skate, bmx, surf, and wakeboarding dominate the South African youth culture interest mostly because they are easily accessible, not requiring huge resource or funding (as opposed to snowboarding which is highly rated but damn expensive to get to Tiffendel or fly overseas). Each of these are individual sports, expressive, without rules unless there’s competition, and solely depends upon the participant’s willingness to excel to standards that they set. Youth are not trying to be extreme, they are furthering themselves through a greater belief that anything is possible, and if that means flipping a 100kg bike 360 degrees then great, but it’s not extreme.
To make a point, I grew up playing soccer, in a team that required uniforms, and a coach, and a field and 22 players and a referee. Action sports aren’t governed by these requirements. They have their own governance with unlimited potential. A surfer needs only his board and the sea, a skater – his board and a surface. It almost sounds like a me-me-me syndrome but in effect it is about me, not the team, or the coach or my parents.
It’s also important to bear in mind the vast amount of information that is available to youth thanks to Bill Gates and his cronies. Prior to this advent, “educated” masses had only their parents, teachers, textbooks maybe an Encyclopaedia and television. The quality and quantity of data available to youth has allowed them to be far more savvy as consumers
Youth culture has had a dramatic spin-off effect on product development in the realms of technology, fashion, and music. The most striking effect though, has been the ability of subcultures to dramatically impact upon consumer trends in these environments. Youth culture subverts the general process of mass marketing by determining what is hip cool and trendy, turning the proverbial marketing triangle on its head. Niche groups within youth culture have an incredible power to set a trend that also influences thinking. The trend though quickly evolves once the masses catch on – consistently and dynamically setting the pace for others to follow, never allowing “them” to catch up and own what is theirs. Some of the most tangible proponents of youth culture are action sports athletes. The USA has spawned some of the world’s biggest names in this arena from Mark Appleyard and Ali Boulala to Mike Metzger, Travis Pestrana and Bucky Lasek most of whom I have interviewed. These are not dope dealers trying to push product or preach about what’s wrong or right, and to my mind neither are the brands they represent. They are about one thing only and that’s to keep it REALLY real.
While there will be pretenders and wannabes who latch on, they’ll be found out and will eventually drift back to what it is that really suits them. There is a cool to association, but there is a core that the trendy kids can’t get to, unless they’re truly involved. The problem with this is that corporates, and sponsors and brands may suffer the same type of schizophrenia – jumping on the bandwagon to appeal and try to look cool. But without a legitimate interest in the culture and its way they too will be driven out to pasture by the posse. This has severe implications for the brands that want to be involved with youth culture via sponsorship or investment – this is literally a whole new world. Firstly, this is a consumer that is far more predatorial than it’s given credit for. Youth culture is not easily led by those who try to bullshit their way in. It knows what’s cool, practical, affordable and necessary. It’s not the wannabe sheep mentality. It’s a consumer that won’t be fooled no matter how hard the ad agencies and brand managers try. That’s mostly because at the core of the culture there is a realness about what is happening. There’s not a global drive to “like be different” it is different, mostly because it sets itself apart.
The brands that have made themselves a part of youth culture have done so legitimately. A visit to the Actions Sports Retail (ASR) show in San Diego in September 2003 highlighted this for me as well as the fact that: The industry is a monster much bigger than it’s perceived. And that the industry is being run by, designed, shaped, and moulded by young people who have filtered through from each of the subcultures. They understand their market intimately. Don’t believe for a second that anyone’s going to think a company’s cool because they’ve sponsored an action sports event or put an image on a billboard to associate the brand with this culture. In South Africa youth culture is best captured by blunt Magazine (now in its 8th year). They’re serious about what it is that youth culture stands for and will not allow anybody or anything (including big cheques) to sway them from maintaining their promise to their readers – that they’ll never sell them out.
If brands want to align themselves to youth culture they should be looking for a way in from the outside. Perhaps buy the Davey Weare DVD or the Dog town and Z-boys DVD, look out for FMX star Sick Nick De Witt, skater Wandile Zulu and surfers Josh Shmeltzer and Nikita Robb. If you’re not swept up by what these athletes and their associates represent, stick around the trend changes again, tomorrow.
Kevin Fine is host of 5FM’s weekend breakfast show – Kevin’s Rise ‘n Fine. He has an honours degree in Industrial Psychology from Wits, where he started his radio career on Voice of Wits. After a year in community radio, Kevin joined 5FM where he anchored sport on weekday breakfast and simultaneously developed a youth culture show on weekends called the Impact Zone, the biggest growing show on the station over two consecutive amps diaries.