Corky Carroll

Action sports, too, falling on hard times

Last week I took a little cruise down the road to San Diego for the semi annual Action Sports Retailer trade show. For those of you not familiar with trade shows this is a big exhibition of new products by manufacturers to show to buyers from stores in order to get orders for the next season.

It is not open to the public. In this case the products being shown are those of the "Action Sports" industry -- surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, etc., etc.

There was a time that I had attended every single trade show for a zillion years, since they started, really. The first one was in Florida in the early 1970's. Now there are four main shows a year, two in Florida and two in San Diego. During the period that I had to go to all of them I did not look forward to them. But that was awhile back and now I only go every now and then and it is more fun than work.

I like to check out the new products and also to see old pals that I would never see anywhere else. And this year there was added reason to go as my wonder-son Tanner was having his 12th birthday and is an avid skateboarder. He is just becoming a shoe tester for etnies, the company that makes the killer shoes for skateboarders.

He scares me with the stuff he does like jumping off a zillion stairs and also rooftop to rooftop. His pal Ricky just did a "twenty-stair." Geeze. I guess my dad had the same fears when I was riding big surf. Anyway T-boy wanted to go to the show for his birthday and that was the entire nudge I needed to attend what was probably my trillionth trade show.

In recent years these shows have grown to enormous proportions. Last year I was at the Surf Expo in Florida at this time of year and it took a full day just to walk through and see what was there. All the surfboard guys were there as well as every surf- or skate-related company on the face of the planet. I was expecting the same thing this year in San Diego.

Wow was I wrong. This was like a mini trade show in comparison to last year. I guess this is a reflection of just how down the industry is at this time. What was most striking to me was that the biggest surf companies were conspicuously absent. Quiksilver, Hurley and Billabong were nowhere to be found. Only a handful of surfboard companies were showing.

We were able to walk the whole show in less than two hours, say hi to old pals and look at new stuff in another two and get back on the freeway in plenty of time to beat the horrid San Diego going home traffic on the I-5. There were most of the big skateboard companies there though so T-boy was still stoked to go.

My favorite of the new products this year were some very cool bamboo skateboards by Sector 9 and some fantastic new earphones by a company called SnuggBuds. The earphones are not exactly surf related but you certainly could use them while skating, skiing, snowboarding and just about any other activity not involved in being in the water.

They are very comfortable and block out all background noise. On some models there is also a built-in microphone so you can use them with your cell phone. My wife, the extremely cool Kika, and I both got a pair. I have been using mine with my laptop for my Rosetta Stone Spanish Lessons and they work much better than the big headset with a microphone that came with the program.

We were also stoked to pick up a couple bottles of Dr. Bronners Magic all in one Castile Soap. This is not a new product but is one that I like and have been out of for a long time.

There were quite a few old pals there too. Greg Noll was there and had this very cool toy Santa that wore surf trunks. The Santa sang a Christmas carol and then mooned you and farted. Classic. Also saw my pal Dale Smith from Oceanside. Dale has been in the skateboard industry almost longer than skateboards themselves. He has a very cool line of skateboards and also had a great mini skateboard museum set up in his booth.

There was also Wingnut, Randy Rarrick, Tak, all the Surftech crew and a whole bevy of other pals on hand to say hi too. I guess, like the rest of the country, the Action Sports industry is holding on tight and hoping for a bottom turn soon.