…Lost Surfboards at ASR.

Photos by Tom Wallace

Just when we started to think there’s no way ASR (Action Sports Retailer) Trade Show was going to be able to continue -at least in its former format -the industry came together and figured out another solution February 3-4, which was to break the show into 3 separate parts. ASR, the main show for action sports brands, looked smaller and with kingpins like Quiksilver, Oakley, and Hurley no longer on the convention center floor, there was an apparent lack of heft. But then again, the booths were all smaller -a conscious decision which according to Scott Sorensen from Anarchy Eyewear, “was a good decision. It’s less expensive and less competitive with that whole, who-can-have-a-bigger booth thing ending.” The more uniform pre-fab booths may have been one strategy that worked -although some brands like Volcom, O’Neill, Billabong, and Levi’s (yes, they have made their way into actions sports) did have larger booths, overall you could see more, and if it allowed the exhibitors some breathing room financially, it was a good idea. However ironically, ASR’s hotspots at the San Diego Convention Center continue to be with surf brands and boards, ranging from Surf Diva, Lost, Rusty, Dick Brewer Hawaii, Firewire, Maui & Sons, to a mix of motocross brands such as Metal Mulisha, Fox, Sullen, Hart and Huntington (interesting new addition), and Alpinstars.

Monster Energy Drink lounge at the entrance of ASR.

Upstairs in the ballroom was Class. No pun intended. This show, as founder Jason Bates describes it, is a “crossover between surf, skate, and fashion culture in an independent setting.” The theme stems around “school” with a prom-type “Winter Wonderland” formal after party. The ambience of Class is very cool and in many ways, was the key location at ASR in general with brands such as WESC, Insight, Atwater, Grn Apple Tree, In4mation, Cardboard Robot, Alphanumeric, RVCA, Jedidiah, True Love False Idols (which was just bought by La Jolla Group) and others, pulling in key retailers and fairly heavy traffic. This was also the place for some great up-and-coming newbies (see below).

Class upstairs in the Ballroom featured beautiful lighting, carpet, bar, DJ station, white cube lounges, and uniform booths.

Then there was Crossroads -the skate-oriented parking lot show that was totally grassroots. Launched by pro skater Jamie Thomas, and his brand BlackBox Distribution, Crossroads used to be hosted up the road the weekend before ASR and was starting to draw a large group of retailers and core skate brands and smaller shops who would then simply skip ASR. Now, however, they’re all one big happy family -as long as they can have separate spaces–and this seemed to be the formula that worked. Some 100 tent booths set up in a football sized PetCo parking lot with a skate park in the middle for skaters to roam through and later used for a competition, made the atmosphere seem very Vans Warped Tour-like (complete with Vans sponsoring the skate ramp), but minus the bands.

Jamie Thomas’ interview here provides an excellent overview of how Crossroads at ASR came about and what went down:

There were several brands that opted to showcase in more than 1 “show” with different aspects depending on the space, such as Vans at ASR (and their cool waffle-on-a-stick stand served up by the kingpin himself, Steve Van Doren, in commemoration of the Vans “waffle” sole), and then again, they were all over the skate park with banners in the Crossroads show. Ezekiel, Insight, and Zoo York were others that crossed over into other shows, such as ASR and Class, or Class and Crossroads. In a way, and if you had the budget, by having different types of shows that were related, brands could have a booth in one show to illustrate their mainstream line, then another in say, Class to show their upscale boutique collection (sort of like 10 Deep featured at both S.L.A.T.E. and Capsule at MAGIC).

Other interesting characteristics were how several bikini brands popped-up at Class such as Betsey Johnson Swim and Lucky Brand Bathing Suits, and former ASR brands such as Burton’s jump to Class with Analog and Gravis. Relative new-comers such as Violet Love, the headband, tights, T-shirts brand for women showcased some very creative designs, and Storm or London watches is clearly another watch brand to look for. Nixon also showcased their new backpacks and select T-shirt collection with their signature watches at Class, while Volcom kept with their theme aspects -this time with everyone at the booth wearing Volcom “Genuine” denim overalls that looked like a crossover of Levi’s X Carhartt work-gear. Volcom (like Hurley at Agenda), is definitely pushing its denim category (featuring a ’70’s vibe, fades, strategic rips) which was also apparent on the runway during the ASR fashion show (stay tuned for that story).

Crossroads parking lot show at PetCo featured quick tent booths and lots of activity.

Interestingly, ASR/Class/Crossroads featured a series of entertainment/networking options within each show, such as Class’ Hype Circle Bloggers Lounge, Cocktail Lounge and DJ area, and Barracuda Hair Salon. At Crossroads, there was of course the giant skatepark and appropriately, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos truck; while at ASR there was the green and black Monster lounge and DJ station, ASR Runway show, another skate ramp (for a second competition), ASR/SIMA Board Builder Pavilion, the ASEC Green area (featuring brands like Livity Outernational), Lefty’s Barber Shop (getting your hair done on-site Chop-Shop style was sort of a big theme -like Project circa ’08), and A Path to Wisdom sponsored by iPath featuring an art exhibition/auction of amazing skate deck art.

Seminars were also held throughout each day, starting the day before the show with BRA’s Retailer Survivor Series. If one were to judge the state of an industry by the seminars represented, you could say that survival was a main topic.

The Surf Divas crew featuring their new boards, classes, camps, and book.

Overall, it’s clear that action sports, or what was once perceived as action sports, has changed dramatically in the last 20 years our team’s covered it. Not only have the sports changed (the fixie gear bike booths were extremely popular, and I already mentioned motocross), and brands in terms of their preferred categorizations that are now action sports-inspired and others that are now considered “crossover” -the change was inevitable. And not to pick on surf, but they’re the oldest and have been the slowest to see this evolution (and suffered greatly for it, according to our data even though we warned them), whereas skate and even snowboarding and motocross have moved into other aspects of youth culture lifestyles. And of course let’s not forget that fixed gear cycling is on that fringe of newbie “action” sport status along with a few other genres.

As we’ve said before, action sports is no longer the hot new industry for a generation that grew up with Shaun White. Just because mainstream media is finally catching on (sort of), and there’s still hype in parts of Europe, Asia, and other international hotspot locations regarding “extreme” sports’ freshness, it doesn’t always mean that’s where the money is.

While we’re sure to take heat for mentioning “money” when talking about action sports, which is “all about the lifestyle,” a trade show is about business and how to increase revenue. In many ways, ASR may have just figured out a solution. At the least, it’s re-discovered ways to keep its cred-factor: don’t have grassroots core skate next to established surf; provide upscale brands branching out the boutiquey-ness that’s necessary. In terms of trades shows representing the industry, splitting up may have helped. Parts are growing up, evolving, moving in other directions%u2026even if there still remains a tie, for now, to a smaller main floor of the San Diego Convention Center.

Volcom%uFFFDs themed booth at ASR was all about their genuine denim. All booth people were wearing denim coveralls which looked very Carhartt.

WESC was one of the mainstays of Class upstairs. They featured their new headphones and Fall collection including their signature denim and new selvedged khakis.

The new “fixie” or fixed gear bike brands were key locations this year at ASR featuring the crossover of action sports and cycling.

Another big push in surfing is stand-up or paddle surfing. Surf Diva%uFFFDs instructor demonstrates one of Surf Diva%uFFFDs new paddle boards. It%uFFFDs actually lighter than you%uFFFDd think.

Storm of London is a relatively new brand featuring very cool watches that play on the trend of watches as key accessory pieces and conversation pieces.

Steve Van Doren from Vans and crew cooking up waffles at the Vans booth created an enticing aroma and a great reason to stop by and check out the waffle soles and Vans shoes.

Sullen artist was one of several on-site graffiti and street artists at the shows. They%uFFFDre a staple part of the scene.

Arbor skateboards and snowboards made of bamboo and natural materials, as well as their clothing was a big draw as usual.

Etnies opted for the outdoor, grassroots Crossroads show.

Firewire hosts a small booth inside ASR, but it%uFFFDs always packed with core surf and tech people checking out their latest surfboard technology.

Hart and Huntington was among the new additions, adding to the motocross factor at ASR.

Jamie Thomas, pro skater and founder of Black Box and Crossroads in front of the Insight booth–which also had another booth upstairs at Class.

LRG at Class features how streetwear and urbanwear is crossing over with preppy elements.

Jim Shubin who helps make Class what it is. He%uFFFDs also working now with True Love False Idols, which was recently purchased by La Jolla Group.

Livity Outernational is one of the original brands of green and showed at the AESC Green Room.

Metal Mulisha%uFFFDs new look and graphics for core motocrossers.

Nixon, once known mostly for watches, now has an entire line of backpacks and bags. (I know, right?)

RVCA, always pushing the art and music envelope crossing with action sports had a beautiful display by Ed Templeton and Leo Romero which looked very Barry McGee.

Rusty surfboards–tall and proud display.

Lots of skaters on longboards at Crossroads.

Skullcandy, the leaders in designer headphones, featured some nice new designs.

Volcom guy making sure he%uFFFDs got signage at the ASR skate park.

WESC%uFFFDs beautiful mix of upper street or contemporary fashion including blue and yellow plaids and a black jacket. The yellow is their signature logo color.

Waffle on a stick from Vans.