Paddling Since: 2004
Join Date: Apr 2005
1. The current industry structure.
The current industry structure is interesting. Because there isn't attention to kayaking like there is to skiing/biking and even climbing it's very hard for retailers to stock kayaks and even gear. Even with climbing there is a very specific niche for the sport, but because individual pieces of gear are cheap enough a store can stock a rack or two, a handful of ropes and harnesses, some pairs of shoes and make out well. Besides, everybody uses shoes and carabiners, even if they're only climbing in the gym or just sporting 'biners for looks on their pack.
Kayaking is a sport where there is very little in the way of "beginner" leeway. What I mean is that in skiing you have bunny slopes, climbing you have gyms and bouldering and top rope sites and biking, well, hey anybody can ride a bike! With kayaking the move from non moving water to moving water and then rapids is pretty dramatic, and even on what most advanced boaters consider tame, class I-II people can get bruised and banged up.
So, you see, to market kayaking to a wider audience we need to make the dark side of kayaking less dark. A beginner can go skiing and fall on his/her butt all day and get a little wet, and may get a sore hip or rump. A beginner can go climbing in a gym and get nothing more than a pump, some chalk breath and maybe a skinned knee. A beginner can go biking on a mellow trail and at worst get road rash/broken clavicle but most likely will come back unscathed but tired.
In kayaking, a beginner goes to the river, flips, swims and bangs his/her knee on the rocks below. They're scared upside down, stuck in a kayak, moving towards the unknown, fear of drowning sets in...it's much more likely for a beginner to have an "I saw God" experience in a kayak than it is with any of the other mass marketed adrenaline/outdoors sports. That said, sea kayaking is a HUGE industry with a much more tame representation.
2. Jackson as a company.
Amazing company with soul. They have so much passion for what they do, and it is apparent where their values are. I only wish that more people could recognize it.
3. WW kayaking trends (ie - what's the next big thing?)
I think the next big thing is alluded to in my answer to #1. WW parks. I think there will always be lots of hype surrounding innovative products like new impact technology in helmets, unbreakable unlosable paddles, jet kayaks, etc...but the next thing that will get the money flowing into the industry in ways never before imagineable will be whitewater parks. And I don't mean Golden or Reno type parks, but indoor, chlorinated runs of water with big, man made holes and waves. For kayaking to take the next leap forward with mainstream America it will have to be dumbed down. There will be clear water, no fears or dangers, a big catch pool at the bottom, nothing to hit your head on or get pinned in, and lifeguards to help out all over. You'll go and pay $25 and get the equipment and a day at the park. I can just see fat MidWesterners lining up on a Saturday afternoon for a go at the "extreme sport." Most will walk away and never do it again, some will do it many times at the park (like paintball or gym climbers) and a goodly percentage will be converts to whitewater who will buy their gear and get outside.
I think that without the removal of the dark side of kayaking anybody who shies away from it now will continue to. There's no convincing the homebodies of the world that it is safer than they think, because in reality it IS a lot of hard work and we all take our lumps. The ONLY people who will ever kayak outside will be people who are conscious of the lump-factor and aren't deterred by it.
We need to remove the lump-factor if we want more people and money in the sport.
4. Who could WW kayaking be "marketed" to that it isn't already?
Anybody capable. See my answer to #3 for how.
5. What limits Jackson from being the market leader in WW kayaks? What have you always wanted that you feel no company has addresses?
Big box always wins. My only hope for Jackson is that they "make it." By that I don't mean being #1, I just mean being able to eat and live! And I hope they stay around for selfish reasons, too, because I like what they do! But, Jackson is too real for most people. I was reading a story by Doug Ammons in the Laugh of the Water Nymph (great book, BTW) and he pointed to the ridiculousness of the outdoors industry. He especially pointed out how the outdoor industry markets not to people who want to commune with nature and learn about themselves through the challenges, but people who want to look and be rad. Jackson will never stoop that low, so they will miss the giant lump of folks who glaze over unless they see something "rad."
DISCLAIMER: I may or may not be right about the super safe, indoors WW park thing. However, I want it to be known that this isn't necessarily the direction I want things to go.
I, personally, like the idea of my sport having a dark side that scares most people. I don't like that it gets abused for the super "rad" boaters to inflate their egos with. I do like that it presents a sport that is encased in adventure. Adventure means growth, personally, emotionally, spiritually every time I commune with it. I like that this aspect of things deters most people because it leaves wild rivers as places of solitude. Yeah, the Ark gets busy, but we all know that a day on the river seeing a few like-minded people is better than any day at work or in traffic in the city.
I do wish the rest of the world could understand that facing challenges and overcoming fears was a good thing for them, and that we were all strong enough to do so readily. It frustrates me that ego and superficiality and comfort with the mundane is so everpresent in our society.
So, in a way I want more people to try sports like kayaking, but in another way I could never expect it to happen, and even if it did I wouldn't necessarily like it as much as I think my bigger self says it would.
But, I do think, objectively, if we're to draw more people to the sport we need to remove that dark side. We need warm water, very little objective danger and very little subjective danger as well. We need a ricirculating drop of about 3 holes/waves with a big pool at the end, the water needs to be clear, it should be a channel that is man made and smooth and we should make people pay for it.
One last thought: Look at gym climbing and skiing...these are sports that have venues that cost money to the user. Outdoor climbing and BC skiing and even mountain biking have so many more unknown variables to deal with that most people shy away. They need EVERYTHING to be taken care of...they want it so all they have to worry about is staying warm and showing up. Safety is to be the last of their concerns.
And drawing more people in isn't about image (ok, two thoughts). What I mean by that is that we don't need to make boating more "Hollywood" than it is to bring more people in. If you notice, when a sport gets comfortable, easy and safe then people in Hollywood participate. When they participate it creates a fad. They aren't drawn to it for image, but for the same reasons we are: because we're bored and there's something new (and safe) to do!
I'm babbling, I know, but these are my sentiments. I'm probably wrong, and I'm willing to hash it out in a public forum. Enjoy!