The celebrities of the outdoor world often don’t have the same mainstream appeal as celebrities of other worlds. They don’t carry the same egos, they’re more down to earth, and they’re usually more focused on getting to know people rather than getting in front of a camera.
So it came to no surprise that during the first inaugural Outsider’s Ball, I (a rather short, Asian American Millennial with no real accomplishments to make me worthy of inclusion in such an event) found myself talking to fellow writers one minute, then discussing strategies for youth empowerment, with the President of a billion dollar company, the next. At one point during the night, I coughed into my drink and mumbled the words, “that was Conrad Anker?!”, after realizing that I had just had a conversation with the Michael Jordan of mountaineering.
The Outsider’s Ball is a gathering of the greatest minds of the Outdoor Industry (the industry covering all things related to outdoor recreation), to brainstorm solutions for future outdoor recreators. This summer’s theme was to encourage brands to invite young people of all backgrounds, to get outside.
See, there are real threats to what is currently, a momentously growing $700 billion dollar industry. Today’s outdoor recreator is predominantly white (pardon the stereotype – actually it’s not a stereotype – it’s data – page 5 of this link if you’re really interested). White is not bad, but all white is not good, and it’s especially not good when it’s upper middle class (which is disappearing) and aging (also disappearing). The reason it’s not good is because the future of the US is not white, wealthy, and old – it’s ethnically diverse and obviously, very young. And that was the message of the evening.
Part of the message was that, in order for the industry to survive though the next generation, they must invite younger and more diverse folks – not out of charity, but out of business necessity – even out of fiduciary responsibility, if you will. But no one wants to be preached at with business jargon for an entire night (which is why the Thought Leader’s Dinner was replaced with the Outsider’s Ball) – and that is why the other message really resonated with the audience; that inclusivity is not just the right thing to do for business (and for society), but that it’s the cool thing to do.
When you have titans of industry like Beaver Theodosakis, CEO of Prana, Fred Clark, President of Thule, and Chris Fanning, executive director of the Outdoor Foundation (who makes this blog possible, by the way), chatting it up with rising stars like Kyle Cassidy from The Clymb, Katherine Guay from Prana, and Christian Folk from Outdoor Research, shooting the breeze with outdoor celebs like Conrad Anker, Les Stroud (Survivorman), and Stephen Regenold (the Gear Junkie) – and everyone is talking about the same topic, no matter what that topic is – it automatically becomes cool.
And that’s what happened over the night. In a rare moment of sharing, these stars of the outdoor world wrote their deepest and most profound thoughts (thoughts that they had been cultivating for years, sometimes their entire careers!) into four or five word phrases, onto three black chalkboards. While these one liners could easily be dismissed as incoherent modern art, taking a deeper look into them reveals the brilliance of these industry minds.
For instance, one artist wrote the words “Reach middle schools,” which was basically a three word summary of a 70 page study that found that children are most likely to become emotionally attached to a particular sport during their middleschool years. And there were hundreds of these wisdom-packed one liners written on the black chalkboards.
The best part of all the star studded hype, was that it was all dedicated to us; the future outdoor enthusiast. It was both humbling and exciting to know that this party was dedicated to our generation; humbling to know that we are important enough to be included, but exciting because ultimately, we will be the ones who decide whether or not this night was a success.