Identity check: today’s action sports consumer is the kid next door, and to understand him, just dial into youth culture. (An Executive’s Guide to Action Sports)

Whether a store sells action sports products or not, the action sport consumer still walks through its doors everyday. The customer is that 40-year-old guy who harbors dreams of owning a Harley, or the l2-year-old who rides his skateboard to school everyday. The stodgy old nightmare that skateboarders and BMXers are more likely to steal product than buy it just doesn't compute anymore.

"Obviously, the target demographic there is the 12- to 18- or 21-year-old guy," says Jon Jones, VP of Special Ops at Ogio, a bag company that markets to the action sports community, and sponsors several elite athletes. "But my dad is 65 and he loves it. My son is 18 months old and I can't pull him away from the videos. There's an attraction there because we all have the desire to be hip and be part of what's cool. It lets people associate with things that are exciting even if they can't a double flip on a BMX bike."

On the strength of Generation Y's love of adrenaline sports, action sports such as skateboarding and snowboarding have soared to 106 percent and 72 percent participation gains, respectively, in the past Live years. During that same time span, both football and baseball saw their participation numbers drop. It's not hard to fathom that today's action sport consumer is influenced differently than past generations have been.

skates skates

"Young people, be they active participants in action sports or emulators, have a real need for authenticity," says Chris Strain, VP of Marketing at Vans.

An integral part of marketing strategies for core action sports companies is developing relationships with icons that are "reachable" and real. For example, a key sponsored athlete at Vans is BMX hero Cory Nastazio, who is as well known for his flamboyant personality as for his ability to pull off wildly dangerous and athletic tricks. Equally important for this market, he is authentic, which is what all true action sports heroes are.

"Cory is one of our top athletes and he is an important connection with us to the youth," says Strain. "He embodies the spirit of taking his sport seriously, but having fun at the same time. He's got an outgoing personality, but he is always 100 percent true to Cory, and that's not acting, it's lust who he is. Kids respond to his authenticity."

Estimates put Gen Y--the most avid action sports fans--at 60 million to 70 million strong, making the new generation the largest since the Baby Boomers, and nearly three times the size of Gen X. Marketing to this demographic effectively can mean big business.

"The best way to market to these kids is using a pro element," says Laurence LaHaye, VP of Extreme Sports and brand manager for NSS and Evos Skate Shoes. "Basically, you'll have 10 really cool kids in school who are influenced by the pro guys. Then those 10 kids influence the next pretty cool kids, and then the rest of the kids are influenced by those 20 kids. Kids can't use Major League Baseball players or basketball players as role models. They are so elevated above these kids. A little suburban kid can not look at Michael Jordan and aspire to be him. He never will be. But a skateboarder comes right out of your neighborhood."

At Ogio, the philosophy is much the same. "These kids are dialing into how for real [action sports athletes] are," says Jones. "These [action sports] heroes are not untouchable. Team sports will never die, but action sports are beginning to compete."