Understanding Lifestyle Sport: Consumption, Identity, and Difference

Understanding Lifestyle Sport: Consumption, Identity, and Difference

Understanding Lifestyle Sport: Consumption, Identity, and Difference

Understanding Lifestyle Sport: Consumption, Identity, and Difference


The past decade has seen a tremendous growth in the popularity of activities like skateboarding and snowboarding; sports that have been labelled as 'extreme' or 'lifestyle' and which embody 'alternative' sporting values such as anti-competitiveness, anti-regulation, high risk and personal freedom. The popularity of these activities goes beyond the teenage male youth that the media typify as their main consumers. This book examines the popularity, significance and meaning of lifestyle sport, exploring the sociological significance of these activities, particularly as related to their consumption, and the expression of politics of identity and difference. This edited collection includes much unique ethnographic research work with skaters, surfers, windsurfers, climbers, adventure racers, and ultimate frisbee players. The central themes explored in Understanding Lifestyle Sport include: - How might we describe lifestyle sports? - What influence do commercial forces have on lifestyle sports? - Do lifestyle sports challenge the hegemonic masculinities inherent in a traditional sport environment?


Pro skateboarder Tony Hawk is standing aboard a corporate jet on his way to a charity event in Houston. In his hand is a Heineken and on the table in front of him is a platter overflowing with lobster, stone crab, and jumbo shrimp. Doing his best imitation of former Talking Heads singer David Byrne, he stiffens his frame, taps his arm, and says, "And you may ask yourself, Well, how did I get here"?

(Borden 2002:1)

In May 2002 in a poll conducted by a 'teen' marketing firm in the USA, skateboarding star Tony Hawk was voted the 'coolest big time athlete' ahead of 'mainstream' mega-sport celebrities such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods (Layden 2002). If Jordan's status comes even close to Nike's claims (in 1999) that he is 'the most recognized person in the world' (cited in Mcdonald and Andrews 2001:21), then alternative sport it seems, has come of age. Further evidence of the tremendous growth in alternative and extreme sports comes from participation figures; as Beal and Wilson (this volume) outline, in the USA the growth of skating, based on sales of skateboards, has outpaced the growth of a number of 'big league' traditional sports including baseball. Moreover, it is not just the US market that is seeing such a growth, nor is it just among young teenage men. For example, the snowboarding industry (in 1996) predicted that by 2005, half of all ski-hill patrons will be snowboarders (Humphreys 2003:407); and in the UK, surfing became one of the fastest growth sports at the turn of the twenty-first century, particularly among women, and men in their thirties and forties (Tyler 2003; Walters 2002; Asthana 2003).

How do we make sense of this popularity in what I have termed lifestyle sport, particularly when one of the central characteristics of these so-called alternative sports is that they are different to the western traditional activities that constitute 'mainstream' sport? As Rinehart (2000:506) suggests, alternative sports are activities that 'either ideologically or practically provide alternatives to mainstream sports and to mainstream sport values'. This popularity trend, or process of mainstreaming particularly as manifest in the increased media and market appropriation . . .

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