Up until recently, extreme sport companies had a team of sponsored riders, snowboarders, kiters, surfers and the rest. These people were performers – they demonstrated the equipment and contributed to the brand’s image.
Social media has blurred the line between producer and product. Companies now get their customers to do their marketing for them. Kiteboarders, surfers and snowboarders tag companies in their pictures, hoping to gain more traffic, to bolster and feed their personal image,
I’m a Slingshot/Burton/Billabong girl.
This is ‘late capitalism’, where products help produce their own consumers. The line between producer and consumer is increasingly a two-way street.
Yet not all extreme sports are undergoing this transition in the same way. Kiteboarding, snowboarding and surfing are all different.
Kiteboarding for instance, has changed remarkably. It’s almost impossible to find social media images or videos of female kiteboarders doing anything other just the most simple act of riding along. This is the bare minimum of kiteboarding, the snowboarding equivalent of standing up and sliding down a hill. ‘Lifestyle’ shots are now the norm, where ‘lifestyle’ involves flashing your cloaca on the daily.
I don’t really give a shit if women want to objectify themselves in this way. My main problem with it is probably jealousy – ten years ago I spent my days attempting to secure a watery death for myself in the pursuit of increasingly more difficult tricks and skills. At the time I was constantly frustrated by my lack of bravery and skill, and a niggling regard for spinal integrity.
Nowadays, as a skinny blond chick living in a photogenic place, I could achieve the same results with less kiteloops and more raw chia smoothies. I had fun back then, don’t get me wrong, but the best trick I ever learned was chucking the twin-tip and getting a surfboard. My focus has shifted, I now kite purely for fun. The last freestyle trick I pulled off was icing an octopus birthday cake (and I fucking NAILED it).
Although I stopped kiteboarding in anger years ago, I’ve remained tangentially associated with the industry. Of course, I’ve noted the rise in sex-marketing – kiteboarding is a male dominated industry. But within that I’ve noticed something else. There’s been a huge rise in Eastern European/Brazilian/South American ‘model/kiteboarders’. For some reason I feel less comfortable with these women’s images than those of their global-north counterparts.
To be sure, they’re all producing more or less the same flange-shots, but I think it feels more exploitative. The images of Aleksandra posing Playboy style on the beach, wiping a cheeky blush of sand from her perfectly formed arse-cheek feel somehow more contrived than Emma’s sunny instagram pic from Mauritius. Emma is carefree – she knows that pretty soon she’ll be back in Bristol studying vet science and getting a root canal.
To be sure, Emma’s pic feels ‘thirsty’, but Aleksandra’s is desperate.
Snowboarding is different. It’s hard to look sexy in an outfit that looks like a floor-to-ceiling sanitary pad. The snowboarding social media is dominated by images of men attempting to put their teeth through their lips. Shots of women are more or less the same.
Perhaps the lack of women’s objectification has something to do with the market – most of the top female snowboarders hail from the global north – Norway, Canada etc.,. places where women are encouraged to participate not only in life, but also extreme risk taking. Also, it’s an extremely high cost sport, which limits any kind of participation from poorer countries/women.
Both surfing and snowboarding are also somewhat professional – there are pro-tours and, in the case of snowboarding, Olympic events. Although surfing most definitely has the same cadre of young skinny women flopping about on surfboards in between strong bikini cacao enemas, there is a higher level to the sport – one which endlessly and problematically conflicts with the mainstream marketing image oriented around the multiple trajectories of the bronzed side-boob.
Gah! How can we possibly use these strong, healthy women in our marketing campaigns? What do you mean the bikini ‘falls straight off in the surf?’
I’ve got more to say about this, but I think I’ll crack into that another day.