Polyethylene, the most common plastic, seems to have no limits on how it’s fabricated. Long-molecular chain Dyneema cloth is 15 times more RESISTANT TO ABRASION than carbon steel; its bike shorts and tights have already saved the thighs of several Tour de France riders. Fabrics with BUILT-IN SENSORS, like from Athos, can measure not just how your limbs move, but how each muscle group is engaged, providing immediate feedback on your form. Fabrics are also being made out of ACTIVE PARTICLES that can improve on the body’s natural process to dispense heat. The active particles absorb the body’s infrared energy, heat up, and attract sweat off the body through electrostatic force, speeding evaporation. Soon athletes will wear SELF-HEALING TEXTILES based on the science of biomimicry—engineering inspired by the natural world. For instance, self-healing polyelectrolyte polymers (now in industrial use) are modeled after squid ring-teeth proteins.
NATURAL & ENERGY FOODS
Thirty years after the launch of the PowerBar, energy bars will hit the $9 billion revenue mark in 2017. Gone is the pervasive brown rice syrup in every bar, replaced with SUPERFOODS like chia, moringa and carrageenans, or sweeteners like beets and natural erythritol. But the bars of the future will be engineered for more than nourishment, triggering specific metabolic pathways—inspired by the KETOGENIC DIETS of extreme athletes who trick the fuel systems in their bodies to burn fat rather than glucose for energy. Next-generation bars and drinks will also be PERSONALIZED, based on genomic tests and food-reactivity tests.
Wearable integrations of technology have been surging, but 3D PRINTING IS TAKING OVER. Expect customized shoe insoles to be printed in store. Sunglasses frames and bike helmets will be perfectly molded to fit skull shape. Once we can print titanium, every piece of gear can be customized for fit and performance. This effectively demolishes the notion of a product life cycle and all it entails—inventory, shipping, design fatigue. As soon as a new creation has been tested, its 3D blueprints can be distributed, and custom builds can be sold immediately. NEXT-LEVEL SAFETY gear becomes increasingly important, as Alt-Athletes pursue their passions in evermore dangerous geography. Beacon technology allows families to know where their adventurers are at all times.
The $80 billion health club industry is rapidly evolving to attract Alt-Athletes indoors. There are now over 11,000 CrossFit gyms just in the US. Both encouragement and competition are enhanced by technology, resulting in greater motivation, harder workouts and regular consistency. GLOBALIZATION has also driven widespread change. Just five years ago, the Latin American health club market was half the size of the North American market; now it’s 30% bigger. The Asia-Pacific market is in the middle of making the same jump. Once-regional activities are bounding onto the world stage. Zumba comes from Colombia, yoga from India, parkour/free running from France. China gave the West Tai Chi, and in return, they have taken up bodybuilding in record numbers, recovering from the communist government’s 30-year ban on the sport.
THE VIEWING AUDIENCE
If you love baseball, you catch your highlights on MLB Tonight. But if you love running, is there a television show for you? There is now—it’s called Run Junkie, produced by FloSports out of Austin. Tough Mudder has a network TV show. CrossFit is on ESPN. The Dutch channel INSIGHT features alt-sports shows like Running the World, following a parkour-crazed duo around the globe in 360-degree ultra-high definition. The two Ultimate leagues merged and produced their first superstar. With GROWING SPORTS BROADCAST NETWORKS, every alt sport has a chance to jump off YOUTUBE and gain an audience. You may not know who teen phenom climber Ashima Shiraishi is, but millions of climbing devotees do. Equipped with ever-higher-quality cameras, the Alt-Athlete with the most INSTAGRAM followers may not be the best athlete, but he is the best at capturing the spirit, Zeitgeist and aesthetic of the sport.
TOURNAMENTS, CIRCUITS & TOURS
In some ways, formal competitions run counter to the free-spirit ethos. In competition, climbers ascend prescribed routes and mountain bikers stay on the path. But in other ways, these new events hew very much to the Alt-Athlete ethos. Ticket holders at ALT-SPORTS EVENTS don’t like to see themselves as spectators but as participants who regard the top people in their sports less as heroes and more as teachers. These new events are changing the definition of “sports venue”—and are pulling increasingly large crowds and media attention. The US Open of Surfing attracts 600,000 to Huntington Beach; the CrossFit Games packed 50,000 into the StubHub Center for the finale, using the soccer and tennis stadiums as well as the velodrome. This evolution signals a huge opportunity for both venue owners and sponsors to reach new audiences.