Anyone who has ever watched an extreme sports competition on television can see that energy drink companies are main sponsors of these events. The parallels between adrenaline sports such as snowboarding, freestyle skiing, surfing, skateboarding, dirt biking and BASE-jumping (hey, I said these were extreme) seem like an energy drink marketer’s dream. Not only does sponsorship of such activities target teenage viewers, but also the shrapnel of exposure extends into more mainstream realms—products like Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar are now mainstays at little league baseball, high school soccer matches, and varsity football games. A quick visit to redbullusa.com reveals that the better (or, more accurately, the worst) part of the website features events, sponsored teams, videos and music. In fact, very little emphasis is placed on the actual product itself.
Despite energy drinks’ popularity with the younger set, they are wholly vilified by in-the-know parents and pediatricians due to their high sugar and caffeine content. Caffeine can interrupt sleep, raise heartbeats, risk of anxiety, and risk of dehydration in young bodies, say experts.
So, it is both surprising and encouraging that professional snowboarders Austin Smith and Bryan Fox started the Drink Water campaign, first with an insignia on the bottom of their boards (a prime spot for visibility in the half-pipe) and now with T-shirts, sweatshirts and stickers emblazoned with a clearly identifiable faucet logo and sold through their website, wedrinkwater.com.
Smith and Fox state: “If you love snowboarding or some other healthy activity that defines many decisions in your life, you are likely a choice target-consumer for companies that sell ‘energy drinks.’ Maybe you, like us, started to feel uncomfortable about how effective these companies have become at encouraging young people to consume their product: beverages of caffeine, sodium, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and even some mystery chemicals about which little is known … We're out to spread the Drink Water word. We don’t sell water, we just drink it.”
This is an interesting movement because it is born out of frustration. Smith and Fox rely on energy drink companies to support both adrenaline sports and themselves, yet they so vehemently disagree with the energy drink sponsorship message (which is essentially that consuming energy drinks will make you a better extreme sport athlete) that they actively encourage their fans and peers to simply drink tap water.
In reality, extreme sports do not require energy drinks. Rather, the opposite is true. In order to perform at such elite levels, athletes want to avoid the crash (or ‘bonk’ in snowboarder speak) that occurs after drinking a high-sugar beverage. The thought that cream-of-the-crop athletes—whether snowboarders or ultra-marathoners—guzzle chemical-laden beverages is quite preposterous... almost as preposterous as the implied message that these athletes are so talented because of an unhealthy beverage.
I recognize that corporate sponsorship is a vital aspect of extreme sports—which is not a bad thing. Sponsorship makes everybody happy: Marketing for the company, funding for the sport, and more often than not, freebies for the audience. But companies such as Red Bull should align their products more accurately with promotional events, rather than dilute the founding ethos of activities like snowboarding: To push the boundaries of physical feats by being as alive, salient and sober as possible.