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Dropping In: Wave of Action Sports Companies Gaining Speed Along I78 Corridor

From surfing to skateboarding, off-roading, golfing, mountain biking, BMX and more, North County San Diego’s I78 Corridor is a mecca for world-renowned action sports companies, lifestyle brands, and professional athletes.

The companies that call this corridor home - from Escondido to Vista, San Marcos, Carlsbad and Oceanside - cite easy access to the ocean, mountains, and deserts, along with year-round beautiful weather and a business-friendly environment. These active communities also attract people who love the outdoors, as well as those who are seeking a “dream job” in the action sports or active lifestyle industry.

In fact, the action sports and fitness industry along the 78 Corridor was responsible for 7,161 jobs (79% above the national average) in 2018, according to San Diego Regional EDC. The average annual salary of these workers was $63,990, compared to the national average of $35,402. 

 

Action sports industry stats for the I78 Corridor, courtesy of the San Diego Regional EDC

 

While San Diego County’s $6 billion sports and active lifestyle industry as a whole is the second largest in the U.S., the industry is rapidly becoming recognized as a major driver of the 78 Corridor's regional economy.

The dynamic companies and entrepreneurs that make up this industry along I78 blend the Southern California lifestyle with the innovative culture that the region is known for.

“The cities along the 78 Corridor not only promote a healthy and active lifestyle, but we also support innovation. Diverse action sports and lifestyle companies are developing revolutionary products that are transforming the industry and the way we play,” said Christie Marcella, Economic Development Manager for the City of Carlsbad. “This industry also provides a boon to the local economy, as well as jobs and an elevated quality of life for our residents.”

 

Click here to view an interactive map of action sports companies along the 78 Corridor

 

Below, we take a peek at the unique collection of thriving actions sports firms along the 78 Corridor and their contribution to the region’s active lifestyle and wellbeing.

Baja Designs, San Marcos

For the last 20+ years, Baja Designs (BD) - which manufactures high performance LED lights and light bars for cars, trucks, UTVs, ATVs, and motorcycles - has engineered revolutionary ways to stay at the forefront of motorcycle and automotive lighting.

The company, originally founded by Alan Roach in his garage in El Cajon in 1992, moved to San Marcos in 2001 after outgrowing its former facility. “We chose San Marcos because we are a short drive away from Ocotillo Wells, Glamis, Barstow and Mexico where the prestigious Baja 1000 has taken place for the last 51 years,” said Trent Kirby, the company’s COO. “Since so many enthusiasts reside in Northern San Diego County, we are fortunate enough to have an overwhelming number of employees who are also enthusiasts.”

What once started as a niche product for Baja Designs has become a mainstream market within the off-road community. The company, which started out with dual sport kits, now makes high performance lighting solutions for virtually all forms of off-roading. Customers range from automotive enthusiasts to the most elite divisions of our military. Baja Designs, which has 53 employees, sells to manufacturers such as BRP, General Motors, Keystone Automotive, as well as powersport/automotive storefronts and retail customers direct.

Kirby said being located along the 78 corridor has been key to Baja Design’s growth and success.

“Cities along interstate 78 have so much variety. We are fortunate to live so close to the beach, hiking trails, mountain bike trails, and skate parks,” he said. “The variety of outdoor activities really does encourage individuals and families to get out and explore. During the summer, we will plan night runs to the desert, which is then followed by an afternoon surf session. There are not many places in the world where the desert, mountain and beach are within a few hours of one another.”

Baja Designs is one of about 22 action sports companies in San Marcos that provide more than 380 jobs. Other notable businesses include Christenson Surfboards, Ocean Reef, Eminent Cycles, and REV Endurance Sports.

In neighboring Vista, many professional and legendary skateboarders as well as skate-related businesses and organizations have called this diverse city home. Businesses in the city and nearby county areas have included Bob Burnquist’s Dreamland, Tony Hawk Foundation, DC Shoes (purchased by Quicksilver for $87 million), Duffs, Birdhouse Skateboards, Plan B, The House Skate Shop, and Epic Trends, to name a few.

Vista recently welcomed a new addition to the local skateboard scene, the California Training Facility (CA l TF), an elite indoor skateboard center designed by California Skateparks and run by California Productions. It is the first of its kind in the world, designed to meet the criteria of what skateboarders will see in both major pro skateboard contests and qualifying series, as well as the Olympic courses leading up to the 2020 games in Tokyo.

The 28,000 square foot private facility, which includes full size competition street and park courses, will serve as a training ground for members of the US Olympic skateboard team in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. CA l TF, which will host the State Games of America July 12 -14, has also begun to attract Olympic skateboarding teams from across the globe.

The CA l TF also offers other programs such as skate jams, facility rentals, and group or private coaching programs for all levels of skateboarding from elite athletes to beginners. Pros that regularly skate at the facility include Tony Hawk, Shaun White, Ayumo Hirano, Steve Caballero, Christian Hosoi, Lyn-z Pastrana, Alec Majerus, Zach Saraceno, Kelvin Hoefler, Nora Vasconcellos, Jack Fardell, Evan Doherty, Clay Kreiner, Alex Sorgente, Travis Rivera, Justin Rivera, Jordyn Barrett, Nicole Hause, Tom Schaar, Keegan Palmer, and many more.

For California Skateparks - which has built over 300 skateparks on six continents - Vista is the perfect venue for its first training facility.

“Vista and North County San Diego is the hub of the skateboard industry; and a majority of skateboard professionals call North County San Diego home,” said Brian Harper, Senior Vice President of California Skateparks, Snowpark Technologies and California Productions.

Another popular place for skateboarding enthusiasts along the 78 Corridor is the Escondido Sports Center. The Center officially opened in 1997 with its first sports leagues beginning in 1998. At that time, the Sports Center offered one roller hockey arena, one soccer arena, a pro-shop, and a 20,000 square-foot metal skate park. Since then, the skate park has been renovated and upgraded with wooden ramps, an additional soccer arena was installed, and an additional hockey arena and roofs were constructed. Depending upon the sports season, the Center has about 1,800 participants weekly for various programs. The Center is one of only four public inline hockey facilities in San Diego County, and the only one that offers youth, high school, and adult leagues.

According to Joanna Axelrod, the City of Escondido’s Director of Communications and Community Services, the center fits perfectly with the SoCal action sports lifestyle. “Our facility has opportunities for individuals to try something new and find their passion in sports-related activities. The skate park in particular caters to a variety of action sports enthusiasts – skateboarders, BMX bikers, scooterers, and inline skaters. The facility can also be rented out for a variety of other action sport activities that don’t have a formalized home,” said Axelrod, adding that one of the Center’s most unique renters was for a trampoline tournament.

Besides catering to sporting enthusiasts, the Center also fils an important community need, Axelrod said. “Numerous studies support the fact that community quality of life and health are improved as a direct correlation to the availability of athletic programs and facilities. Providing a safe, healthy, and welcoming space for youth to participate in action sports deters them from engaging in unhealthy or illegal activities.”

Locale is also everything, and the Escondido Sports Center - which attracts participants and spectators from all over the country - scores with that one. “Since Kit Carson Park is served by a solid public transportation system as well as being located along the major thoroughfare of I-15, it is easily accessible not only by Escondido residents but by visitors from all over the county and the country who travel to participate in sports tournaments and visit the world-renowned Queen Califia’s Magical Circle art exhibit,” Axelrod said.

In addition to the Sports Center in Kit Carson Park, Escondido is also home to Disc Golf, a free 18-hole disc golf course and pro shop for renting/purchasing discs. In fact, the San Diego ACES Disc Golf Club is hosting a huge tournament at Kit Carson Park March 29-31. Other activity centers include Outdoor rock climbing at Eagle Peak, Trapeze, and Washington Park Skate Spot, a new 5,000 square-foot concrete all-wheel skate park that is expected to open in early 2020.

Further to the west in Oceanside, the quintessential SoCal lifestyle is further fueled by Shapers Alley, which includes a collection of surfboard crafters. One of the city’s oldest and most well-known surf-related brands is Hobie, which relocated to Oceanside from Irvine in 1976 after it was acquired by the Coleman Company.

“Oceanside gave Hobie room to grow and build a state-of-the-art production facility alongside its corporate offices, while remaining close to the ocean and the brand’s deeply rooted Southern Californian culture,” said Doug Skidmore, Hobie’s CEO. “Hobie now employs hundreds of talented people at our Oceanside headquarters, including many craftsmen and women who have been with the company for decades.”

Hobie began as a surf brand and helped popularize the sport by selling more affordable and accessible foam boards. Over the years, the iconic company has included other ocean sporting categories. In 1968, Hobie revolutionized the sailing world with the easy-to-sail, lightweight Hobie Cat catamaran. More recently, Hobie transformed the kayaking world with the launch of the patented Mirage Drive pedal system, and the company continues to grow that side of the business.

As part of the company’s commitment to preserving the ocean, Hobie has also hosted local beach cleanups.

Besides water sports, cycling is also synonymous with the SoCal active lifestyle, particularly along the 78 Corridor. Paul Wyandt, owner and CEO of Carlsbad-based Zoic Clothing, gives us the lowdown.

“There is a high concentration of cycling brands along 78. On the bike side, Haro and Campagnolo have been mainstays, and Canyon Bicycles recently arrived in a big way from Germany,” he said. “Electra’s presence transformed and shrank with their acquisition by Trek, and several smaller brands have come and gone. In cycling softgoods, we’ve seen Zoot Sports flourish then retrench, while newer brands like Eliel have found a footing here.”

The evolving cycling industry along I-78 has given Zoic Clothing a reason to celebrate. The company, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, created the category of mountain bike clothing, fusing sport performance features with casual comfort and styling. The brand was originally founded in Marin, Calif., the birthplace of mountain biking, and relocated to Southern California in the early 2000’s.

“My business partner Eric Swenson and I were customers before we became the owners in late 2004. We have been leading the brand for 15 years,” Wyandt said. “In 2013, we were a three-person operation in Sorrento Valley looking for room to expand. We both live coastal - Eric in Carlsbad and I in Carmel Valley, and we have families, so convenience was important to us. Carlsbad offered an ideal mix of space, cost, and location. With our move we were able to double our square footage while keeping our lease costs roughly the same. We also felt we could better attract candidates from the action sports industry concentrated in north San Diego County and south Orange County. The fact we are 1 mile from a trailhead at Lake Calavera also factored into our decision.”

Zoic Clothing, which has 10 full- and part-time employees directing its design, development, sales, marketing, and distribution from Carlsbad. The bulk of the company’s product is made overseas, but Wyandt added, “we also have terrific supply partners, Amigo Custom Screen Prints and Sock Guy here in Carlsbad. Additionally, Hudson Printing often fills our varied marketing needs, from print materials to vehicle wraps.”

Zoic’s major customers include REI, Amazon, and Backcountry.com, as well as leading independent bike dealers, especially in mountain biking destinations such as Moab, Utah and Sedona, Arizona.

“Our own website sales have been growing 20-to-30% annually with increasing participation in mountain biking and as more consumer purchasing shifts online,” Wyandt said.

He also points to the strong overall growth of the sports and active lifestyle industry along I-78. When asked why he thinks the Corridor is a mecca for companies like his, he responded, “I believe it starts with location. These businesses tend to be led and staffed by passionate participants in action sports, so it’s equal parts personal choice and business opportunity to locate along 78. We are able to cycle, surf, climb, paddle and run year-round. That atmosphere attracts talent and gives us ample opportunity to develop and test products. From a facilities standpoint, there are flexible spaces to serve the needs of brands both large and small. Plus, being just an hour from the Port of Los Angeles is critical for anyone distributing an imported product like us.”

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