Camp Woodward Believes Inclusivity Is the Way to Reach the Next Generation

Camp Woodward execs explain strategy to ‘resurrect growth of past decades’ and new initiative for kids of industry parents.

This story originally appeared on Transworld Business and has been republished with permission. Words by Kailee Bradstreet. For more stories, visit Transworld Business.

This story was produced with support from Camp Woodward.

Camp Woodward cultivates and nurtures some of the world's best young athletes, and has been doing so since its inception.

But the staff at Woodward are looking to re-instill a more inclusive message into the programs at Woodward: camps are not just for the highly talented, up-and-coming youth who are on a path to professional status.

camp woodward industry deal

A 2017 BMX camper group at Camp Woodward.

With the addition of new Senior VP of Youth Development Chris "Gunny" Gunnarson, who comes from decades in the snow industry, Camp Woodward is poised for continued growth. Starting at the root of what the company is all about, Gunnarson – alongside Vice President of Design and Facilities Steve Swope – has established a new camp offering for kids of parents who work in action and adventure sports.

The idea behind the initiative is to reinforce the message that kids of all levels are welcome at camp.

"As someone who has always identified with the action sports lifestyle, exploring the best ways to introduce that culture to as many people as possible is one of my goals, and that requires that we push to build the next generation of active participants," Gunnarson said. "At times I'm concerned that, in an effort to protect that culture, we can appear to be too core or exclusive and we can make it difficult or intimidating to enter into these sports."

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Chris Gunnarson and family.

Part of the new strategy is to break down some of those barriers, encouraging new families to give camp a try, while also preserving the foundation of the camp’s pioneers who paved the way for action sports.

We caught up with Gunnarson and Swope to get the details behind the new offer, which is just one of the facets to a reinvigorated strategy behind continuing to build Camp Woodward's innovative program for generations to come.

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Camp Woodward’s Steve Swope and his children.

Why is it important for Woodward to bring to light the action sports programs available for youth?

Steve Swope: One of my personal missions in life is to inspire kids, and Woodward is doing that. I love that there are a million ways to inspire people, especially kids and every kid is unique. Woodward reaches those unique kids and offers so many different ways for kids to open their eyes to the world of potential and endless possibilities. It happens every single day at Woodward and is one of the things I most love about working for Woodward.

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Campers checking out their GoPro footage.

Chris Gunnarson: One of my favorite memories is of my late grandfather trying to teach me to ride a skateboard when I was 5 or 6 years old. I have been an action sports enthusiast from as far back as I can remember. I grew up in Southern California where skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding were just a normal part of life.

I feel that we need to focus on being more inclusive by offering a more welcoming and positive approach to growing our sports. Our aim is to engage new generations while paying homage to the pioneers who have paved the way. Woodward is the platform to do this.

Why do you think it's important to emphasize and highlight that skate, snow and BMX camps are for more than just “super athlete” kids who are on a pro trajectory?

camp woodward industry deal

Up-and-coming skaters Mariah Duran, Meagan Guy, Jordan Serpentini, and Jennifer Soto and Candy Jacobs at Camp Woodward in 2016.

Swope: It would be great if every kid on the planet could have the opportunity to visit a Woodward as it is so much more than trying to be the next super pro. We have kids attending our overnight camps as young as seven, and for many, it's the first time they stayed overnight away from home without parents/grandparents or down the street at a school mates house for more than one night.

For many of the first-time Woodward campers, it's truly their first taste of independence and self-reliance. This is just as impactful in a young persons life as landing a new move for the first time or meeting their favorite pro.

Regardless of skill level we have thousands of kids each year who return home with a greater sense of self confidence, new friends and of course they progressed in whatever sport they are involved in.

I've met hundreds of Woodward camp alumni over the years and most of them describe how life changing Woodward was for them as a person. Many of them can't tell you what new trick they learned 15 years after they were a Woodward camper, but every single one can tell you the name of their Woodward counselor and the name of at least one friend they met at Woodward.

To be completely clear Woodward is for everyone. We have kids come to skateboarding camp who have never stepped foot on a skateboard – it's rare, but it does happen. Woodward is for everyone regardless of skill level. You can be a complete beginner or on your way to being the next super pro. Everyone is welcome.

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Go Skate Day at Camp Woodward.

Gunnarson: I grew up in an era where it seemed like so many iconic athletes had come up through the Woodward system. The athletes that are responsible for the action sports industry as we know it today.

They were, and still are, my heroes and played a big role in why I initially wanted to make a career in this industry. I know Woodward is still incubating this style of future super-pro which is at the core of the program and the brand – and always will be.

However, as a parent considering choices like sports, activities and camps for my two daughters (now ages 10 and 11) I'm not necessarily looking for them to become super-pros. I just want them to have fun in a healthy environment.

A year or two ago I would have found myself thinking 'Woodward isn't for my kids - they are simply not good enough.' That's where I was wrong and had the wrong perception of what Woodward really is.

Woodward will always be organically fostering the next iconic athletes but it is also the best place to turn a new participant into a lifelong enthusiast. Our industry needs more places like Woodward to cultivate that philosophy.

Tell us a little about Woodward’s program for children of industry parents: how did the idea for this get started and how long has it been available? What are some of the perks?

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Pro skater David Reyes, with a kick flip over the camp fire during some Woodward downtime. Photo: Proulx

Industry people and parents have always had a home at Woodward. Friends you've worked with or have been in similar circles with for the past 25 years are now coming to camp with their kids, which is true of my family as well. This is the start to an official industry parents program launching this month.

Woodward is offering an Industry Deal that enables industry parents to send kids to the best action sports summer camp and get it for the best possible price (35% off). The offer is good through the end of June.

Have you recently made some changes or additions to the program?

camp woodward industry deal

A demo from young BMX talent Logan Martin. Photo: Jeff Brockmeyer

Swope: The last two years we've been busy. Woodward Riviera Maya, located at the Hard Rock Riviera Maya resort near Cancun, opened in August 2017. This project was three and a half years in the making.

In addition to Riviera May, we also worked with Team Pain Skateparks in 2017 on a new 17,500-square-foot concrete park at Woodward PA. In order to recreate the Animal Chin ramp at Woodward West and celebrate “The Search for Animal Chin” 30-year anniversary reuniting the Bones Brigade, Woodward partnered with Tony Hawk, Ride Channel, Powell Peralta and Tim Payne.

We partnered with CA Skateparks to put in a new street area at Woodward West in the Animal Chin vert ramp area. Recently we’ve partnered with USA BMX to bring BMX Racing to Woodward PA.

We are expanding Woodward’s ninja warrior style obstacle course called The Wrecktangle which debuted at Woodward Copper and Woodward Riviera Maya last summer.

We are adding a Wrecktangle to Woodward PA and Woodward West in 2018. The additions of the Wrecktangle are a cool enhancement to our Parkour program and super fun for any kid to try. I could hardly pull my kids away from the Wrecktangle when we visited Woodward Riviera Maya during the grand opening last year.

Overall, Woodward is constantly looking for opportunities to improve and expand the Woodward Experience as a whole and for each specific program we offer.

Where do you see the future of action sports camps headed and what are some of the other innovative ways Woodward will look to keep engaging with youth and creating exciting experiences for them?

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A recent session at Camp Woodward Tahoe. Photo: Walsh

Swope: I will quote Woodward's founder, Woodward is built for the kids by the kids. This is not a marketing tag line; it's completely true. We have 12 weeks during the summer where each Woodward is a small town populated by kids 24/7. It’s the greatest focus group you could ask for if you want to know what is trending in youth culture. All we have to do is listen to the kids and evolve accordingly, which is exactly what Woodward has done for the past 48 years. Above all it's about having fun.

Gunnarson:The future of action sports camps, and action sports in general, has to focus on engaging people in the most positive ways right from the start in an effort to keep them part of the tribe for life. Like Steve said, when we are trying to engage people, kids to adults, we have to remember that having fun is really all that matters.

Added elements like "culture" and "lifestyle" will happen organically if the environment is right, and Woodward shines the brightest when the entire experience is rooted in fun.

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The next generation of skaters starts here.

Skill progression and the desire to 'get better' is a natural human instinct and an important part of staying engaged, especially as kids get older, but again all of that has to follow the driving principle of being based on having fun. Or why else does anyone, at any age, start doing, or keep doing anything?

As far as innovation goes, Woodward has always been known for implementing successful coaching and programmatic efforts as well as best in class facilities that include parks and tramps and foam pits and so much more. Steve and the Woodward team have done such a great job constantly raising the bar in this area. As we grow and evolve to more locations, expand facilities and involve more activities I think that the facilities piece is probably the most visible example of continued innovation, but certainly not the only area where we intend to progress the overall Woodward experience.

It always comes back to the actual experience, individually or shared with your friends, which is why that has to matter above everything else. You can just read about Woodward, or you can come check it out for yourself. What would the 12-year-old version of you rather do?

For more information about Camp Woodward and the Industry Deal, visit Woodwardcamp.com and enter discount code “TWB18” at checkout. The discount is limited to the action sports industry and for new campers only (and excludes current or previous campers) through the month of June.

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