Adventure sports companies changing the game

A book. The perfect holiday companion, right? Hours spent idling by the hotel pool, the latest John Grisham to take you away from it all under the baking Spanish sun. Heaven? Not for everyone…

As our working lives become more and more sedentary, less toiling in the fields and more tapping on the keyboard, more sitting on the tube than breathing fresh air, the greater the attraction of the kinds of experience offered by adventure companies. This is most likely linked to several factors, ranging from the increased adrenaline rush all the way to the positive mental and physical health aspects of participating in an extreme sport. Some folk’s idea of ‘getting away from it all’ means just that – the book is for reading on the journey there, then the real fun starts.

Adventure tourism is a growth industry. Across Wales alone there are over 10,000 businesses linked to tourism, employing more than 100,000 people and contributing £2.4 billion to the Welsh economy. A 2014 study by Liverpool John Moores University estimated that people enjoying outdoor recreation spent £27 billion in 2013.

In the UK, while we’re not blessed with snow covered high mountains or miles of desert landscapes, we do have a lot of opportunities for folks who love to be outdoors. We’re a small island, so you’re never more than a few hours from the coast, and we’ve a good network of transport links to get you out of the city. And, even if you hate to admit it, the weather we have here is generally good enough to spend time outdoors all year round. A new wave of companies are changing the game for people wishing to spend their spare time outdoors, those who don’t just want to sit by the pool with a book for two weeks – people like you, and like us at London Surf. There’s a huge market for adventure out there, and investing early on in a start-up like us could reap serious rewards. 

Rat Race, now the UK’s biggest adventure company, tapped into this growing demand for “something else” early on, in 2004 in fact. Speaking toMuddy Racein September 2018, founder Jim Mee described the ethos behind his game-changing idea. “We’re not a bunch of ex-military elite-athlete super-humans at Rat Race, which is a positioning we are keen to steer away from where many others covet such claims. We are regular folk who like having a pop at stuff and pushing ourselves,” says Jim. “Our event concepts have evolved over the years alongside a market that has grown steadily and then exploded recently”.

Setting out to create events that were unique and inspirational, Rat Race has catered to over 1 million customers since start up and has expanded into offering “Bucket List” adventures around the globe, as well as developing its own range of outdoor clothing and equipment.  

Another sector that has developed is the on-site experience centre, such as Manchester’s Chill Factore. Launched in 2007 as the UK’s longest indoor real-snow ski slope, it has welcomed more than 3 million visitors and is regarded as one of the UK’s leading visitor attractions. Growth alongside the ski experience has seen other businesses attracted to the former derelict site, with Evans Cycles, Trafford Golf Centre, indoor sky-diving site iFly and others investing in the area. More than 500 jobs have been created at Chill Factore with around 260 people employed in the ski section alone.

The thirst for adventure is not limited to these shores however. Frankie White and Russ Fader set up Ciclo Magicin 2016, offering cycling holidays in France and Spain. Frankie sees nothing but growth in the future, saying “we are a small start up business so we are happy to be building a solid base of guests, some who are returning for their 4th trip. With the continuing growth of cycling as a sport, we can’t see why this won’t develop further”. At the same time, Frankie offers some perspective. “Of course, we would like it to grow, though we will always keep it small scale and bespoke”, explains Frankie. “We don’t want to lose the reason why people come”.

At London Surf, our aim is to create a location within reach of London offering a huge range of adventure sports and activities. Our visionis ambitious, but we like to go big and we plan to have everything in place by 2020. We’re pretty excited by it all, and if you are too, we’d love to hear from you. 

John Sanderson