Nobody wins until everybody wins

ASJ founders Cathy Claesson and Matt Niswonger at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. 

An important conversation is happening within the outdoor industry right now, and this conversation revolves around outdoor inclusion. 

Simply put, outdoor inclusion means opening the benefits of the outdoor lifestyle to everyone. For decades the outdoor industry has been recognized as a leader in the area of environmental sustainability, but when it comes to diversity there is much less to get excited about. 

In my mind, the first step towards inclusion is stepping back to see exactly who gets to participate in the outdoor lifestyle. When I paddle out to my favorite surf break in Santa Cruz, who do I see? When I go to the climbing gym, who do I see? When I stand in line for a lift ticket at a ski resort, who do I see? When I go mountain biking, who do I see? Mostly I see other white people just like myself, and that’s a problem. In order for the outdoor industry to thrive and reach its potential in the coming decades, this needs to change. We need to make other groups feel welcome. 

In the last issue I talked about my yearning for an updated version of Jesus, a “Green Jesus” who comes to save nature and tells humans to spend more time playing outside. This version of Jesus is all religions, all races, all genders and all body types and s/he is pissed off right now because all we do is hang around indoors and make each other wrong on social media. Instead we need to challenge ourselves in the great outdoors and climb, bike, ski, and surf until we reawaken our natural sense of awe. Only then will we be in a position to save nature; when it comes from the heart. If only white people feel comfortable playing outside, then everyone else is cut off from the simple joy of reconnecting with nature.

The message of Green Jesus is that outdoor adventure is a basic human need, and the current dysfunctional state of humanity can be traced back to the fact that so many humans have been cut off from their truest selves. Through Green Jesus we see that inclusion and environmental sustainability are two sides of the same coin. In other words, in order to save nature we also need to save humans.

Inclusion is the right way to approach this problem, and that presents the outdoor industry with an important responsibility. That said, we can’t just give lip service to this issue and pat ourselves on the back. We need to start asking tough questions and we need to start having some difficult conversations. For example, why aren’t more white CEOs of large outdoor companies stepping aside to allow more diversity in leadership positions? Why are all the outdoor clothing catalogues filled with skinny people and no plus-sized athletes? 

Right now, sincere efforts are being made to invite women, persons of color, the LGTBQ+ community, plus-sized individuals, and non Judeo-Christian faiths into the great outdoors. That said, we are only at the beginning of this process and it’s already difficult. Not everyone agrees that inclusion is the right way forward. Some people say that public lands are already too crowded and all the conversations about racism and white privilege are just making things awkward.

In Buddhism, bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who postpone their own salvation in order to help others achieve enlightenment. Here at Adventure Sports Journal we are American Jedi bodhisattvas designing a life that revolves around outdoor adventure. We were lucky enough to discover the adventure medicine at a young age, but we are not content to live a life of joy and freedom while others wallow in misery. We seek inclusion because one of the hallmarks of authentic happiness is also wanting happiness for others. We seek inclusion because nobody wins until everybody wins. 

Do you believe the outdoor industry should work for inclusion or do you believe opening the outdoors to everyone is unrealistic, utopian, and possibly dangerous?

If you have an opinion either way, please drop me a line at matt@adventuresportsjournal.com. We value your input and try to include as many letters as possible in every issue.

—Matt Niswonger

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