Matt Niswonger

The Power of Play

A view from the water at the 2013 Mavericks Invitational, with Pillar Point Air Force Station visible in the background. Photo: Mike DeGregorio

Diane Ackerman, in her influential 1999 book Deep Play, identified the existence of a type of play sought by adults that unleashes a latent and highly creative part of our minds. For Ackerman, deep play is a somewhat enigmatic phenomenon. For example, some adults don’t seem to engage in play very often, while others spend their entire lives devoted to it.

For those of us who have carved out careers in the outdoor industry, the long hours and low pay are mitigated by the fact that going outside to blow off steam and recapture our sanity is accepted and even admired in this line of work. Yes, we’ll do the long days at the tradeshow, but only because we get to go skiing, riding, climbing or surfing afterwards. Time spent in the pursuit of play is accepted and encouraged in the outdoor community, and this is why we stay in the tribe.

For everyone who skipped the NFL playoffs in mid January to watch the 2013 Mavericks Invitational surf contest online, the heavy side of deep play was on full display. With onlookers, rescue personnel, and the media standing by, the excitement level was intense. While the waves only ended up being half the anticipated size, it was impossible not to admire the competitors, especially winner and Santa Cruz native Peter Mel, who amazed everyone by splitting the prize money with other finalists. This was a classy move from a man who has long been an ambassador for the sport.

I am sure Mel could have used the money—he’s got a family and bills just like the rest of us—but clearly his gesture was designed to make a statement. For him, surfing is not just about the money. It is safe to say that the power of this noble gesture will resonate throughout the surf industry for quite some time.

With this in mind, we look to innovative outdoor educator Peter Mayfield. A true Californian in the best sense of the word, Mayfield is somehow still flying below the media radar, despite being a trendsetter for decades. For example, few people know that Peter opened one of the world’s first climbing gyms, and that he basically invented the urban climbing gym as we know it. In his first ever feature piece for ASJ, journalist Brad Rassler does an excellent job of highlighting the impressive contributions of this true “maverick.”

While he may not use the term deep play, Mayfield has devoted his life to sharing and defining the adventurous state of mind that he believes is intrinsic to the Sierra. As an educator and thinker, ASJ expects Mayfield to have a growing impact on California and even on the nation going forward.

Regular contributor, Leonie Sherman is a huge fan of deep play in the Sierra. Her backcountry adventure in Tuolumne Meadows is a helpful resource for those who are willing to put in the necessary work. The reward is access to a pristine alpine landscape that feels remote but is suitable for intermediate backcountry explorers who are fit and have snow camping skills.

ASJ’s beer editor Derrick Peterman introduces us to The Can Van, a mobile canning solution for smaller breweries. Peterman always has his finger on the pulse of the handmade beer movement, and the significance of The Can Van for emerging craft brewing entrepreneurs is not lost in his informative story.

At the Outdoor Retailer trade show in late January, I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Whittaker, the first American on Everest, and a former CEO of REI. Way back in 1963 Whittaker made the bold prediction that he would be the first American to stand on top of the world, even before the expedition ever left America. The 1963 expedition that took place is celebrating its fifty-year anniversary this year, and four original members (!) will be in attendance. You can check out my account of the ambitious and ultimately successful endeavor Fortune Favors the Bold.

Snowskating is becoming a popular way to bring a skateboarding attitude to the slopes without the hindrance of bindings. Despite a reputation for being difficult, many are finding the opposite to be true. To learn more, check out Melissa Spiers entertaining and informative write-up.

Finally, Haven Livingston shows us some gorgeous hiking options through Mt. Tamalpais, Julie Brown introduces us to pro snowboarder Iris Lazzareschi, and Chuck Graham experiences the rugged side of the San Rafael Wilderness.

Our highest priority at ASJ is to be a platform for writers, photographers, athletes, and businesses that are genuinely devoted to deep play in California. At the risk of sounding corny, we truly believe that deep play is what our culture needs more than anything else right now. If this issue inspires one person to carve out a little more time from their week to define what this means for them personally, then we’ve done our job.

— Matt Niswonger