Issue No. 179: Adventure Tech

Illustration: Courtney Powell

From surfing to climbing, once-niche activities are becoming booming industries, igniting a lucrative adventure sports awakening.

Outsiders

Claiming the great outdoors as their arena, adventure sports are distinct from organized athletics.

Emphasizing a connection with the natural world, adventure sports culture appeals to the growing number of consumers who covet experiences over things.

Similar to recreation’s renaissance, adventure sports are gaining popularity as more Americans flock outdoors, bringing a surge of newcomers to the summits, slopes, and oceans.

  • Last year, surf shops across the nation scrambled to meet demand; beginner-friendly soft boards drove the supply squeeze.
  • After a COVID-driven dip, US ski resorts logged record-breaking visits, led by an explosion of first-time skiers and snowboarders.
  • Of the five new sports added to the 2020 Olympics, surfing and rock climbing made the cut. This February, the IOC formalized their inclusion for LA28.

But, whether it’s planning travel, navigating the terrain, or securing gear, these pastimes can be exceedingly inaccessible — for beginners and veterans alike.

Leveraging tech, adventure sports startups are working to remove barriers to fresh powder, clean surf, and backcountry crags.

With demand soaring as these new solutions eliminate friction, the adventure tourism industry is set to explode, reaching $1.2T by 2028.

Send it. The rock climbing business has reached new heights. On the heels of 2018’s Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo and sport climbing’s Olympic debut, more US rock gyms opened last year than any other time in history.

Meanwhile, natural climbing havens—like Joshua Tree National Park—have seen record visits. On the digital side, “Strava for rock climbing” KAYA raised $2.5M, while communities like the Mountain Project are gaining momentum.

Surf’s up. Providing subscription-based wave reports and weather forecasts, Surfline has built a community of more than 3M surfers. During 2020’s outdoor surge, it closed $30M from The Chernin Group, the firm backing Barstool Sports, Food52, and MeatEater.

When the waves aren’t pumping, swell chasers can hit manmade surf — developer Wavegarden is set to open DSRT SURF in California, a 30-acre surf park in Tampa Bay, and a Surfworks location in Myrtle Beach.

On the destination side, The Quiver seeks to be the “Airbnb of surfboard rentals,” while YC-backed HOKALI, a surf community marketplace, is busy expanding its services. Elsewhere, Thermal is creating a platform for surfing travel experiences.

Fresh pow. From lift tickets to snow gear, housing to travel, snow sports can be a hassle. But as more first-timers hit the slopes, ski resorts are widening their boundaries:

  • Alterra Mountain Company, owner of headline properties like Winter Park Resort and Palisades Tahoe, invested $344M for terrain expansion, skier service upgrades, and guest experience tech.
  • Vail Resorts is on an acquisition spree, buying a 55% stake in Andermatt-Sedrun Sport (Vail’s first move into Europe) while adding three more Pennsylvania resorts.

Getting a grip on gear, rental platforms like Black Tie Skis and Ski Butlers provide concierge services and slopeside delivery. For apparel, Kit Lender, Slope Threads, and EcoSki offer winter sportswear rentals, with the option to ship straight to your destination.

Finally, for those looking to up their steeze, see wearable tech and analytics startups like SKEO (from Olympian Bode Miller), which employs three wearable sensors to inform racing technique. Digital coaching platform Carv, which raised $2.36M last year, offers smart boot insoles with 36 pressure sensors that coordinate with in-ear professional guidance.

Looking Ahead

Despite exploding demand, the adventure sport market is significantly undercapitalized, especially in comparison to conventional sports. Wary of outsider influence, adventure sport athletes tend to shield their sport from mainstream commercialization, emphasizing community over cash.

After all, many devote considerable time, resources, and zeal to their craft to the point of claiming the sport as identity. A direct result, strong subcultures permeate adventure sports, from Colorado’s ski bums to Yosemite’s dirtbag climbers.

But tech’s entry seems inevitable, especially with recent moves in camping and endurance sports.

In the coming years, startups that can innovate products and platforms that respect the “soul” of adventure sports will come out on top. No easy feat, that will require building upon, not bulldozing over, existing networks and traditions — prioritizing depth over scale.


💸 Investing in Connected Health

As health and fitness continues to evolve, investors are searching for breakthrough companies. High atop its checklist, Samsung Next aims to back visionary founders transforming the industry.

On the Fitt Insider Podcast: David Lee, head of Samsung Next, discusses his framework for evaluating founders in digital health, web3, and more.

We also cover: his thoughts on the future of connected healthcare and his group’s investments in obé fitness and Aviron.

Listen to today’s episode here


👀 Fitness-as-a-Service

Charting a new course under CEO Barry McCarthy, Peloton is shifting gears.

Price point. Rethinking its connected fitness bundle, the company is cutting equipment prices while increasing its monthly content subscription fee.

  • Hardware. The price of the Bike and Bike+ will drop $300 and $500, respectively, to $1,445 and $1,995. The Tread will be cut $150 to $2,695.
  • Content. Starting in July, US members will see the monthly subscription go up to $44, from $39. In Canada, the monthly fee goes from $49 to $55.

Why it matters: A veteran of Netflix and Shopify, McCarthy sees subscriptions as central to Peloton’s turnaround. A departure from founder John Foley’s hardware-focused vision, McCarthy has downplayed the role of equipment, telling the NYT:

“The magic doesn’t happen in the sheet metal… The magic happens on the screen.”

Reducing upfront equipment costs, McCarthy hopes to attract a broader customer base while focusing on recurring revenue.

Too little, too late? As Peloton rolled out its new pricing, activist investor Blackwells Capital once again called for the company to be sold.

In the firm’s view, Peloton has failed to make meaningful changes under McCarthy, causing shareholders to lose another $2B in market value.

FaaS. Positioning the company for a sale and charting a new path forward, Blackwells said Peloton should focus on fitness-as-a-service, or FaaS, by:

  • focusing on software
  • outsourcing manufacturing
  • creating an open ecosystem
  • partnering with equipment makers

In doing so, the firm believes Peloton could become “the central technology platform and one-stop shop for integrating all aspects of wellness.”

Takeaway: As we detailed in Issue No. 176, Peloton’s quest to become the Apple of fitness hamstrung the brand. Forgoing vertical integration, new content/software/hardware bundles are emerging. Whether Peloton pursues FaaS or not, open ecosystems will continue to gain traction.

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⌛️ Pressure Test

Apple Watch won’t be getting a blood pressure feature any time soon. Struggling with accuracy, the tech giant says it won’t be ready until “2024 at the earliest.”

What’s happening: Blood pressure monitoring could be the next big thing for wearables as nearly half (47%) of all Americans have hypertension.

With a stumble in development, Apple risks falling behind:

  • Omron’s HeartGuide is the only FDA-approved wrist-worn monitor, relying on a small inflatable cuff lining the band.
  • Withings has a connected blood pressure cuff and will launch a new generation with digital stethoscope and EKG in the coming year.
  • Swiss healthtech company Aktiia, creators of continuous BP monitor through optical sensors, raised $17.5M last year and is now in US trials.
  • Last April, Fitbit began trials to test approximating blood pressure by measuring pulse arrival time (PAT) with its tracker.

Zooming out: The centerpiece of the company’s healthcare strategy, Apple Watch is slated to receive a host of upgrades, including noninvasive glucose monitoring. For now, though, features requiring clinical validation are coming up short, forcing the company to pursue opportunities in fitness and wellness.

Punchline: Meanwhile, as chronic ailments like heart disease and diabetes remain leading causes of death in the US, wearable makers will continue to rush to develop FDA-approved devices.

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💧 The SWEAT Economy

Move-to-earn pioneer Sweatcoin is doubling down on decentralized fitness.

Need to know: Founded in 2016, the UK-based crypto-for-movement app was ahead of its time.

Incentivizing movement, users earn Sweatcoins for every 1K steps taken. The coins can then be spent on rewards from brand partners.

A powerful strategy, the app’s pay-for-fitness model has fueled growth:

  • 63M users have walked 20T steps.
  • Users are 20% more active after downloading the app.
  • 600+ brand partners provided $200M+ worth of goods in Q4’21 alone.

SWEAT for sweat. Evolving its approach, the company will replace its namesake Sweatcoin cryptocurrency with the SWEAT token as part of a greater ecosystem play.

Teaming with NEAR, a faster, more scalable blockchain infrastructure, the company is laying the groundwork for the “Sweat Economy”– a permissionless ecosystem that rewards all physical activity.

Prioritizing decentralization, Sweatcoin said Movement Validators, like wearables and activity tracking apps, will take over verifying workouts, and by 2023/2024, a DAO will be established to oversee the economy.

The big picture: Ready or not, web3 x fitness is gaining momentum. As blockchain technology improves, gaining wider adoption, companies like Sweatcoin could succeed in making the real world just a little healthier.

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📰 News & Notes


💰 Money Moves

  • Virtual diabetes clinic 9am.health landed $16M in a Series A round co-led by 7Wire Ventures and Human Capital.
    More from Fitt Insider: Weight of the World 
  • Nue Life Health, a psychedelic teletherapy platform, added $23M in a Series A round led by Obvious Ventures.
    More from Fitt Insider: Psychedelics as Medicine
  • Sika Health, a company helping consumers spend their HSA and FSA accounts on health, raised $5M in a seed round led by Forerunner Ventures.
  • Plant-based chicken nugget maker Nowadays secured $7M in a seed round led by Stray Dog Capital.
    More from Fitt Insider: Betting Millions on Fake Chicken Nuggets
  • OpenSeed, a Deepak Chopra-endorsed creator of meditation pods for offices, kicked off a crowdfunding campaign.
  • DUOS, a digital health platform focused on longevity for seniors, added $15M in Series A funding.
  • Better-for-you snack brand LesserEvil acquired a majority stake in plant-based protein bar maker R.E.D.D.
  • Koia, maker of plant-based protein smoothies, landed an undisclosed investment from a host of celebrity investors, including Chris PaulKevin Hart, and The Weeknd.
  • A SHOC, a sugar-free energy drink, secured $29M in a Series B round from a host of athlete investors across the MLB, PGA, and NFL, as well as Keurig Dr Pepper and 7-Ventures.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Functional Beverage Boom
  • Regenerative plant-based protein product maker Mikuna Foods raised $5.6M in a seed round from surfer Mick Fanning, skateboarder Letícia Bufoni, and others.
  • Psychedelics research company Numinus Wellness acquired Novamind, operators of psychedelics-assisted therapy clinics.
  • Nudj Health, an integrated lifestyle wellness platform, added $10M in a Series A round.

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