Growing up in San Diego, Mark Sperling was immersed in surf and skate culture from an early age. He got into the music scene and started promoting concerts at the University of California, Irvine working with the likes of Goldenvoice and artists such as No Doubt, Social Distortion and Stone Temple Pilots.
After leaving University in the early 90’s Sperling started working on TV production at MTV. He then went on to Transworld looking after marketing and events including the Vans Warped Tour and Hard Rock Triple Crown. His passion for events, marketing and action sports saw him go on to work at Lollapalooza, Live Nation, Primedia (Surfer, Skateboarder and Snowboarder magazines), Split Clothing, Red Bull, the Hard Rock Cafes, Troy Lee Designs as well as with Tony Hawk producing the Boom Boom Huck Jam.
For the past 15 years Mark has been the Co-Founder and CEO of Group Y, a collective of those focused on youth marketing, lifestyle and expressive cultures. They have run over 250 national live events and curated more than 800 speakers with events such as ASC, Agenda and ComplexCon and so many more.
Find out how Mark has crafted a career within the entertainment and action sports industry for over 3 decades, how he has navigated the changes in the events industry and what future projects he is working on.
Oli Russell-Cowan : You grew up in Southern California, right?
Mark Sperling: Yeah. Correct. I actually was born in Hawaii then my family moved to San Diego, when I was still a baby. So I kind of still have those little Hawaiian roots in me.
Russell-Cowan: With that whole beach culture, it wasn’t too much of a change going from Hawaii to San Diego.
Sperling: It was definitely incredible there because where we lived, we were almost 15 minutes from everything. So whether it was the beach or your favorites surf spots to the mountains. Everything was really close by and the lifestyle there was really about being active. I think the best part was that’s when skate parks were coming. We had Del Mar, right up the road, I had my skate oasis, I had my surf spots.
I was definitely very active, running and triathlons were kind of starting to become a thing at that time. You could go off to the mountains and go camping or run up to the mountains and also go skiing at that time.
Russell-Cowan: Was this when you were in high school, when you got into skating and then started doing triathlons as well?
Sperling: No it was actually when I was much younger. I came from a very active family. So we were into running and cycling when I was very young and we would camp at the beach all the time. So I really got into skateboarding and surfing probably when I was in my young teens. Then the passion kind of grew from there.
Russell-Cowan: When you started doing that were you still doing track and triathlons and trying to combine it all?
Sperling: Definitely. So I was on the cross country team doing track. I would run half marathons, do biathlons and triathlons on the weekend. It was a very busy schedule while training during the morning and then afternoon and then run off to the beach and do all these other activities. So it was definitely fun filled time.
Russell-Cowan: With that location, it’s got that opportunity of going into the hills going for a run, you can go trail running, and then you can be you can hit up the skatepark then go for surf. It’s one of those amazing spots where you can do all that.
Sperling: I kind of joke around, we do the kind of triathlon, our version, a different version of the triathlon where you know, you wake up, you could either run to the mountains, go skiing or snowboarding, eventually come back, hit up one of the skate parks and then go for surf at the end of the day, or vice versa. Start off with the dawn patrol type thing. It was incredible. It was just the perfect location to be.
Russell-Cowan: Was there a crew of you doing that then? Or were you going with family or on your own?
Sperling: A little bit with the family, we definitely would run up to Mammoth and go skiing at that time. Then when I got to high school, I was active in our ski club that eventually would become a snowboard club. Both my parents were very active in the community, and then we would go running or cycling. It was definitely a family affair, for sure.
I had a lot of friends and neighbors that were into surfing and skateboarding. So they would take me to all these different places. I think the best part about San Diego during that time is we had an incredible amount of people that were like the top athletes in each of these different sports living there. So whether it was a Tony Hawk to anywhere from the top runners and triathletes and outdoors people living in that area because it was just the perfect location to do all that.
Russell-Cowan: Do you think that was the breeding ground of having that opportunity and then having those people who were then pushing each other?
Sperling: Exactly, whether it was doing a race on the weekend, you are competing against some of the best in the nation that just happened to be living in San Diego. Going to the skate park and there’s all the guys that you looked at in a magazine where there skating. So it was definitely an interesting time. There was a lot of progression going on. It was the early stages of all these kind of subcultures growing.
Russell-Cowan: How was the music scene where involved with that back then? Linking it in with with skating and surfing?
Sperling: So I grew up in a home that was definitely diverse in the music that we would listen to. Especially also in school, we had a really mixed group of people that went to our school. You’d hear all these types of genres, whether it was 80s new wave to punk, to hip hop to rap.
Living also on the border, we would have to listen to country music in San Diego on the eastern side there. So it was really kind of a great mix. Also world music hearing a lot of that from different countries. San Diego was kind of this one place where it was kind of like we weren’t LA but still people in bands and concerts would still come there.
So at a very early age, I went to my very first concert, which happened to be like a 50,000 person event with Def Leppard as the headliner and this opening band that nobody had ever heard of called Motley Crue. So seeing that. And then back in the day, there was this thing called the US festival that one founders of Apple created. And it was like, the most iconic festival of all time. And it was one of the things when I saw those two, I’m like,
‘This is what I want to do. I want to be a part of this, I want to create this kind of experience.’
And so I was hooked then and just kind of went to all these different concerts. I love the live experience.
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