Sometimes a marketing slogan is, well, just a slogan. Something that gets lip service and little more.
But for Dave Kamena, owner of Kamena Outdoor clothing, whose slogan is “It’s the lifestyle,” it’s one he has followed and espoused nearly his whole life.
When Kamena talks about the lifestyle, he means an active outdoor lifestyle. A lifestyle that encompasses outdoor volleyball, surfing, paddleboarding and windsurfing, among others.
It’s also a lifestyle that puts Kamena and his wife Adrienne in an RV for about four months the past 15 years in search of the biggest and the best of amateur volleyball. They attend many of the largest events in the United States: The Motherlode (of which he is now a part-owner), Seaside, the Pottstown Rumble, the Waupaca Boatride, the Estero Beach draw and more.
This year, the Kamenas and their three kids — 13-year-old Cruz, 10-year-old Ila, and 4-year-old Carlo — are at it again as Dave plays the tournaments while promoting and selling his activewear to like-minded individuals.
“They’re travelers, they’re skiers and snowboarders,” Kamena said of the tournament players and fans. “And they’re people that love all these different things. They’re usually really fit. I identified this person that I had become, and that I was friends with, as a lifestyle. It’s not just a volleyball lifestyle. That’s not what I’m doing.
“I create stuff specifically for that group: Good looking, fun people that participate in that lifestyle.”
When we spoke to Kamena, he was preparing to leave his home in La Misión, Mexico. The trip is shorter than normal, since the King of the Mountain, the Pottstown Rumble and Seaside have all canceled.
Still on the docket is quite a trip, however, starting with Beachfest in Scottsdale, Arizona, on June 27. From there, it’s on to the East Coast Volleyball in York, Pennsylvania on July 4; the Waupaca Boatride in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 10-12; Plastic King of the Mountain in Bend, Oregon, August 24; the Motherlode in Aspen, Colorado, September 2-7; the Big Kahuna 6-man in San Diego on October 10; and Rocky Point back in Mexico at Puerto Penasco on November 7.
“I still believe in that lifestyle,” Kamena said. “As much as I’d love to do some golf stuff and sell hundred-dollar hats, I know outdoor volleyball, and nobody else does the way that I do.
“Nobody else goes to all these events, right?
“There are all these relationships built from playing for so many years. I’ve got so many friends that do it and I love playing it. It’s not like it was a conscious decision, but all these people that I’m hanging out with, we all do the same stuff. We all wakeboard. We love to do the same stuff and play volleyball. And that’s the common thread that ties us all together. That’s what my gear is designed for. It’s that lifestyle.”
This year Kamena re-branded his company, changing the name from Plastic to Kamena Outdoor after over 20 years under the previous name. The change was a long time coming, Kamena said.
“The way that I see it is if you have a brand that you’re serious about and you’re making it work, you call it your last name. You don’t call it some word or something like that.
“If someone comes up to me on the beach with my backpack, and it has a rip in it, that’s my backpack. I give them a new one. I made it. So it just became more and more evident that I needed to put my last name on that product.”
His company also sponsors the events.
“And the newer players, these millennials, they’re just coming up. And I see the look on their face, and they don’t want to see the name Plastic on their gear. They don’t want that name. And I still have a lot of fans for Plastic and it was a difficult decision to make, but at the same time, it was time to move forward.”
Kamena’s passion for the outdoors developed at an early age, beginning as an accomplished windsurfer while growing up in Midland, Michigan.
“I obviously wasn’t a wave sailor coming from Michigan, although there are waves. So I went to Maui to pursue windsurfing and what I was good at was racing. I got really good at windsurfing, I would go out in big waves and do all this stuff, and that would give me what I needed from life.
“I had some wholesale sponsorships and all that but I wasn’t going to make a living off it for sure.”
It was in Maui that Kamena fully developed his passion for beach volleyball.
“I always wanted to get to the top level, and get as good as I could. I looked at the top guys, and I said, ‘That’s where I want to be. That’s the level that I want,’ and it’s not a grind for me, so I played a lot.”
In 1992, Kamena moved to San Diego and found himself competing in in pickup games at Mission Beach. His skills progressed to the point that he earned a coveted CBVA AAA rating at Doheny Beach. He never reached the very top echelon of beach volleyball, although he competed in a few qualifiers and estimates that he has won over $4,000 in prize money over the years.
It was in San Diego that Kamena started the brand almost by accident.
“Just about the time the old-school-short volleyball shorts were beginning to look silly, my friends and I didn’t like the fit of the surf shorts that were available. They were made to fit surfer kids, not competitive athletes. So a few of us got together, searched for some cool fabric, and got to work in a garage.
“I had worked a few days cutting fabric for my neighbors’ jacket company and learned how to make patterns. I worked after dark in the garage with my favorite shorts, taking the best attributes from each style to piece together what I thought would be a good looking, great-fitting pair of beach volleyball shorts.
“A guy named Stanley stitched them up for us in his garage. Stanley had just sold his clothing manufacturing business and still had some machines. The shorts he put together from the pattern looked great but didn’t fit quite right. We changed the pattern, and changed it again, and again.”
Before he knew it, Kamena was getting requests for products on the beach. At first, he sold his clothing out of a backpack, then a duffle bag, to the point where he was kicked off the beach in Seaside for unauthorized selling.
With the relationships he had built at tournaments by playing in them, he began to sponsor events and become the official clothing vendor for the biggest amateur volleyball events across the nation.
Kamena originally intended to become a physical therapist, earning a master’s degree in performance psychology from San Diego State before his Plastic Clothing sportswear line took off.
The name Plastic stems from Kamena’s nickname, given to him at Cohasset beach in San Diego.
“The nickname was really just the guys making fun of me. I’ve always been pretty fit, I got into lifting weights in college and I would get super-tan. My mother’s part Peruvian. So the guys were, ha, plastic man.
“Every time a new guy comes to Cohasset, just like any other sport, the new guy gets hazed. So it’s just a part of the hazing, like it or not.”
Much of Kamena’s work is done over the phone, while Adrienne works as an educational consultant, allowing the family to live in Mexico.
“I grew up in a small town and I really wanted to live in the country,” Kamena said. “I didn’t care about living in the city. I already knew a lot about Mexico, and had spent a lot of time there, so it wasn’t a huge, crazy, scary move.
“We found a place in La Misión in 2008. We rented a beautiful brand-new, beautiful three-bedroom house overlooking the ocean for 800 bucks a month. It was a just an eye-opener.”
The coronavirus pandemic has threatened Kamena Outdoor this year, since many of the largest amateur volleyball tournaments have been canceled, as well as impacting their beach club sales.
And Kamena is also one of the owners of the Motherlode as the event approaches its 50th year. The organizers will make significant adjustments in order to maintain safety standards.
“In a broader sense, the sport, the private sector, private industry needs to figure it out and tell the government how it’s going to be. And that’s how our government should work. A communist government tells people what to do without their input,” Kamena said.
“Our system of democracy is going to come from the private sector. So we all need all of the events and everyone working to create a structured system to present to the government, whether it’s the town or the state, and to make a plan, ‘OK, we had 400 people last year. We can’t have that many and be safe.
“So we’re going to be proactive. And we’re going to social distance. We’re going to space the courts a little more. We’re going to provide hand washing, sanitation stations. We’re going to provide social distancing ambassadors to help everybody follow the rules.
“We need to bring out the facts, the studies that say you’re not going to catch it from a volleyball. Just addressing all those little things and being proactive.”