Chapel Hill: Sports

Taking a look at gift ideas for athletes

Sales Associate and Fit Specialist Paul Hefferon shows a Lole running jacket to a prospective buyer at Fleet Feet’s Carrboro store.
Sales Associate and Fit Specialist Paul Hefferon shows a Lole running jacket to a prospective buyer at Fleet Feet’s Carrboro store. RANDY YOUNG

A certain jolly old elf from the North Pole may deliver the presents come Dec. 25, but the Polar Vortex has delivered the Christmas spirit early this year.

While the weather outside may be frightful of late, or at least frightfully chilly, it’s awfully good for the economy and spurring on our willingness to greet the season.

Here’s a look at what’s likely to be on the gift lists of many recreational athletes this holiday season.

A heated discussion

Global warming may be virtually undeniable, but as temperatures dipped into the low 20s last week, stores stocked shelves with apparel geared for personal warming.

“That’s the main thing we’re starting to see with our apparel sales: the hats and gloves and that kind of stuff,” said Brian White, co-owner of Fleet Feet Carrboro and in the Renaissance Center near Southpoint Mall in Durham.

Popular at Fleet Feet are women’s fashion lifestyle brands like Lucy and Lole.

“They’re functional for running,” White said, “but they’re also fine for wearing to the grocery store.”

White said the fashion lifestyle Capri pants run anywhere from $60 to $100, while jackets run from $60 to $150, depending on the type of jacket and fabrics.

Ayers said NorthFace is continuing to fine-tune the technology in its ThermoBall™ fill jackets, like those in his Omega Sports location.

“Down jackets are not new, and that’s a lot of what you see in the ribbed patterns,” he explained, “but the problem with down is that it loses its technical properties when it gets wet. These new jackets from North Face have ThermoBall™ fill, and it works when it gets wet, so you can wear it in the rain and snow.”

Ayers added that Adidas’ Tiro pants are also a big seller.

“It’s a soccer pant,” he said, “but soccer has become a fashion thing. It’s big among tennis players, because it’s hard to find pants with pockets.”

White said seeing and being seen are key, especially during evenings this time of year.

“The most revolutionary item recently is the Nike Flash — a jacket that basically lights up like a Christmas tree when light hits it because it’s so reflective,” he said. “Now they’ve taken that same material and built into tights and into shoes. There are also now hats and gloves with lights built into them.”

Fun and fashionable more than functional, Ayers said the ‘Home’ T-shirts for $24 (short-sleeve) and $25 (long-sleeve) are also very popular currently.

“They’re from a Greensboro company called Home State Apparel,” he said, “and we’re out of Greensboro too, so we teamed up with them.”

Think warm thoughts

Though Play it Again Sports, in the Indigo Corners Shopping Center off New Hope Commons Drive in Durham, is completely stocked with new and used weights and exercise equipment, from ellipticals to treadmills, sales associate Quantre Via said specialized sports equipment items geared toward warmer seasons are always popular Christmas buys at his store.

“Lacrosse is always big, and our sports cleats are selling well,” Via said. “We sell used baseball and soccer cleats as low as $7.99. We’ve got the hottest baseball bat on the market right now — it’s the (Easton Make Torq) torque grip where the handle actually twists, and they’ve made it legal for high school and college.”

At Golf Galaxy in New Hope Commons, general sales manager Robert Schwarz said shoppers are coming out of the woodwork for woods.

“Titleist just came out with their new 915 series of woods,” said Schwarz, who noted that the drivers sell for $449, while fairway woods sell for $279.

“It’s the first wood to have a speed slot in it,” explained Golf Galaxy sales associate Ritchie Fesperman. “It helps to get the ball up in the air when you strike the ball low on the club face. It also helps to take a little spin off of the ball, and that helps with distance and accuracy.”

Fesperman added that Calloway has just come out with its Big Berth 815’s: the Alpha 815 ($339) and the Alpha 815 double-diamond ($449) for expert players, both with adjustable gravity cores.

Golf Galaxy also offers lesson packages as popular gift ideas.

“We offer a Pro Pack of 26 lessons for $649.99,” Golf Galaxy instructor Bill Lewis said. “That includes labor on free club re-grips, a tune-up on irons and a ball-fitting. You can even split the lessons among up to four people. We also offer 3-, 6- and 10-lesson packs.”

For those looking to save “green” on green fees, Play it Again Sports offers a vast selection of disk golf supplies.

“Disk golf is just huge right now,” Via said. “Our franchise overall has a huge selection of disk golf products.”

TechSpeak

For those looking to really byte into their recreational endeavors, technology always offers an edge.

“Garmin has really expanded their line to be a little more price conscious,” White said of his GPS products at Fleet Feet. “At one point you had to look at a few hundred dollars to get into GPS technology, and now you’re just looking at (under) $150 for a good product.”

Fesperman said Garmin was making inroads in the golf industry as well.

“Garmin’s catching up with Sky Caddie pretty quickly,” he said.

Ayers said VivoFit wireless activity trackers were a nice alternative to GPS technology.

“They’re going to sell really well,” he said. “It’s sort of a step counter, but it also beeps if you’ve not been moving.

“It’s sort of like a Fit-bit, but with this you don’t have to plug it into the computer.”

Businesses say stocking stuffers are always a good bet.

“We’ll have the running Christmas tree ornaments again this year,” White said, “along with a Flipbelt (fitness storage belt). It’s $25, and that’s a belt — more for women — that looks like the waistband you see on the top of yoga pants, but it helps hide keys, a cellphone, credit cards: that kind of thing.”

A sharper idea

Via suggested ice skates and sharpening as a notion.

“We actually have a nice selection of used skates, and we’ll sharpen skates as well,” he explained. “If you have your skates sharpened eight times, you get two more sharpenings.”

“Our Martini golf tees ($8.99) are popular …. shaped like a martini glass,” Schwarz said. “Also, one of our highest selling golf balls this time of year is the softer ball, like a Calloway SuperSoft in white, yellow and pink (12-pack for $21.99). With the cooler weather, it’s harder to compress these other balls.”

“Socks are something often overlooked by runners, so they’re always nice to get as a gift,” Ayers said “We have socks by Balega and Feetures, which is a North Carolina company, and Balega puts together a nice gift pack.”

White said nutritional products, including hydration products by Nalgene, are always good ideas. Ayers said Gu is expanding its product line for the discriminating runners’ palates.

Salted caramel Gu is doing well for us,” Ayers said. “They’ve been putting out some great new flavors: root beer float and caramel macchiato.”

So, with all these sweet ideas, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow ... but let’s get some early shopping done first.

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