‘We look into celebrating the Vans HalfCab 30th anniversary this year. The longest running skateboarding signature shoe in history and more relevant then ever!’
A brief history of skateboard footwear
Curator and Author
At the MADE FOR SKATE book cover we see bare feet on a skateboard – not really what to expect of a skate sneaker book?
When I first saw this photo in a 60s surfing magazine, I instantly knew this will be the cover for the book. We curate our exhibition in timelines as we did for the book. The pioneers of skateboarding were either surfers or inspired by the surf culture and well surfers normally do not wear shoes. Also what we cannot imagine anymore – in the 50s and 60s of the last century people had not many shoes – Sunday shoes for church and a pair for work, but for sure not to shred down skating. Next to that, the barefooted side walk surfers invented tricks that just worked with their bare feet – like the Gorilla Grip jump – pulling the board up with your toes by grabbing its nose and tail! If you bailed you got bloody toes. That was a starting point to think about footwear that are skate able and on a price point to be ok to abuse the shoes.
In the beginning the boat shoes were an affordable option, tending to sneakers as we know today. Flat sole, grippy and it should last. Vans started off in 1966 but produced the first skate specific shoes only 10 years later with the Tony Alva and Stacey Peralta designed “off the wall” style #95 today known as the Era. First they were hooked by the grippy rubber sole and the special offer just to buy one shoe. As we know one shoe is always suffering more then the other. But Tony and Stacy also gave feedback to Vans how to make the shoes better for their needs!
What are key features of a good skate shoe for you?
Let’s start from what I hear from the skate shops. The first thing that always comes up is price and durability. Once that is ticked off, it is about style. If you are older, you may choose high top to protect your ankle. If you are the tech kid, you need more flexibility. Then its about the brand. Are you the VANS guy or Etnies or Nike. From there it is the model that you like most within the brand. These days I see a lot that kids stick to a model. For example, the Half Cab with the mid top silhouette or the Nike SB Janoski signature models as those are inline for long time. The of course there are trends wich are not really based by a feature – more by a feeling and follow. We had times with the super puffy shoes, the tech shoes like DC, Osiris D3. How many skated in the D3 shoes? Brian Reid, one of the founders of Osiris made in impact in the shoe industry as the D3 was even copied from fashion brands. So in a shorter version. Price, durability, style and functionality.
‘Vans started off in 1966 but produced the first skate specific shoes only 10 years later with the Tony Alva and Stacey Peralta designed “off the wall” style #95 today known as the Era.’
What are some of the biggest innovations in skate shoes?
All the technologies we have seen in Skateboarding were mostly adopted by another sport shoes. For example most skaters think that the stash pocket was introduced by Circa in the 90s with the Muska shoes as skates tend to smoke weed and have a need for stashing it. But already in 1979, American architect and running enthusiast Robert ‘Bob’ Gamm had that innovative idea! He developed a pair of training shoes with a small zippered pocket big enough to hold a locker key and a few coins whilst he ran. But we have to give skateboarder the credit that they tried to hide the stach pocket as it was now for other need then storing keys and coins.
The same with the rubber toe cap. They were used in the 70ies for basketball shoes. With the invention of plastic knee pads skateboards started to slide down a ramp or pool on their knees instead of running it out. That leads to a strong force to the toe cap of a shoe and the rubber toe cap was a perfect protection for this part. Also it looks cool! The trend came back a couple of years for more fashionable reasons but its also helps to protect when you do kick flips. Same thing with the lace safer which we have seen in soft and baseball this is a key feature, so you are not tripping over your laces. This was well before skateboarding. Another way to protect you laces were rubber lace loops introduced in skateboarding footwear with DC shoes in 1996 und the eS Muska in 1997.
Another part of the shoe that need protection from griptape is the Ollie section. We saw rubber pads that could be glued to the shoe or later Airwalk shoes nearly complete covered with plastic parts. A special was for sure the velcro attaching rubber pad by the vegan Zero Two shoes.
And padding and cushioning is super important. In 1997 when Nike lost the patent for a visible air pad – éS released the first skateboard shoe with an air pad – the famous Koston 1.
Which skate shoe is the one with the most tech key features of all times by your opinion?
When you take a shoe with all the technology available into one product, then it is clearly the special made Danny Way Mega Ramp shoe from DC in 2009. But it never made it to the market. It was just made for Danny and his Mega Ramp project. If you make the shoe available for the market it would be around EUR300 and how many people ride Mega Ramps?
‘When you take a shoe with all the technology available into one product, then it is clearly the special made Danny Way Mega Ramp shoe from DC in 2009. But it never made it to the market.’
Airwalk were THE shoes in the late 80ies. My personal favourite. Can you tell me how they started?
They started in 1986. A booming market with ‘Back to the Future’ at the time. The nice story about Airwalk is they went into the skateparks and talked to skaters. Funny however the first shoe they released looked like canvas Vans or Converse high top. No difference as they did not want to make anything wrong. A smart move, I would say, was to use a trick invented by Tony Hawk as the brand name. A cool name with a cool logo and they sponsored kinda the who is who at the time. Even Rodney Mullen who was sponsored by Converse at the time was seen wearing Airwalks.
They also sponsored Chris Miller and this what makes the story so interesting. When he was in practice before a contest, he was always skating in the Air Jordan One because he liked the feel and the protection better than the Airwalks. The Nike Air Jordan 1 was the blue print for the Airwalk “Prototype” model as again Airwalk did listen and created more high top cupsole shoes. In the context of time, Vans was bankrupt in 1984. They stopped sending shoes to their team riders. Thats how the famous picture taken by Grant Brittain, happened where the Bones Brigade guys were wearing the Nike AJ1 shoes. Vans had no shoes left. They made slow recovery with a smart partnership with Madrid skateboard and the Fly Vans. So, for Airwalk this was the right time to pick all the hot skaters of the time.
‘They also sponsored Chris Miller and this what makes the story so interesting. When he was in practice before a contest, he was always skating in the Air Jordan One because he liked the feel and the protection better than the Airwalks. The Nike Air Jordan 1 was the blue print for the Airwalk “Prototype”.’
What went wrong with Airwalk though?
Airwalk is still out there but the Brand was sold so many times. They missed a couple of things like creating a signature shoe by end of the 80s. They had one in production for Tony Hawk. His input into the design was that he said he don’t to see any shoe laces – but they never asked him what the shoe should look like. In our book we covered similar stories like etnies and Claus Grabke from Germany. He said the same thing. Etnies sent him three different pair of shoes and he had to pick one without further communications or feedback. So, he did not do it because I thought it was a stupid idea to have his name attached to a shitty shoe. Later he regretted it because he noticed was Natas Kaupas has done with his signature shoe. If he had known that he could make changes to his own signature shoe and really build something from the ground up, he would have done it. So, when Tony received his first airwalk signature shoe, he talked to the Team Manager ‘What the f@$% is that? Are you guys serious?’
When you look at the shoe today, it looks very trendy, very fashy, very cool but back then it was a joke. ‘I will not wear it with my name on it.’ I heard from the designer that Tony provided some feedback to them. They tried to build it all in and make it next level but it did not work out. In the mid 90s there was a Tony Hawk signature shoe. It was super simple because all shoes were simple back then so they missed the opportunity to come up with something like Steve Caballero with dragon skin look alike suede and cool dragon logo. When you grow bigger and bigger, and this happens to other brands in skateboarding like Jimmy’z and Vision Street Wear, you become iconic for skateboarders and so big that the outside world is jumping on it. Like you are in High School and you see all those cool skateboard kids with cool Airwalk shoes. They are just made for skateboarding and can only be bought in skate shops. So, what happens? We heard this story so many times. You over produce, you put it in every shitty store you can. Then you look for different markets and made shoes more for the fashion world which drove the core skater away from the brand.
‘So, what happens? We heard this story so many times. You over produce, you put it in every shitty store you can. Then you look for different markets and made shoes more for the fashion world which drove the core skater away from the brand.’
It is a sellout.
It is a sellout. That is the point. It is typical thing of capitalism. You make something to grow, and it overgrows. The outside money comes in to expand and you lose your focus. If you stop listening to skateboards and only do it for the money, fame or world domination, you will fail.I am giving credits to Pierre- Andre and Don Brown and all other skater-owned brands. It cannot be more real than Pierre-Andre and Don Brown however. This French-British perfect pair of chaos is insane. I would be really bumped if we loose brands like the soletec brands like Emerica or éS. I would be afraid if only Vans is out there as the core skate shoe brand. Then yes maybe skateboarding eventually sold out.
It cannot be more real than Pierre-Andre and Don Brown however. This French-British perfect pair of chaos is insane.
Let’s talk about Nike.
They learned all the lessons from Airwalk, Vision Street Wear and they tried to enter the market in the 90s with Bam Margera as team rider. That was well before his fame with Viva La Bam and Jackass. They had great advertisement with ‘What if we treated all athletes like skateboarders’ where tennis players trying to jump over the fence when cops arrived. You cannot see Bam’s face. He just does a kick flip over the logo. The guys creating the campaign for Nike were Jeff Goodby and Jon Soto, who was a skateboarder in the 70s. But beside a great ad campaign, Nike released a skate shoe that tried to look like DC and it completely failed. Nike was already popular with skateboarders in the 70s sponsoring top skaters like Brad Bowman and Neil Blender was on their Skate Team in the 80ies.
I was not aware of that at all!
Most people do not. Anyway, after the ‘What if’ campaign Nike released a couple of skateboarding shoes. Big Brother brought it to the point during the review by literally shitting on to the shoes. So, Nike decided to get out of the skateboarding market. But starting in the mid 90s to 2005, skateboarding was sky rocketing. So Nike made new approach in 2002 with the right people behind it like Sandy Bodecker. Sandy was not a skateboarder, but he was able to make Nike popular for the soccer scene which is a big achievement. Without him, you would not have seen Lance Mountain on Nike for example. So, when we started our museum of skateboarding in 2003, no one really wanted to support us. As Nike was at the same time expanding into Europe, we had this one call with them. They said that they would help with money but, and that was really cool, they wanted us to tell them what Nike heritage is in skateboarding. So, they did not come with their storybook. We were doing all the research like going through old magazines and searched for Nike skateboarding content.
What are some of the common mistakes for all the skate shoe companies that no longer exists?
To answer this question, let’s have a look at a core skate shop. A good skate shop is run by a skateboarder. You have a board wall, some apparels and skate shoes. Whilst the skateboards come in a few sizes, and you just need a selection of 3 to 5 boards by brand and pro, one shoe model starts at size 4 all goes all the way to size 14 with half sizes in between. So, you have to invest a lot of money for the product, the wall space for display and for warehouse to stock it. Even today some brands are not flexible enough to take the inventory back. So, you need to pick the right sizes, the right model. Trends come and go and for example with Nike, they release three SB Dunks a month. Sometimes you need to apply discounts where you lose money. Coming back to the space. How many brands are out there? 20? Then you have to make a choice. You need to play it safe and that means Nike, Adidas, Vans. How many models do they have and the different colour ways? Huf (RIP) released his own shoes in his store and Nike did not like it and canceled his account. As a consequence, he had to shut down his store in SF back in the days. It was desperate time for him. If you step on the big brand’s toes, you will lose. So you kinda need the key brands but they demand that you take a lot of stock which you as a small store have to sell to cover the bills. So you narrow down the brand you put on the shelf and that puts pressure on smaller brands like Lakai, DVS, Osiris, Adio, Circa – and some of these once cool core skate shoes brands are gone already.
So, what you are saying is that the market is saturated?
You cannot build on hypes forever but also to compete with team riders and advertising is more important than ever. For example, let us take one brand that is still small and cool like New Balance.
‘Huf (RIP) released his own shoes in his store and Nike did not like it and canceled his account. As a consequence, he had to shut down his store in SF back in the days. It was desperate time for him. If you step on the big brand’s toes, you will lose.’
Another corporation brand entering the market!
I know the brain behind New Balance Numeric. He was with Nike SB and had his own skate shop in the UK in the 90s. They do it so authentically like what skateboarding is all about. The style, the team rider. Other brands cannot make it because there is no mothership backing it up. Brands will come and go and it hurts like in the case of Airwalk where they become the cheap chain mall shit shoe. A funny story about Ed Dominick and pro skater Kris Markovich shoe brand called 88. If you name your brand “88” footwear in reference to the best year of skateboarding but you are not aware that 88 stands for ‘Hail Hitler’ in some countries, then you did not really learn your lesson. That was stupid and as in some countries not be easy to get into the stores shelfs – you go out of business quickly.
What is your take on those existing shoe companies, wanting to have a piece of the cake?
The bright shine of the skateboard culture of course reaches the shoe manufactures / shoes brands of the world. We saw Puma in the late 80s ( Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk, Hosoi) and early 90s (Mullen) being chosen by skaters to skate affordable and non-skate shoe brands. Later Puma entered the market with the Kien Lieu Pro Model in the late 90s followed by 2007 a signature model for Scott Bourne “Skate Suede”. Today they played no role in the skateboard scene. That’s a prime example – if you not commit fully to skateboarding you will not last long. Seeing NB hiring the right people (skateboarders) to create a sub division (Numeric) – great video content from a great team and a wide range of different style shoes designed with the knowledge by the big brand dept. for skateboarding from ground up. That’s how you last and make an impact. Especially today a shoe deal is more important to make a living from what you love – so more shoes brands are a benefit for skateboarders for sure.
What are Vans’ secrets to stay alive for such a long time?
Vans started off in 1966 but produced the first skate specific shoes only 10 years later with the Tony Alva and Stacey Peralta era. Vans listened to the skateboarders. When Tony Alva and Stacey Peralta told them what to change to make the shoe better, Vans changed it and looked for new markets. Stacey Peralta was the first skateboarder who was paid. $300 a month as a sponsoring deal .The grippyness of the vulcanised of the classic diamond pattern waffle sole is still, to this day, unique! You know what you get. These shoes from 30 years ago are still on point today – for example we look into celebrating the Vans HalfCab 30th anniversary this year. The longest running skateboarding signature shoe in history and more relevant then ever!
Which skate shoe brand would you like to see revived and why?
Well if we could go back in time (and emotionally) I would try to warn Airwalk not to go in the wrong direction. Fuck Streetwear and Fashion and stay core! They had so many iconic models and riders at the time and it all faded away and the shine never came back – also they rereleased some of those models over the years.
Which is the one shoe company that best represents skateboarding and why?
For me it has to be the first brand that was listening to skateboarders that were considered outlaws at the time. Vans. Dedication to skateboarding, what they stand for. All of this is iconic. Steve Van Doren, the son of co-founder Paul Van Doren, says it is not about the brand, it is about the people. I spoke to Paul (RIP) and I speak to Steve regularly and it is this nice combination of family DNA and listening to the skaters. They adopted skateboarding for their shoes and skateboarders adopted Vans.
What are hottest shoe brands on the horizon at the moment?
Pontus Alv was big with Converse and with his creative energy he released his own shoe brand called ‘Last Resort AB’. A core skater own skate shoe brand again!
What about Cariuma? If Steve Berra is somehow involved in anything, then there are comments that the money comes from the Church of Scientology. Rumours has it that Stereo Skateboards is backed up by Scientology too. They are floating around the market for a long time. Jason Lee had to run away from California because he stepped out of Scientology. Cariuma is on the podium on the Olympics. Got a good team. I personally have to adapt to the logo but finding a great logo these days is not easy. To see Mike Vallely now be part of the team is great. Did not yet skate the shoes – so can’t say anything about the quality but their key feature is to be environment.
What does it take for a new shoe company to make it these days?
The latest hype of course made Luis Vuitton with the Lucien Clarke signature model – but a 900 Euro skate shoe is not really an option for the ordinary skateboarder. Very interesting is Li-Ning from China with releasing the Erik Ellington signature model. Interesting design and great choice of a legendary skateboarder with lots of knowledge of the skate shoe biz (Supra).
Last question. If you could interview one person, who would it be and why?
Animal Chin! Then I would be the one who did find him – finally.
Let’s not forget that skateboarding is not Nike or the Olympics. It is you and the board and hopefully with a couple of good friends. This is the essence of skateboarding.
‘Let’s not forget that skateboarding is not Nike or the Olympics. It is you and the board and hopefully with a couple of good friends. This is the essence of skateboarding.’