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Between The Board and You

The History of Skating’s Most Iconic Footwear

When skateboarding first came up out of the west coast surf scene, it came from surfers who wanted to repeat their experience on the waves by putting wheels to wooden boards so they could ‘surf’ on the street. So the very first skateboarding footwear was no footwear at all—most just skated in bare feet.

But soon, skateboarding turned into more than just a way of getting around and started to become a sport. Bare feet didn’t cut it anymore, and the industry of skateboarding shoes took off.

From Bare Feet to Jordans

At first, skateboarding was underground enough that no brand wanted to create its own skate shoes. Most skaters wore whatever was most comfortable (or whatever shitty shoes they could afford) and would stand up to the punishment of hours on the pavement.

When the Air Jordan 1 came out, skateboarders everywhere were hyped — easy to find, plenty of protection, and with strong enough leather to take a beating. Many of the sport’s biggest early names can be seen in skate videos rocking AJ1s, and to this day they’re the most iconic non-skate-shoe-skate-shoes of all time.

They started to be bulky, gigantic, and f***ing heavy.

In the late 80s, brands started to recognize the potential in making skate shoes. Vans and Etnies came out with their own skate-focused models, designed mostly around the framework of the Air Jordan 1s. But soon, skate shoes started to evolve again.

Higher Air, Lower Tops

As skaters started doing more technical, demanding tricks, they realized that the high-top shoes that were popular were too tight on their ankles. They needed more range of motion, and so brands responded. Companies like DC Shoes, Airwalk, Vision, Vans, Etnies, and more started producing low-top skate shoes with grippy soles — partnering with skateboarding legends like Eric Koston and Jason Lee along the way.

Pumping Air into Skate Shoes

Speaking of Eric Koston, he was responsible for another major step in skateboarding shoe design. His first pro model shoe, the Koston1 (developed with éS Footwear), introduced an air-filled absorption pad to increase comfort.

Unfortunately, skate shoes went downhill for a while once skating entered the mainstream in full force in the early 2000s. They started to be bulky, gigantic, and f***ing heavy, and the trend continued for years until actual skaters decided they’d had enough.

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The Brand Battle Takes Skate Shoes Back to Their Roots

As skate-centric brands and major players like Nike battled for customer dollars, they realized that losing sight of actual skaters would be their downfall. And so, like the original skateboarders who rode barefoot, they started to take skate shoes back to basics.

Shoes became lighter, lower, and less flashy. They focused on reducing obstacles between a riders’ connection with their board. Thinner soles, light but comfortable cushioning, and Nike’s Flyknit technology that felt great but protected the foot became the norm. In fact, despite the hatred of Nike as a massive, soul-sucking corporation, Nike SB has actually been crucial in moving skateboarding tech-forward around the world.
Go figure.