To Skate Or Not To Skate

Arguably it started with surfers taking Vans, in the late 60sa beachy casual shoe, and utilizing its grippy qualities forskateboarding. The Bones Brigade did the same with Nike AirJordans in the 80s. Chuck Taylors were the shoe du jour somewherein between. For street skaters in the early 90s, Pumas and adidaswere way cooler than any Airwalk. Skate-shoe companies logicallyfollowed suit aesthetically, copying the mainstream shoes thatskaters were riding.

As hip-hop engulfed skateboarding?s psyche in the early90s, and skaters began rocking completely unskateable shoes (i.e.,Nike Air Max, Timberlands) while off board, skate shoes had tocompete on an aesthetic level. Skate-brand chill shoes were bornand have since blossomed into many forms, from DC?s boots to DVS?slippers and everything in between. The chill-model craze has evenlaunched companies that only make casual shoes marketed atskaters. Are dual shoe contracts in the not too distant future? Let?sexamine.

Most skate-shoe companies have at least one chill/casual(whatever you wish to call it) shoe in its line, that?s a given.Skateability, however, is in the eye of the beholder. DC, for example,cites its Blazo, Dash, Swift, Degree, and Hims models as chillers, butmaintains that all its shoes are skateable.

When designing new shoes, companies look at currenttrends to see what?s selling, and they listen to their riders? requests.As of late, these two entities have been on the simpler, slimmed-down and chilled-out side of things, and the line separating casualand skate is blurry at best. DVS claims that any of its shoes coulddouble as casual kicks, but they were all designed withskateboarding in mind. DuFFS has had crossover success with itsGambler, a.k.a. the Matt Hensley pro model, which was designed forskating but has definite fashion appeal.

Leave it to Kareem Campbell over at Axion to ignore thestatus quo and design a virtually unskateable running/casual shoe.Axion?s Dune, one of its most consistent sellers, has a classic 70saesthetic reminiscent of Nike?s popular Cortez. Although Axion salesrep Pat Top did mention that “some of our teamriders wererequesting a more skateable version,” it?s still a prime example ofskaters? need for a 100-percent off-board shoe.

A slew of neo-skate shoe companies have been founded onthis principle alone and have been doing quite well. Gravis appearedseemingly out of nowhere in 1999 and quickly secured shoe racks inskate, surf, and mainstream shoe stores?the complete crossover.Michael Shea described their genesis as “a more casual offering thanmost of the stuff out there at the time. We wanted to make stuff thatwe wanted to wear.”

By combining influences from the skate, outdoor, andfashion worlds, Gravis was able to market a product to no one groupin particular, yet all of them at once. The concept caused furrowedbrows and scratched heads, but ultimately succeeded. “We feel wepioneered this idea,” commented General Manager David Shriber.”There was nothing like Gravis when we started, but (we) knew itwas only a matter of time before skate and other athletic shoe labelsnoticed that their customers were coming to us for shoes?andthey?d respond by trying to make their own. Some have come at theidea gradually?detuning skate shoes.”

In 2001, 4CE wanted to fill a specific niche in the non-specific casual shoe world as well, but it additionally boasted a skateteam from the get-go. Big names like Mike York had his pro model,the Fornax, right alongside über-chill styles like the Absolut andCristal. Similar to Gravis? mantra, 4CE?s Travis Blasingame simplystated, “(We wanted) a chill shoe that represented our lifestyle. Wedesign stuff that we would rock and our friends are down with.” It?sperhaps a more urban version of the crossover approach, but it stillproved that within the gray area of shoe function was the bedrockof consumer dough.

I Path came out with a unique line about five years agofrom the creative mind of Matt Field. He couldn?t find anything onthe market that he could skate in and craved a simpler skate shoethat harked back to the early 80s. With unprecedented models likethe Panther and the Grasshopper, I Paths were an early chill/skateamalgam by way of their mellowed look, as compared to othercompanies at the time. “By making a shoe so simple without thesuper-hard sole and the super-tech stiff uppers, it turned into a shoeyou could also chill in because it was so comfortable,” explainedField. I Path had the one-two punch of a chill look with skateprowess backed by a credible team.

Now that these casual shoes are in the mainstream market,they?ve got to deal with the mainstream competition. Brands that alot of skate companies looked to for influence, like Nike, Clarks, andDiesel, are now in contention with skateboarding for the samecustomer. Skateboarding?s little ace in the hole, though, is what willkeep it in the game. You know what I?m talking about?the coolnessfactor. Chalk it up to whatever you will, artistic minds,skateboarding?s ?core image, et cetera. “Customers who wouldnormally go after their usual casual purchase look towardskateboarding now,” says Tim Gavin of Podium Distribution, whichjust launched its Clae line of casual shoes to complement its Lakaiand DVS skate-specific brands. “Skateboarding is funny?this sporthas set trends since I have been involved in it, and it will continue todo this.”

As the influence wheel spins from fashion to the streetsand back again, casual shoe racks are expanding, and they?re notjust filled with your dad?s boring brown leathers. Sub-brands likeClae have been launched to meet skaters? demands, and the trendwill continue. Chill shoes have been a must for skaters on road tripsand tours for a decade now, and it is to the point where they have aquiver of shoes to choose from when leaving the house. Like it ornot, that market?s there, and nobody wants to get stuck with coldfeet.