To Skate Or Not To Skate

Arguably it started with surfers taking Vans, in the late 60s a beachy casual shoe, and utilizing its grippy qualities for skateboarding. The Bones Brigade did the same with Nike Air Jordans in the 80s. Chuck Taylors were the shoe du jour somewhere in between. For street skaters in the early 90s, Pumas and adidas were way cooler than any Airwalk. Skate-shoe companies logically followed suit aesthetically, copying the mainstream shoes that skaters were riding.

As hip-hop engulfed skateboarding?s psyche in the early 90s, and skaters began rocking completely unskateable shoes (i.e., Nike Air Max, Timberlands) while off board, skate shoes had to compete on an aesthetic level. Skate-brand chill shoes were born and have since blossomed into many forms, from DC?s boots to DVS? slippers and everything in between. The chill-model craze has even launched companies that only make casual shoes marketed at skaters. Are dual shoe contracts in the not too distant future? Let?s examine.

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, but maintains that all its shoes are skateable.

When designing new shoes, companies look at current trends 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 casual and skate is blurry at best. DVS claims that any of its shoes could double as casual kicks, but they were all designed with skateboarding in mind. DuFFS has had crossover success with its Gambler, a.k.a. the Matt Hensley pro model, which was designed for skating but has definite fashion appeal.

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

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

By combining influences from the skate, outdoor, and fashion worlds, Gravis was able to market a product to no one group in particular, yet all of them at once. The concept caused furrowed brows and scratched heads, but ultimately succeeded. “We feel we pioneered this idea,” commented General Manager David Shriber. “There was nothing like Gravis when we started, but (we) knew it was only a matter of time before skate and other athletic shoe labels noticed that their customers were coming to us for shoes?and they?d respond by trying to make their own. Some have come at the idea 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 skate team from the get-go. Big names like Mike York had his pro model, the Fornax, right alongside ├╝ber-chill styles like the Absolut and Cristal. Similar to Gravis? mantra, 4CE?s Travis Blasingame simply stated, “(We wanted) a chill shoe that represented our lifestyle. We design stuff that we would rock and our friends are down with.” It?s perhaps a more urban version of the crossover approach, but it still proved that within the gray area of shoe function was the bedrock of consumer dough.

I Path came out with a unique line about ffive years ago from the creative mind of Matt Field. He couldn?t find anything on the market that he could skate in and craved a simpler skate shoe that harked back to the early 80s. With unprecedented models like the Panther and the Grasshopper, I Paths were an early chill/skate amalgam by way of their mellowed look, as compared to other companies at the time. “By making a shoe so simple without the super-hard sole and the super-tech stiff uppers, it turned into a shoe you could also chill in because it was so comfortable,” explained Field. I Path had the one-two punch of a chill look with skate prowess 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 a lot of skate companies looked to for influence, like Nike, Clarks, and Diesel, are now in contention with skateboarding for the same customer. Skateboarding?s little ace in the hole, though, is what will keep it in the game. You know what I?m talking about?the coolness factor. Chalk it up to whatever you will, artistic minds, skateboarding?s ?core image, et cetera. “Customers who would normally go after their usual casual purchase look toward skateboarding now,” says Tim Gavin of Podium Distribution, which just launched its Clae line of casual shoes to complement its Lakai and DVS skate-specific brands. “Skateboarding is funny?this sport has set trends since I have been involved in it, and it will continue to do this.”

As the influence wheel spins from fashion to the streets and back again, casual shoe racks are expanding, and they?re not just filled with your dad?s boring brown leathers. Sub-brands like Clae have been launched to meet skaters? demands, and the trend will continue. Chill shoes have been a must for skaters on road trips and tours for a decade now, and it is to the point where they have a quiver of shoes to choose from when leaving the house. Like it or not, that market?s there, and nobody wants to get stuck with cold feet.