We’ve all been there: 13 years young, skateboard tucked self-consciously under arm, and a pair of baggy jeans slung precariously low around the buttocks. To tie the look together, two trainers so puffy they would make a pair of Ugg boots seem positively aerodynamic. Skate shoes. Unless you’re among the 0.000001 per cent of people who actually made the transition from gangly teenage misfit to professional skateboarder, chances are that the only skate shoes you’ve considered wearing are classic Vans models, like the Old Skool and Authentic, which have been popular outside the half-pipe for decades. Other models, especially bloated, bubbly styles from the ’90s, were last spotted when your voice broke.
Don’t be too quick to dismiss them, though. Skate shoes have come a long way over the past decade or two. Silhouettes have slimmed back down, simplicity rules supreme once again, and what are left of the oversized designs have been granted a new lease of legitimacy by the fashion world’s fixation with chunky trainers. At the same time, skate brands have been trending in fashion for the last few years as retro styles and informality rule menswear.
What Makes Skate Shoes?
If you don’t already know what we’re talking about here, the clue is in the name. These are shoes designed for skateboarding. It began in the late 1960s in Anaheim, California, when a little brand by the name of Vans began designing footwear for SoCal’s most popular new pastime. Skateboarding was growing fast, and as four-wheeled planks went global, so too did the shoes built to ride them in. In the time that has elapsed since the ’60s, skate shoes have beefed up, shrunk back down, become highly technical and then overtly minimalist again.
Throughout, though, there have remained several constants which have become key identifiers for this breed of performance footwear. Flat grippy soles, reinforced stress points to withstand grip-tape abrasions, strategically placed padding to preempt ankle injuries and the enduring popularity of the ‘pro model’. It used to be the case that most of the brands selling skate shoes were small, rider-owned labels. However, with skatewear itself and the sport’s increasing popularity – 2020 marks the sport’s first appearance in the Olympic Games – many of the big-league sports companies have managed to muscle their way in.
Here we take a look at the scene’s most dominant brands, and the reasons why they’re deserving of your hard-earned cash.
The Best Brands For Skate Shoes
When Nike SB first emerged in 1997, it was received with disdain by the skateboarding community. A global sports conglomerate trying to capitalise on a sport defined by its anti-establishment ethos was never going to be an overnight success, though, was it? Decades on, however, Nike SB has proven itself useful in bringing skateboarding to a wider audience. Plus, with some of the sport’s most iconic pro models – Stafan Janoski, we’re looking at you – it’s not hard to see why the brand has won the community’s respect.
It would be impossible to overstate the impact Californian label Vans has had on skateboarding footwear. After all, it did single-handedly give rise to the entire concept. Key styles like the Sk8 Hi and the Authentic have become skate-culture icons; as popular today as they were revolutionary back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Elsewhere, models like the Old Skool and the Slip-On have crossed over into the fashion world, opening the Vans brand up to a new audience and turning these simplistic skate shoes into a global footwear phenomenon.
You know it best as the brand that’s been making the best canvas basketball sneakers in the game for more than 100 years, but for the last decade or so, Converse has been making inroads in the skateboarding world, too. Cons is the label’s skate-shoe arm, boasting an impressive roster of pro skaters. At its helm, a crack team of sneaker designers tasked with reworking classic styles like the Chuck Taylor All Star and the One Star for the skateboard market. But it’s not all updates on classics, Cons-exclusive models like the Alexis Pro have also gone on become icons in their own right.
Another specialist sneaker brand infiltrating skateboarding is Bostonian big hitter New Balance. The label’s ‘Numeric’ imprint aims to do for skate shoes what its elder sibling has done for running footwear. That is, make the best ones going. The Numeric brand has been in operation since 2013, offering professional-approved skateboarding footwear that features New Balance’s trademark comfort, quality and reliability. Look out for the brand’s pro models from the likes of Jamie Foy and innovative tech like no-sew uppers and super lightweight cushioning.
What? You thought Adidas was just going to sit back and watch as its arch rival Nike cornered the skate-shoe market all by itself? Think again. Adidas Skateboarding is the Three Stripes’ attempt at taking a slice of the skate-shoe pie, fusing classic Adidas styling with technical, skater-friendly features. Expect simple styling, lots of suede and even the odd familiar silhouette or two, albeit with a few skateboard-centric tweaks.
Founded by pro skater Keith Hufnagel in 2002, Huf was one of the one of the labels instrumental in the slimming down of skate footwear. A cult favourite among those in the know, Huf’s shoes, many of which are emblazoned with a large ‘H’ to the side, appear simple and stripped-back on the surface but are actually packed with technical features. In addition to the footwear, there’s also a whole line of streetwear-leaning apparel. Look out for the iconic ‘Plantlife’ socks – a staple in any self-respecting skater’s underwear drawer.
You don’t have to be an avid skateboarder to be familiar with DC. The footwear label, started by Ken Block and Damon Way is a staple brand in not just skating, but in snowboarding, BMX and all manner of other extreme sports. In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, DC had the whole puffy skate shoe thing on lockdown. A pair of DCs was the holy grail of oversized footwear, something that has brought the brand back into the spotlight with the resurgence of bulky kicks.
Founded by a collective of high-profile skateboard pros, including the legendary Chad Muska, Supra is an American label that inadvertently redefined skate footwear. The brand’s best-known style, the Skytop, was and still is a high-top sneaker that could just as easily have come from the latest Maison Margiela collection. It became a huge hit with celebrities and skaters alike throughout the mid ‘00s, establishing Supra as one of the leading names in fashion-forward skateboarding footwear.