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Sneaker Freaker's End-of-Year Staff Picks 2019

Date: December 24 2019

By: Sneaker Freaker


In our roles as the overseers of the sneaker dominion, the SF crew have had plenty to say this year. We’ve given our two cents on Virgil’s Off-White empire, pleaded for the AJ1 to take a back seat, and even deliberated whether La Flame could be hip hop’s new sneaker king. Nevertheless, we’ve reserved some of our hottest takes for a grand finale – which sneakers ruled 2019?  

The last year of the decade certainly dished up a footwear feast, highlights coming through from day dot. So, naturally, picking favourites was no easy task. Travis Scott and sacai’s Chitose Abe duked it out for ultimate bragging rights, remixing the beloved Swoosh to deliver the year’s biggest hits. Meanwhile, the Three Stripes made big strides in the technical footrace, taking 4D technology to the masses. And, not to be outdone, New Balance and ASICS’ cooperative creations were some of most sought-after Grails of the year, owing to the likes of Kith, Bodega, and Aimé Leon Dore.

With all that in mind, which sneaker made the biggest moves in a year dominated by oversized soles, ginormous Air Max bubbles, and heavyweight collaborations? Scroll on to find out, but pls don’t @ us.

Real Tree Airt Force 1

Woody: Nike Air Force 1 Realtree Camo ‘Orange Glaze’

In a year when too much was never close to being enough, it’s always comforting to come back home to an all-time classic and find it’s just as cosy and accommodating as ever. Nike duly delivered a mixed bunch of Air Force 1 nuts in 2019. The experiments in Swoosh deconstruction continued apace, with jewels, tiny ticks, misplaced checks, and perforations all keeping the junior Nike design team occupied. I can jive with these random results, if only because it makes the original spec even more perfect.

Collaborations with G-Dragon and Olivia Kim divided the critics (my money was definitely on the latter) while Travis Scott delivered what will rightly go down in history as the fugliest Force ever released. CLOT revisited their silky concept to acclaim, while both Kith and A Ma Maniere teased low-key heaters. For what it’s worth, my favourite AF-1 colab (if you can call it that) was the short-lived Levi’s option on Nike iD. Sadly, that denim boat sailed while I was asleep (literally) and I missed out on claiming my acid wash masterpiece with the red corduroy Swoosh. Coulda, shoulda, woulda been 100% fire!

The GORE-TEX four pack was a highlight right up until it became apparent that distribution was set to overkill. FOMO turned to playing the waiting game… did you pull the trigger or outsmart yourself? Either way this was one of the most perplexing business-model blowouts of the year. Strangely, I have never seen a single pair on the street. The upcoming poo brown and ‘desert orange’ pair in the second GTX series are straight-up stonks! 

It was also good to see the regional theme come back around, with ‘Shibuya’, ‘NYC’ and ‘South Africa’ releases a reminder of the OG Nike ‘LE’ concept from the dawn of the millennium.

For traditionalists, the slim pickings ranged from a long overdue reissue of the ‘Ivory Snakes’ to staples like the ‘Wheats’. The biggest gripe from OG heads was the quality of the materials – pleather and vinyl should never be allowed to grace the Force’s flanks! – and it ruined several potentially solid packs, especially on the women’s side. The over-embellished ‘Skeletons’, ‘Zines’ and ‘Flight Jackets’ added corny chapters to the Force book this year, while the shaggy Rebel XX edition took bat-shit crazy nuttiness to new heights.

In the end, there was one Force that ruled my universe. Arriving in the first few days of the year, the triple pack with Realtree dropped to total radio silence. I first spied them on the shelves at END. in London but it took me a minute to unlock the innate beauty of the garish 'Orange Glaze' camouflage. Oddly, I’m no fan of orange shoes, but I chewed through two pairs with another deadstock pair already stashed away for Ron. Classy gum soles are the perfect end-point to this on-point collision of ‘Elmer Fudd’ chic. 

The kicker footnote to this post is that EVERYWHERE I went, EVERYONE couldn’t wait to ridicule my ‘Realtree’ Airs! Just remember kids, if you want to really snap necks – rather than flex predictable Off-Shite steez – sometimes you gotta step out on the ledge. It might be cold and lonely out there all by yourself, but I guarantee that playing the pariah is far more rewarding than being a patsy. The best part is that I paid a measly 40 bucks for the privilege of wearing what is undoubtedly the shoe of the year! Shhhsh.. don't tell anyone!

Converse Renew Canvas Chuck Taylor All Star

Audrey Bugeja: Converse Renew Canvas Chuck Taylor All Star

We’ve been seeing sustainable sneakers hit the market for sometime now and rightly so, with consumers becoming more conscious of how their purchases impact the environment. Brands are also taking this movement more seriously, and really stepping up their efforts.

From adi’s Parley in 2015 to Reebok’s NPC UK Cotton + Corn, we saw 2019 bring its own heat. One of the major standouts for me on the sustainable sneaker front was Converse, with their Renew Collection. And in particular the Renew Canvas Chuck Taylor All Star.

Making use of upcycled denim lifted from landfill, repurposed canvas waste, and 100 per cent recycled polyester from plastic bottles, the Converse Renew initiative is evolving the future for the Chuck Taylor All Star and Chuck 70. Not only are Converse using materials in a way that matters, they’re also focused on education and providing in-depth information about their processes and, importantly, their mission for zero waste across the board.

Here’s to 2020, with new innovation, collaboration and tech that can fulfil a consumer’s need, without hurting the planet.

Nike Air Max Plus 3 Hyper Blue Sneaker Freaker

Cesca Benson: Nike Air Max Plus 3 'Hyper Blue' 

Despite its uber-aggressive aesthetic, the OG Air Max Plus feels a bit run-of-the-mill after 2018’s anniversary onslaught. I mean, I definitely jumped on the bandwagon, but this year I was looking for something different.

Enter the Air Max Plus 3 retro. It’s the weird, younger sibling of the OG – and even more insane. From the exaggerated heel cap/shank combo to the fancy af material Tuned Air tag on the midsole, they’re a mental mess of attention-stealing details.

Not only do they look incredible, but they get my vote because they were my most satisfying purchase of the year. After weeks of raging that the men’s version didn’t go down to my size, I unexpectedly happened upon them in GS sizes – front bubbles and all – and pulled the trigger immediately.

Cactus Plant Flea Market X Nike Air Vapor Max

Gabe Filippa: Cactus Plant Flea Market x Nike Air VaporMax

One of the hottest labels on the planet, Cactus Plant Flea Market (CPFM) are in a league of their own. Powering the DIY sneaker scene with customisable renditions of the Nike Blazer and Air Force 1, it’s Cynthia Lu’s Air VaporMax that really electrified (the Friends and Family edition literally came with full-length light-up neon tubing). 

Surely one of the most impressive sneaker debuts in history, the CPFM VaporMax featured playful 3D puff lettering, a garden-wired Swoosh, exposed-seam mesh uppers, and a tripped-out interpretation of Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan. My only gripe? The label’s so damn elusive, it's nearly impossible to find!

Adidas Skateboarding Aloha Super Wallenberg Mark Gonzales Sneaker Freaker Shot1
Adidas Skateboarding Aloha Super Wallenberg Mark Gonzales Sneaker Freaker Shot4
Adidas Skateboarding Aloha Super Wallenberg Mark Gonzales Sneaker Freaker Shot3
Adidas Skateboarding Aloha Super Wallenberg Mark Gonzales Sneaker Freaker Shot2

Jacob Boyd-Skinner: adidas Skateboarding Aloha Super ‘Wallenberg’

2019 has been a wild ride in Sneakerland. The sheer number of overhyped celebrity-endorsed releases, and onslaught of designer colabs, has been all too much for this skate buff. I’m no longer interested in entering all my details into the raffle for every weekend's release. Do you know how valuable that data is?! 

My criteria for Sneaker of the Year is usually something I actually wear. But, this year I had to make an exception... Two months ago, I broke my left leg. So, while that heals, I've been rocking a steady procession of plaster casts, moonboots and compression socks on that sore and sorry left leg. Whilst it was entertaining to wear the right foot sample of the 2006 Nike Wildwood 90 Free Trail that I found in a dark corner of SF HQ, I wasn’t going to stop filling my wardrobe. 

In November, I copped the adidas Skateboarding Mark Gonzales Aloha Super. The second iteration of the silhouette from the Trefoil's skate division. It sat in the right sphere. Mark's an icon in skateboarding, the silhouette’s street-ready, and the materials are on-point! The neat blend of suede and leather, canvas detailing on the toe box, and salmon-hued embroidery had me drooling.

So I pulled the right foot of the icy-soled sucker straight out. BIG surprise, it got real dirty at a party. Oh well, at least the left shoe is still box fresh!

Nike Air Max 1 Golf Nrg Safari

Boon Mark Souphanh: Nike Air Max 1 Golf NRG 'Safari Bred'

You’d think working for the world’s premier sneaker publication would make copping sneakers a breeze. Well, the inconvenient truth is that we take Ls, too – and 2019 has been full of ‘em. The sneakersphere as we know it has changed forever, but thankfully Nike and Jordan Brand are giving golf hacks like myself a chance at copping some fire for the fairways, just like the Air Max 1 Golf NRG 'Safari Bred'.

After being forced to fork out resell prices on the Air Jordan 11 Low Golf ‘Concord’, I meticulously prepped my assault on these – the old fashion way – via the archaic ‘refresh and add-to-cart’ approach. Praise the sneaker gods, the confirmation email soon appeared in my inbox, despite some agonising checkout lag and site crashes. They were mine… Just.

Now, the actual sneaker is nothing game-changing (literally and figuratively – still can’t hole a putt to save my life), but it does perfectly combine two of my all-time favourite Swoosh elements: wild ‘Safari’ print and the timeless ‘Bred’ scheme. The combination is simply fierce as f***. 

Hell, if Nike and atmos teed these up without the course-ready tread, it would be a bona fide major winner.

Lucky for me, they didn’t… We all deserve a ‘W’ once in a while. 

Nike Daybreak Sp Sneaker Freaker On Foot

Anthony Nguyen: Nike Daybreak SP

A shining beacon in a sea of collaborations and exclusives, this Nike Daybreak SP is a sneaker that, at time of writing, can still be bought from for ONLY $100. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good colab as much as the next guy. I’ve even bought a few myself this year… However, I can confidently say that my favourite cop this year is one that didn’t force me to:

  • remortgage my house
  • brawl a dude in queue
  • talk to a reseller
  • take an L.

The beauty of the Daybreak is that it’s just so simple. Resurrected from the late 70s, the modern Daybreak features a textured construction of suede and mesh, an elegant silver swoosh, and a classic waffle sole. THAT’S ALL. No gaudy “logos”, no double tongues, and definitely no reverse Swooshes. 2020 will be the year of the GR. I’m calling it now.

Basement X Nike Air Max 90

Morgan Weekes: Basement x Nike Air Max 90

Working for Sneaker Freaker out of the UK, I really enjoy seeing the work that local stores, creatives and collectives put out there. That collective effort came together with three UK-exclusive Air Max 90s that dropped in collaboration with The Basement earlier this year. Each shoe was tied to one of three cities – Manchester, Glasgow and London – with themes, materials and Easter eggs based upon those metropolitan locations. They're all great, but if I had to pick one it would be the London rendition.

Nike Air Max 2 Light Blue Lagoon Ao1741 100 Hero

via 43einhalb

Mykal Hoang: Nike Air Max2 Light ‘Blue Lagoon’

When I looked back at 2019, and the year of sneakers that had been, I was forced to also relive the rollercoaster of emotions entwined with my imbalanced amount of Ws and Ls. At my highest high, the Swoosh resurrected my beloved TN3 and Tailwind 4 which had me absolutely soaring. At my lowest low, the devastating feeling that’s attached to not winning a single raffle for the Sacai LDWaffle inspired an entire catalogue of Drake-influenced heartbreak ballads. Could it be that this is what my own sneaker evolution has come to? Am I now defined by my wins and losses?

Though I often find myself caught up in the hype, convincing myself that I like a certain style because social media says to, I am also humbly reminded by my personal collection that I am, in fact, a very emotional buyer. As I write this, and stare at the stack of red boxes I’ve amassed this year, I adopt a Marie Kondo approach to identify which pair it is that ‘brings me the most joy’. Could it be any of the big brand collaborations? The multiple pairs of marked down NB 990V4s that I never knew I needed? Or is it the big-bubbled-beasts that I have a natural affinity for?  

While it was tempting to pick some of the more hyped releases as my shoe of the year, I’ve chosen to reflect on one of the core attributes that sneaker collecting offers us as shoe-lovers: sentimentality. When I look at my ‘Blue Lagoon’ Nike Air Max2 Lights, I remember the weather of the day I bought them, the service I received, who I was with, and the particularly nice lunch that I had eaten beforehand. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this is how all shoe purchases should be treated, or even that I remember the back story to every sneaker I own, but in this current climate of vicious re-selling and the revolving-door lifespan of sneaker-hype, it sure is nice to be reminded of why I got into this in the first place.

New Balance Omn1S Pair

Ged McMahon: New Balance OMN1S

In years to come, when people look back at 2019, it will be affectionately remembered as the year of Kawhi Leonard. In June, The Klaw led the Toronto Raptors to their first ever NBA Championship, and the entire basketball world couldn’t stop talking about the self-professed ‘Fun Guy’. Sure, he’d won a Championship with the San Antonio Spurs back in 2014, but this seemed different. In all reality, the Raptors were Kawhi’s team, and he led them to the promised land – noticeably stopping off to drop an instantly iconic game-winning shot against the 76ers in the Eastern Conference semi-final series.  

And what was Kawhi wearing during that awe-inspiring post-season run? The New Balance OMN1S – the cornerstone of NB’s reemergence on the hardwood. Featuring a full-length FuelCell midsole, 3D Ultra Heel construction, and an infused FitWeave upper, the OMN1S delivers a long-lasting, locked-in fit. And while the silhouette seemed hard to come by at first, that early scarcity seemed to match the intrigue around exactly who Kawhi was, and what made him tick. Ultimately, it was this element of mystery that made Kawhi the perfect match for New Balance’s move into basketball.  

According to Jonathan Grondin, Creative Design Manager at New Balance, ‘Game speaks for itself’. Grondin further supported that synergy between Kawhi and NB by saying, ‘The OMN1S was built for a player like Kawhi Leonard that can do it all. It’s designed to represent what we want New Balance to represent on and off the court.’ 

As for my preferred colourway of the OMN1S, it has to be the White Gold – a perfect match for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. 

Kiko X Asics Gel Korika

via Up There Store

Seb Bugeja-Drinkell: Kiko Kostadinov x ASICS GEL-Korika

I’ve enjoyed every single Kiko release since the GEL-Burz first saw the light of day. Although there have been a number of crazier releases this year, such as the GEL-Sokat and GEL-Delva, the GEL-Korika has resonated with me the most.

The first time I saw the model that merged the GEL-Nimbus 21 with the GEL-Burst RS was through the campaign imagery. Humourous, interesting and fun, it was shot by German photographer Juergen Teller. It featured Juergen himself wearing and modelling the kicks in a number of holiday scenarios. I was sold. 

On the day of my purchase, strictly speaking, I really shouldn’t have bought the GEL-Korikas. I was running low on funds, and was on my way home from an expensive dinner, but I did it anyway. 

The simple design strays away from what Kiko has been doing recently, with both the GEL-Sokat and GEL-Nepxa releases. Its make-up is similar to the GEL-Burz (which sadly, I missed out on) and I think that’s why I fell in love with the GEL-Korikas so quickly. They also brought back memories of Mum forcing me to wear dead ASICS runners to school. If I told my younger-self that in the future I’d be spending an exorbitant amount on basically the high-fashion equivalent of my school shoes I would've laughed long and hard. That said, ever since my pair of GEL-Korikas arrived in the mail they've been on my feet pretty much every day. So they've been well worth the price.

Minh Nike Air Ghost Racer 2019 Retro On Foot

Minh Vuong: Nike Air Ghost Racer 

As you can gather from this year’s list, it’s pretty Nike-heavy – only because they killed it once again this year. It was only July, but I already knew what my pick would be: the Air Ghost Racer retro. Despite a track record of close-but-no-cigar back catalogue reissues, the Swoosh got the Ghost Racer just about bang on.

I had the benefit of comparing the OG 1999/2000 pair to the retro, and just about every detail has been replicated: colour, mesh type, and the all-important pointy shape. Sure, there are minor tweaks here and there, but they’re miniscule. They bear the very deserved ‘Recrafted’ tag, and very much set the example for retros going forward, from both Nike’s vault and other brands. We often make admissions for the perceived lack of comfort from most retro models, but the Zoom Air and faux-carbon medial post means foot fatigue is non-existent.

The endlessly fluctuating number of sneakers in my collection means I don’t often practise the ‘one to rock, one to stock’ adage of doubling up. But with these, I Insta-copped two pairs a full week before their official release! Like many obscure models from the 2000s era, it remains heavily slept on. Time to triple up, I guess... Your loss, my gain.

Other sneakers from the back half of 2019 that need honourable mentions: Scarr’s Pizza F&F Nike Air Force 1, adidas Rivalry Low retro, nanamica x Reebok Club C Stomper, Aries Arise x New Balance 991, and BEAMS x Clarks Desert Rock.

Clot Nike Air Max 97 Volt 1

Nova: CLOT x Nike Air Max 97 Haven 

I’ve always been a fan of kicks that people don’t really get at first, the ones where they first go ‘uuooh’ whilst slightly unsure of themselves, following up with ‘aaahh’ as they begin warming to the kicks on my feet, all before asking the big question - ‘what are those?’ (if you read that in Young Busco’s meme voice, that’s not what it sounds like… although, yeah, sometimes that happens too). This is how I felt about the CLOT x Nike Zoom Haven 97s when they first came out in August this year, especially in that wicked ‘Volt’ colourway.

There was just something so not-Nike about them: the shape, the colour-blocking, the laces, the toe box, everything. And where the hell was the Swoosh?! It was mayhem on a shoe. Although I wasn’t trying to drop nearly two bills on these lime fellas, so I sat waiting patiently for the sale. Thank you to the best friend who eventually bought them for me for my birthday.

These are hands down the most beloved pair of sneakers that I have in my collection right now. So unusual and yet so, so clean. I whip these CLOTs out of the box when I’m feeling especially adventurous and social, knowing I’ll have a few people’s curiosities to attend to that day. More like these please, Nike!

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