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A Brief History: The Evolution of Skate Shoe Technology

Air Jordan 1 Handplant Shot

At a technical level, few sports have evolved in recent decades as much as skateboarding. We’ve certainly come a long way since Alan Gelfand invented the Ollie in the late-70s. All of a sudden, the seemingly impossible tricks we were doing on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater have now become common modern manoeuvres – hell, there’s even 10-year-olds landing 900s.

On the flipside, the technical ascension of skate shoes has been, well, a little less rapid. In fact, you can probably say there have been times of regression intertwined with periods of progression.

While skateboarding as a culture has always rolled to its own rhythm, the footwear that’s been so pivotal in shaping it has, in many cases, been borrowed from other pastimes. However, that’s not to say skate shoe manufacturers haven’t tried – and bailed – in their pursuits to innovate over the years.

Recognising this, Randolph Rubber Company decided to put their own spin on the Keds-style boat shoe, creating the Randy 720. Made with a ‘TUFF TOE ‘N HEEL’ and ‘TUFFER’ Randyprene rubber, the shoe didn’t do enough to keep the company afloat, but it did pave the way for to try their hand at the ol’ canvas/rubber combination.

We had to wait until 1997 to get the first air-infused cushioning system in a skate shoe and, unsurprisingly, it was basketball lover first pro model with éS Footwear – the Koston1 ­– that introduced the visible absorption system. The shoe positioned éS as one of pioneering manufacturers of the era, with other companies like Axiom and DVS also adopting the tech-focused approach.

In the same year, Chad Muska also released his first signature shoe with éS Footwear, becoming the first skate shoe to retail above $100. Featuring PU inserts and lace loops, the model’s most memorable feature – bizarrely – ended up being the controversial stash pocket.

More recently, Hyperfeel technology has been developed specifically for skateboarding, refining the Lunarlon midsole for a thinner profile toward the toes. This works to increase boardfeel in key areas, while high impact areas like the heel are packed with a Zoom Air Pad for shock absorption. It could be the closest thing to skating barefoot since the 50s...

Following suit, major sneaker brands like adidas and New Balance have also entered the skate market, introducing even more mainstream tech to the mix – BOOST, Primeknit, AdiPrene, RevLite and C-Cap, just to name a few. Unsurprisingly, core skate shoe manufacturers are now working to design similar sole innovations to compete with the superpowers of the sneaker world.

Rebellion has always been at the sport’s core, but for many of skateboarding’s heritage heroes, things are most certainly shifting. Skate or die? Nah. Adapt or die.

Header image via The Search for Animal Chin/Grant Brittain

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