A Brief History of the OG Nike Air Max Tailwind Series
The increased attention on more niche bubble-soled sneakers beyond the flagship Air Max lines has rightfully put attention back on the Tailwind series. While it's occasionally regarded as an afterthought of the extensive Nike running catalogue, this definitely wasn't always the case.
First introduced in 1978, and officially released to the masses in 1979, the original Tailwind holds the distinction of being the Swoosh shoe that introduced the world to Air sole cushioning. This effectively laid the groundwork for a large portion of the brand's footwear strategy in the decades that followed. In 1992, the Tailwind received visible Air cushioning and, a few short years later, they would join the venerable Air Max lineup. Once the turn of the new millennium had arrived, the Tailwind was considered to be both a proper performance and style alternative to Nike's annual flagship Air Max release.
Looking back over 20 years later, 1999's Air Max Tailwind IV may as well have been called the Air Max 99. The first Tailwind to offer both heel and forefoot Air cushioning, the Air Max Plus–adjacent IV also showcased the Swoosh runner's boldest upper yet, making the shoe an obvious go-to for both the running and sportswear obsessed.
Now, with the recent Skepta x Nike Air Max Tailwind V Plus collaboration, the original Tailwind lineup is back in the spotlight. It's time to take a quick look back at the Air Max Tailwind series.
Nike Air Tailwind (1978),
The original Tailwind is arguably the single most important shoe in the Swoosh's storied history, and the one that set the brand off on its Air-Sole-cushioned trajectory for decades to come. Released in limited quantities in 1978 for the Honolulu Marathon, the Tailwind introduced the world to the Air-Sole unit, which was pioneered by aerospace tech specialist Frank Rudy and first brought to Nike in 1977. After generating considerable buzz and selling out in a flash in Hawaii, the kicks were released to the masses the following year – immediately becoming a go-to for elite pavement-pounders.
Nike Air Tailwind 92 (1992)
The original Tailwind proved so successful that Nike didn't even feel a need to update the runner for more than a decade. After being supplanted in people's minds by the Air Max lineup, however, Nike finally introduced a new version of the Tailwind in time for 1992's Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Aptly dubbed the Air Tailwind 92, the release thoroughly overhauled the kicks to create a then-modern runner and a lower-profile alternative to Nike's Air Max flagships. The kicks also introduced a first for the Tailwind, and something that would become a tech staple for the silhouette's successors in the years that followed: visible Air.
Nike Air Max Tailwind 96 (1996)
With 1996's update, the Tailwind got its most significant makeover yet. A clear evolution of the design aesthetic first offered up by the Air Tailwind 92, 96's Tailwinds saw the kicks not only employ visible Air once again, but join the Air Max lineup for the very first time. Naturally, the kicks needed a bold upper to match the cushy tooling and they didn't disappoint, perfectly toeing the chunky-yet-sleek line that mid-90s kicks are famous for. There's a reason these have long been considered one of the Swoosh's best runners of the decade.
Nike Air Max Tailwind II (1997)
As great as Nike's first foray into an Air Max Tailwind was, one look at the shoe's leather-centric construction suggests that while the kicks were undoubtedly durable, they probably ran a little hot. Thus, 1997's follow-up was all about breathability, and overhauled the upper with a predominately mesh build to lower the temps. The kicks were also the first Tailwinds to really rock the Air Max aesthetic, employing numerous design cues lifted straight from the Air Max 97.
Nike Air Max Tailwind III (1998)
While the Air Max Tailwind II was all about breathability, 1998's successor emphasised fit over everything, and went with an asymmetrical upper in order to better hug the foot. Other details included a roomier toe box for even more comfort, plus an ample heel. The star here, however, was definitely the overlays which at once called back to the Air Tailwind 92, while also foreshadowing the aesthetic of the next year's Tailwind thanks to its rib-shaped additions.
Nike Air Max Tailwind IV (1999)
By the time 1999 rolled around, the Tailwind was nearly as popular as the main line Air Maxes. Some even say the Air Max Tailwind IV is the most shoplifted shoe in Aussie history. Whether or not that's true, the 'Jailwinds' represented the pinnacle of Nike's Tailwind creations, and the Swoosh haven't been able to craft an apt follow-up in the 20 years since. One look at the IV and its nods to 1998's Air Max Plus are obvious, especially with regards to the tooling; the IV was the first Tailwind to feature Air Max cushioning in both the heel and forefoot. Add to that the most in-your-face Tailwind upper yet (with just the right amount of reflectivity) and you have a Tailwind that may never be beaten. For all intents and purposes, these are the younger brother that the Air Max Plus never had.
Nike Air Max Tailwind V (2000)
The Air Max Tailwind V seems to strike a particular chord with sneakerheads who, in their youth, fawned over the design when it first dropped in 2000. Its distinct quilted upper probably had some sort of newfangled performance flexibility concept, but the slightly updated sole unit didn't stray too far from the maximalist design of its IV predecessor. Nike pumped out quite a few OG reissues and SP-tiered releases in 2020 for the Tailwind V's 20th anniversary, but these drops didn't quite reach the same fervour. As they say, less is more.
Nike Air Max Tailwind V Plus (2000)
Undeterred by the sleeper status of the Air Max Tailwind V, Nike pushed on with the Tailwind revival in 2021. They upped the ante by getting the co-sign of Air Max aficionado and rapper Skepta, who already had a strong run of bubble-soled colabs under his belt. While his previous efforts made use of that particular season's hero style (Air Max 97 Ultra, Air Max Deluxe, etc.), his most recent colab reintroduced the Air Max Tailwind V Plus. Sharing midsoles with the non-Plus version, the upper features tough TPU webbing grafted on to match its aggressive styling. OG editions from the early 2000s remain niche gems among collectors – their Air units were huge!
Time will tell whether Skepta's effort will roll out more Air Max Tailwind V Plus colourways... or if that drop causes a 'Shutdown'.