On November 18, 2002, one week before the first Sneaker Freaker magazine was released, the forum was launched as a hub for discussion based on the finer points of footwear aficionadoism. To be honest, I had no plan and no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that NikeTalk and Crooked Tongues were the existing benchmarks, and forums were seen as an essential part of any half-decent website.
Fuelled by explosive growth in the scene, the forum grew rapidly as members from all over the world hit the boards. Set on preserving the sanctity of their safe haven, the mods and members were notoriously tough on newbies. Those who survived the gruelling initiation eventually found themselves endorsed and respected. To be frank, the forum was a place for extreme sarcasm, questionable humour and tough love, but it was a real community with real emotional bonds. Once you were in, you were in.
Over time, the rules and etiquette became highly evolved and the forum took on a life of its own. Language was invented, tee shirts printed, events planned, international shopping missions organised and the occasional raid executed. One time a full size run of Nike Yeezys popped up online at Shelf Life in Cape Town. Once word got around the forum, every pair was cleaned out in a matter of minutes. Those were the days!
At some point, brands started to pay attention to what we were saying late at night from our desktop computers. Pre-social media, there was no vehicle for consumers to offer direct feedback, so this raw, unfiltered criticism was shocking. In the early days especially, I was asked to delete salty talk practically every week by the powers that be. Sometimes I did, mostly I didn’t. ‘You can’t let them get away with saying that!’ was the common refrain. Brands got used to it in the end – they had to.,
When Facebook and Instagram arrived, the forum’s days were numbered. Developers stopped updating the software and the audience drifted off to greener pastures with smartphones in hand.
In September 2017, we upgraded the Sneaker Freaker website. By this point the forum was a shadow of its former vibrant self. Spambots and DDOS attacks were a chronic pain in the ass. Beyond the technical issues, the forum’s human viability was questionable – to be frank it was culturally obsolete long before we made the decision to euthanase. Like nearly all the other big forums from that era, the jig was up.
We considered holding a funeral and throwing a wake for the greybeards, with a keg and one last round of banter, but in the end the forum vanished on September 30, 2017. Damn close to 15 years of history, with more than a million members and over 500,000 thoughtful, hilarious and pointless posts.
But the legacy remains. Not just in the digital archive that still exists, but in the memories, the legendary late night skirmishes and most of all, in the life-long friendships forged.
Preoccupied with the magazine, I hadn’t actually put much thought into the closure of the forum until I asked some of its most prolific members to write a eulogy. Reading Mark Gale’s account was surprisingly emotional and oddly affecting in a way that caught me totally by surprise. Who knew that shit-talking on the internet would produce such profound experiences for so many people?
To all those who were there, we salute you! Thanks to Matt from Monkii for building the original forum and solving the endless tech issues. To the mods, brendan and mik_git, thanks for the endless spam resistance and banzoring. Sometimes we don’t know what we’ve lost until it’s gone – even if it was a bit crap in the end. C’est la vie!
FORUM MEMOIRS: PART 1 – XDRIFT
At the turn of last century, before Sneaker Freaker existed, there was nothing. And before the forum started in 2002, no one knew anyone. I wasn’t even aware people like me existed, outside of a few basketball nerds who also loved the words ‘Air’ and ‘Jordan’ together on a shoe. Then one day I was in General Pants (shhhhh, don’t tell anyone) and I distinctly remember picking up a copy of Sneaker Freaker. It was like a lightbulb went on in my pitch black brain! The magazine was everything I was interested in, but it was $10, so I flicked through the pages and put it down. I went home, Googled ‘Sneaker Freaker’ and discovered the forum. There was life outside.
Unsure of my identity, I lurked. When an announcement was made through the forum about a magazine launch event, I was intrigued. Not thinking, I headed down in my work attire – proper dress shirt and proper leather shoes – and immediately realised I was incredifuckinglutely out of place. Not knowing what to do, I bought a copy of the mag to hide behind and was lucky enough to meet Hans DC – aka the Sultan of Sneakers of the 3000, aka the Asian Benjamin Button, aka Baby (Ghost) Face Killah, aka Sneaker Freaker employee numero uno. Hans immediately made me feel welcome, pointing out notorious forum members such as MaskedHater and Memphis.
Suddenly, the mystical online world was reality incarnate. I was amazed. These hitherto ‘anonymous’ heads came from all walks of life, in all shapes and sizes, connected through a prism of sneakers that was powered by nostalgia, childhood memory and a love of design – and because we lived to covet, touch and smell the things on our feet.
It was a revelation. I attended every Sneaker Freaker swap meet and magazine launch after that. Those early events were a networking machine at a very organic time in the history of Melbourne. Everyone was doing – or about to do – something on a variety of platforms. DJs, beat makers, promoters, designers, artists, label owners, club impresarios, restaurateurs and entrepreneurs all came together at those events.
My addiction progressed quickly, as my taste for acquiring heat picked up. Collaborations buzzed, brands cross-promoted with artists and musicians, and my wallet emptied uncontrollably just to have what the next man couldn’t. Instacop. Robocop. Triplecop everything I liked.
When the Air Jordan DMP pack arrived, I knew I was way out of my depth. It was a US-only release in super limited numbers and while I had a friend in Japan sending me proddy, I had zero connects Stateside. At this point I really couldn’t lurk silently anymore. I wanted in. So I made myself known – trading, hustling and soaking up as much game as I could from forum members older and wiser than me. Most importantly, I rarely backed down on a (lighthearted) beef and I never left. I was on that forum every day. All day.
The forum itself was a highly regulated community with a solid set of rules, but the unwritten etiquette was harder to interpret. If you got it wrong, you were flame grilled! The forum moderators, who were good with people and technically minded, were more knowledgeable about shoes than most. They ruled with an iron fist and enjoyed their power. Along with top-tier regulars, serial lurkers and brand nerds, newcomers had to graze to earn their keep. That was the best part of the forum. Everyone gave you shit! But it was nothing personal – OG members didn’t care about you per se, they simply cared about the community – all they wanted was for you to become a better person for the good of the forum.
Along with Crooked Tongues and NikeTalk, nearly every forum on the internet back then was like that to some extent, but I think Sneaker Freaker was on another level. Sneakers, music, photography, streetwear, art, design, food – everything was discussed. It was geographically intimate too. Some people couldn’t stand the shit talking, the banter and the idiotic arguments, while others toughed it out and were eventually accepted, or at the very least respected. Here’s to you, Mr Chipz!
Sneaker professionals also came to the forum to admire, respect and spy on our trash talk. Nike employees, adidas management, big box retailers and general industry insiders signed up to see what was hot and what was not, try to contain leaked pics, demand that salty talk was taken down, and also determine what they could learn from this nascent network of real-time customer communication. Information about sneakers was suddenly spreading across the world in a matter of seconds. In hindsight, most, if not all of that, info was correct, unlike the deluge of meme-troll crap that we have to sift through today.
So many great times come to mind. I once carried a life-size cardboard Michael Jordan all over the city for a whole day on public transport and into Starbucks and then Provider (RIP), just to write a story about it so I could win a pair of Jordan Spizikes signed by MJ himself! A while later, I won a pair of ‘Zen Grey’ Yeezys and a pair of What the Dunks in my size (13) on the same night. Thanks, Trevor Hunter!
I once made a forum deal and bought a pair of ‘Underworld’ Shelltoes from Big_Sime for $200. It was within 24 hours of his auction ending on eBay and he couldn’t cancel it, so I bid them up to a ridiculous $700. Long story short, someone sniped the auction for $800, so I (graciously) sold them back to Big_Sime for $300 so he could send them to the legit buyer. Friendship formed, $100 made, positive feedback all around.
Most memorably, back in 2007, I was in Tokyo reading a copy of Shoes Master when I spied an image of Provider’s cyan blue NB1500 sitting in the woodgrain pigeonholes at their Manchester Lane store. Sensing an international scoop, I immediately posted pics to the WDYWT discussion thread and everyone in the forum started losing their minds. Hometown pride at its finest.
I’ve come a long way since those days. My late night rants, anxiety and stupid comments are long gone (ahem! ), but that was how I got attention from the community, albeit accidently, and I look back at junior ‘xdrift ’ with curious detachment. I found the SF forum during a time in my life that was turning for the better. The friendships forged became incredibly important and many of those people are still in my life.
All in all, sneaker culture in Melbourne wouldn’t exist without Sneaker Freaker. And the culture worldwide certainly became a lot tighter thanks to the other legendary forums. These communities powered the culture for years before Facebook and Instagram, for better and worse, conspired to enforce their obsolescence. I’m sure every single member of the Sneaker Freaker forum will agree with me when I say... I’m glad I was there. Because it was life changing.
Thanks to Woody and thank you to everyone on the boards during those times.
– Mark Gale (aka xdrift)
FORUM MEMOIRS: PART 2 – MINHYY
As a fresh-faced 15-year-old new to the world of sneakers, the Sneaker Freaker forum was an intimidating place. Feeling particularly bold one day, I naively logged into the Crap On section. As I found out later, I should have been in the New Member area, but thanks to the forgiving moderators, I was able to start a thread titled ‘Any younger sneakerheads out there?’
Initial responses were mostly serious, with a handful of youngins reflecting on their lifelong struggle to buy loads of sneaks with zero job and way too much schoolin’ getting in the way. Fortunately, I was warmly welcomed into the fold, though there was still a fair degree of smartarse retribution if I ever looked like I was stepping out of line.
Then along came forum regular Wannabee (with his penchant for wristies) claiming he was 14! Some banter and major thread derailment followed, until he perked up and gave some meaningful advice that still resonates all these years later. As I recall, his teenage tips were threefold.
- Spend your money on experiences – not shoes that most likely will end up crumbling.
- Save your cash for a car as they are a gateway to the real world.
- If you head to Thailand just be careful, not everything is what it seems, but if you close your eyes it still feels good!
Reading this maverick life coaching gave me some solid perspective on the rest of my life ahead. I can’t honestly say I have honoured his words down to a T, but I have taken heed of a few.
That original post became a monster thread, with hundreds and hundreds of comments added. I learned a lot from my time on the forum. Old heads in their thirties were dropping in and imparting science on the new blood. But the single greatest thing I gained from my eight years on the boards was the sense of community. Spending my formative teenage years hanging around like-minded people who schooled me on all things sneakers, as well as my other passions, photography and bicycles, and helped me feel for the first time like I finally belonged somewhere. The best part was being able to meet other members face-to-face, many of whom had also posted on that thread as a young gun!
Peace to biggbird, thelegacy, xdrift, illmaticyo, scem0nito, krazeefox, hanSOLO, NotMatt, kuyakoy, funke, chops, brendan, mik_git, hypekills1 ,and the_dL – and anyone else I’ve forgotten. Thanks for the memories. What size are your Chucks?
FORUM MEMOIRS: PART 3 – MONTANAINC
I joined the forum on September 1, 2005, but it took me a year to make my first post. You see, the forum wasn’t a place where you could sign up and jump straight into the conversation – you had to earn your bones. After months of persistent lurking, I mustered the courage to start contributing. Over time I became more prolific and was eventually accepted by the OG members as one of their own.
Reflecting on the forum has brought up many memories, but the one that stands out happened on March 3, 2009, when the first post about the Nike Air Yeezy went up. I was a fan of Kanye, but I knew my chances of buying at retail were slim to none. I kept my computer at work logged into the forum, refreshing constantly for news. As the weeks went on, I began to accept that eBay was my only hope. With prices upwards of $1000, I wasn’t too excited about my prospects.
June 15. At 6:43am, biggbird posted a link to a store called Shelf Life. The other forum members couldn’t believe it. A full size run of Air Yeezys in all three colourways! While sneakerheads across the globe were desperately calling in favours, here they were. Surely it was too good to be true?
‘No sh1t, that shop’s in south africa! AMAZING,’ xdrift replied. ‘Those yeezys look legit... to me, no hype in SA i guess,’ disruptfam chimed in.
There was no way for international customers to purchase directly through the website, so we had to email the store and send an international money order. The inventory quickly changed from showing all sizes available to ‘Sold Out!’ The forum had cleaned out the store in a matter of minutes!
With no recourse to open a PayPal dispute if it went wrong, we waited anxiously. The doubts lingered. Surely it was too good to be true? (x2)
Three weeks later, a black plastic bag wrapped in duct-tape duly arrived. It looked more like contraband than sneakers, but the treasure inside was legit.
I finally had the most sought-after black and pink colourway of the Air Yeezy in my hands. Thanks to biggbird and the forum, they were mine!
Originally published in Sneaker Freaker Issue 39. Get your copy here!