How A Surfer's Thirst For Adventure Spawned The Vans UltraRange
Vans surfer Pat Gudauskas wore his trusty Vans everywhere. And roughing them up – as outdoorsy types do – led the athlete to a bit of an epiphany: what if his go-to shoe was rebuilt, reimagined and purposefully reengineered for off-road adventures? Gudauskas took his idea to Vans, Vans listened, and now the rest of us get to cash in. Sneaker Freaker spoke with Vans designer Matt Nosbusch to find out how the surfer’s lightbulb moment became the Vans UltraRange.
‘Our surf team probably travels the most; they’re always searching for the next wave and their needs are so broad. They’ll go from Alaska one day to hiking tropical destinations looking for surf spots the next. And they’re on their feet all day, so what they were asking for was a real multipurpose shoe,’ Nosbusch tells.
And while many already see Vans shoes as versatile, this focus on diversified functionality took the brand into unchartered territory. To navigate the new terrain, Vans turned to new technology and built from the ground up.
‘To start, we produced a co-moulded midsole,’ Nosbusch explains. ‘We’ve never done anything like it; it’s a milestone for the brand.’ And, if the shoe’s seamless composition is anything to go by, it works a treat.
‘The midsole and outsole are brought together for the best bond. Then the shoe is built with a sock-fit construction where there’s no drop in the foot bed, so you’re standing directly on the supportive foam. The whole midsole becomes a cushion for your foot.’
Innovative approaches to foot-cradling foams are steering the performance sneaker industry, but not all foams are made equal. And Vans quickly discovered that what they needed – something that could weather the full-throttle lifestyle of a pro surfer without batting an eyelet – didn’t yet exist. And so UltraCush Lite was born.
The forward-thinking foam was developed to alleviate stress on the foot and to provide Van wearers of every ilk with the support needed to animate their adventures. Think of it this way: if Vans’ current skate line is a city-slicking roadster coupe, the UltraRange is a grunting, winch-equipped four-wheel drive.
‘In the initial process, the team members weren’t comfortable; they liked the feel but they would look down at the shoes and think, like, these aren’t Vans.’
Vans’ brand identity is fiercely strong. Their salad days catering to West Coast skating luminaries such as Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva instilled the brand with incomparable authenticity. It’s the reason we still wear their classics, some of which are pushing 50 years old. This respect for heritage is sewn into the new design: ‘It’s easy for us to draw a space shoe that functions awesome,’ says Nosbusch, ‘but the hardest part was designing a shoe this functional while incorporating Vans DNA.’
To ensure core fans would enjoy the new UltraRange, Vans went back to the kernel of the concept and asked their athletes for input. To begin with, the feedback wasn’t all positive.
‘In the initial process, the team members weren’t comfortable; they liked the feel but they would look down at the shoes and think, like, these aren’t Vans. When the design team checked in with Gudauskas he echoed that sentiment.
‘The main insight from Pat was, if we do something that adds all this new innovation, we have to make sure it retains the Vans look and style.’ And so, equipped with a revised design, Vans athletes were sent on an adventurous wear-test through Hawaii and Mexico. Their feedback fuelled the next stage of the design process and guided the shoe’s final form.
The UltraRange retains Vans’ iconic aesthetic while packaged unlike anything in its history. The shoe’s first noticeable point of difference is its mesh uppers. Lightweight, sturdy and outlined with heat-bonded overlays, the material hints at more under the hood than meets the eye, and af streamlined sock-fit construction confirms suspicions.
Still, even with its innovative chassis, the UltraRange feels warmly familiar with its Jazz Striped outers and waffled outsoles reminding us of the brand’s rich history (while doubling as a terrain-conquering lug).
While the UltraRange was born of one surfer’s insatiable appetite for adventure, there’s no chance Vans – an ever-curious and boundary-pushing brand – would pass up an opportunity to innovate even further: enter the UltraRange Pro. The Pro iteration sees the adventure-hungry shoe tooled with skater essentials. Along with UltraCush, the shoe employs Duracap lining throughout, which reinforces its overlays and protects extremities from becoming collateral damage.
The Next Wave
With all this innovation four-wheel driving its way through Vans creative and design departments, we’re led to wonder what’s next for the UltraRange? Well as it happens, we have the inside word from the shoe’s designer himself: ‘Vans has a lot more in the pipeline.’
The Vans UltraRange collection is available now in-store and online.