While skaters are spoiled for choice these days, with modern sneakers boasting high tech innovations like shock absorbent soles and super resilient uppers, it hasn’t always been this way. Early skate shoes were either technologically primitive or extremely ugly, or a combination of the two. Given the decades-long cross-pollination that has occurred between skaters and other urban subcultures, it’s hardly surprising that many looked to streetwear and hip hop to find appropriate footwear, often finding use in basketball and lifestyle shoes that had the desired characteristics of flat soles, flexible uppers and cushioned ankle support.
Of course, it didn’t take long for brands to realize that their shoes were being used on the board and the recent release of the Nike SB version of the Air Jordan 1 is the latest in a long line of non-skate shoes that brands have re-issued specifically for the skate market. So join us as we break down some sneakers that like the Air Jordan 1, have crossed over from athletic and lifestyle origins to become part of skateboarding history.
Converse Chuck Taylor All Star
Originally designed as a basketball sneaker, the Chuck Taylor was the first ever athletically endorsed shoe back in 1923 – decades before Jordan, Koston and Janoski became household names in the footwear industry. The timeless sneaker has been adopted by everyone from rappers to punks and – due to its flexibility and thin sole – skaters. While the shoe’s design is almost 100 years old and the canvas upper tears in a heartbeat, skaters still flock to it and ollie holes aren’t so much of a problem when beaten up Chucks are all part of the look.
While Vans is synonymous with skateboarding these days, the Authentic was originally designed as a deck shoe and was only used on the board because of its durability and excellent grip. It wasn’t until Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva added a padded collar to create the Era that Vans made a shoe specifically designed for shredding, and the company has been at the heart of skate culture ever since. While the Authentic is basic compared to many of the high-tech offerings available today, it is still adored by skaters as it epitomizes skateboarding’s SoCal roots perfectly.
Another basketball shoe appropriated by skaters due to its flat sole and cushioned heel support, both high and low-top versions of the Dunk have been the source of some of the most sought-after sneaker collaborations of all time. High profile, insta-sellout Nike SB collabs with the likes of Supreme, Staple and Diamond Supply Co. have shown skate shops not only the importance of crowd control, but also that their customers can hype a shoe just as much as sneakerheads. Given the huge influence of hip hop and streetwear on skate style, it’s hardly surprising that the Dunk has been so popular. It’s perfect for riding in and fits effortlessly into a wardrobe of graphic tees, hoodies and caps.
Workouts hold a special place in British street style. The all-white colorways are absolutely unbeatable and have been adored nationwide by everyone from ravers to hipsters due to their light weight and soft soles. A quick anecdote: the most commonly recorded footprints at British burglaries are from Reeboks. The Workout, alongside Stone Island and Ralph Lauren, is a mainstay of the terrace casual look so popular with hooligans, dealers, geezers, barflies and skaters. The Workout’s flat sole, cushioned ankle collar and relatively low price make it ideal for the board and its place in history was cemented when London brand Palace collaborated with Reebok not once but twice, recreating the Workout with premium materials and a highly skateable vulcanized sole.
Nike Air Jordan 1
While its cousin the Dunk has been a SB staple since the imprint’s birth in 2002, it has taken 29 years for Nike to give the Air Jordan 1 the official skate treatment. Originally championed by Bones Brigade legends Lance Mountain and Craig Stecyk (whose signature graffiti writing adorns the AJ1 SB’s insole, back panel and inner collar), the sneaker’s release coincided with the rise of jump ramps, when skaters realized they needed extra cushioning to cope with the demands this high impact style of skating placed on their ankles. While Nike has always taken pride in its futuristic and innovative approach to product design, the release of the Air Jordan 1 x Nike SB proves that they are also well aware of the brand’s past and the importance its product holds in various subcultures.