There's no doubt about it, skateboarding and the industry behind it is bigger than ever. Both in terms of popularity and sales, skateboarding seems to have reached the highest point yet. In the early 2000s skateboarding faced historically siginficant changes when multinational brand conglomerates entered the traditionally skater-owned domain, further boosting an already thriving industry. DC Shoes was bought by Surf Company Quiksilver in 2004 for $87 million. The same year, iconic skate shoe company Vans became part of VF Corporation’s brand portfolio for a decent $396 million. Sportswear giant Nike who failed at their attempt to gain ground in the 1990s succesfully positioned themselves with its new SB sub division.
Furthermore, skater-owned companies such as Sole Technology and Lakai still have a significant share of the market. Despite economically challenging times, figures keep increasing with footwear generating the greatest sales at around $1.5 billion in 2010 according to the SIMA Retail Distribution Study. Looking back at skateboarding's long and eventful history, skate shoes have always been the subject and origin of constant innovation and ever changing fashion trends and therefore deserve a closer look.
Nike - Air Jordan 1 (1985)
Although not intended for skateboarding the Nike Air Jordan 1 quickly rose to great prominence among skaters during the mid-eighties, heavily influencing future skate sneaker designs. The original version by Peter Moore was released in 1985 featuring a red and black colorway matching the Chicago Bulls uniforms. The shoes were initially outlawed by NBA comissioner David Stern since the design lacked white although this did not keep Jordan from wearing them, resulting in a $5,000 fine every time the legend stepped onto the court. But what exactly lead to their popularity among skaters?
Quick to follow up on the success of the Air Jordan 1, Nike was already designing Jordan’s second pro model, its release scheduled for the upcoming 1986 NBA season. In order to clear the stocks, the first pro model went on sale reducing its price by 50%, making it a bargain one could hardly resist. The high-top sneaker provided a snug fit, a padded ankle support, a cushioned sole, and a reinforced ollie pad, making it not only comfortable but also the most superior "skate sneaker" of its time.
In Powell Peralta’s 1987 video, The Search for Animal Chin, pros Mike McGill, Steve Caballero, and Lance Mountain can be seen wearing Air Jordans which was highly unusual considering they all lead their respective shoe sponsors. But the mid-eighties were rather bleak times for the skate industry. Vans was the only shoe company who maintained a team but was still unable to provide shoes to its pros in sufficient quantities. The team then received help from Craig R. Stecyk, the art director at Powell-Peralta, who had a go-to-guy at Nike. The eventual success of Animal Chin and the Bones Brigade’s already legendary status only contributed to the Air Jordan’s growing popularity.
Etnies - Natas Kaupas Pro (1988)
In 1986, when Europe was still of minor significance to the skate industry, French footwear company Rautureau Apple introduced its first line of skate sneakers under the name Etnic, which would later become Etnies. Considering that the skate industry faced a huge crisis back then, getting in touch with Natas Kaupas and offering him a pro model shoe seemed not only risky but outright crazy. Especially due to the fact that pro shoes were greatly frowned upon in the skate community, seeing them as a symbol of established ball sports and mainstream jock culture. However, Kaupas enjoyed notoriety not only for his unusual name (Natas spells Satan backwards) but above all for paving the way for modern streetskating, almost single-handedly opening the doors for pro model shoes. Vans would soon be following suit with its Steve Caballero signature shoe.
éS - Accel (1995)
The release of the éS Accel in 1995 marked the birth of an instant classic. Since its introduction it has never ceased to be a bestseller. Designed, endorsed, worn, and made famous by Tom Penny, the Accel was virtually his pro model. It may lack its contemporaries’ innovations, such as an air system or lace loops. But maybe that is exactly what the Accel owes it longevity to - the understated downright humble design, free of any plastic nick-nacks and other crap no one really cares about - thereby making it immune to the ever-changing fashion trends. Apart from that, this shoe is just perfect for skating. It features a nice thick padded tongue, a padded heel area, an EVA midsole, and a reinforced ollie area, making it not only one of the most durable but also one of the most comfortable skate shoes there is.
éS - Eric Koston (1997)
Dubbed "the Michael Jordan of Skateboarding" by fellow pro-skater and team member Brandon Biebel, Eric Koston had spent the early nineties working on his repuatation as one of the most creative and prolific skateboarders of his time. While everybody was still rocking that ridiculous pig pants, small wheels style, doing sketchy triple pressure flips off and on to sidewalks, Koston actually introduced a refined and rather clean style to streetskating pushing it to a whole new level. Therefore it was just a matter of time before his efforts would be rewarded with his first pro model.
After proving his worth in numerous boundary pushing video parts and by winning the 1996 X-Games Streetfinals his signature model was finally released in 1997. Now defunct company És always followed a very strong athletic approach, designing its shoes close to its teamriders personal style. In collaboration with skate legend and now Sole Technology VP Don Brown, Koston designed his shoe meeting the highest standards in terms of style and skateability. Despite the fact that Nike had already introduced its air cushioning in 1979 with the Nike Air trademark, the technology was still a novelty among skate sneakers. The Koston K1 was actually the first pro model to feature an air cushion and a visible polyurethane midsole, making it one of the most technically advanced and popular skatesneaker of the late nineties. In fact it was so popular that it was re-released on Lakai 10 years later.
Osiris - D3 2001 Dave Mayhew Pro (2001)
Around the turn of the century skateboarding and its shoes continued to grow bigger and bigger. I still remember how we used to stuff cut-off tongues or even sponges or socks in our shoes in order to make them appear fatter. The sad high point of this ludicrous trend was without doubt the introdution of Dave Mayhew's pro model. It was bigger, fatter, had a weird lacing system, extra padding, boxy, and looked downright awkward. In fact the Osiris D3 will go down in history as by far the ugliest skate shoe ever designed, produced, sold, and worn. Holy Mother of God, there are no words to discribe this attrocity. These shoes are the biggest pile of plastic junk ever to come out of a Chinese factory. Putting on giant LEGO bricks instead would actually make you look better. However, sales were quite good in the first year but started dwindling in the following year.
The folks at Osiris were about to pull the updated D3 2001 from their line when something inexplicable happened. All of a sudden, the sales took of like a rocket. Despite looking like solid rocks they virtually flew off the store shelves. You couldn’t walk the street without seeing someone sporting the D3. They were everywhere on everyone, making them one of the best selling pro models of all time.