Skate Shoes: Fashion or Function?

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Appearances are everything. We want everything to look good from our clothes to our gadgets, because those things reflect a part of who we are to the world. But do looks take a backseat to function when you want to do a higher ollie, a cleaner kickflip, a sicker trick? In a world where looks are strongly tied to identity, do you really have to choose? Luckily, this doesn’t have to be a black and white question. Since skateboarding has always been a more of lifestyle than a look, any skater you ask will have a different opinion.

Skating is about more than the board and the tricks, it’s about music, lifestyle, attitude, the whole enchilada. Within “skate style” there are different kinds of people, each with different needs and wants in a skate shoe. You have the casual weekend skater that listens to the music, hangs out at the skatepark with buddies, and knows some decent tricks; this boarder is interested in a blend of looks and modest durability. Then you have the hardcore, ankle-breaking, skate-vid-making, sponsor-seeking skate fiend who practices moves hours a day to stick the tricks just right every time; he wants the kicks that stand up to rigorous practice, provide support, and cushion against the shock of the concrete. And let’s not forget the emerging group of fashion-conscious, “skater friendly” folks who don’t skate but hang out in the scene; these guys (and gals!) relate to skateboard culture in many ways, but primarily express themselves through skate fashion. Where you fall on this spectrum factors into how you’d answer the question of “fashion or function.”

The hottest brands like Vans, etnies, DC Shoes, LRG and plenty more help bridge skate shoe fashion and function with their cutting-edge technologies. Most skaters would agree that shoe weight and durability are top requirements for a quality skate shoe. Modern production processes make it possible to create lighter-weight upper materials that can withstand shredding, stomping, and scraping while allowing shoe designers flexibility of design. This benefits those hardcore skateheads and the fashion conscious at the same time. Other specific performance technologies like heel air bags, lace protectors, sticky rubber soles, tongue straps, and above-and-beyond cushioning are necessary for the serious skater while providing nice perks to the casual skateboarding enthusiast or style-minded individual.

Judging by the flood of great-looking pro model skate shoes on the market from Adio to Zoo York, pro skaters care about both looks and function, and go to great lengths to bring equal status to the fashion aspect without sacrificing the technologies skaters benefit from. Pro skater Mike Vallely, who has a line of pro model shoes released through Element, says, “I think skateboarding is more fashion than function. It’s more aesthetic than anything else. It’s more rock and roll than athletics.”** Porter, Justin (2008, September 5). Woosh! Another Shoe Destroyed. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/25/fashion/25skates.html.

So what do you think? What establishes a great new skate shoe and keeps the most famous decades-old models flying off shelves? What features do you demand in your skate shoes?