Unless you’re one of the 0.000001% of people who have actually switched from gangly teenage misfit to professional skateboard, chances are that the only skate shoes you wear are classic van models, like old school and the authentic, popular half-pipe has been around for decades. Other models, especially the bloated, bubble style, were spotted in the late ’90s when your voice broke.
However, do not rush to dispose of them. Skate shoes have come a long way in the last decade. Silhouettes have once again slimmed back and have once again become a principle of simplicity, and what’s left of the oversized designs is because the fashion world has given a new lease of legitimacy to the chunky trainers.
At the same time, skate brands have been trending in fashion for the last few years as retro styles and informality rule menswear.
What Makes Skate Shoes?
If you don’t already know what we’re talking about here, the clue is in the name. These are shoes designed for skateboarding.
It began in Anaheim, California, in the late 1960s, when a little brand called Vans designed shoe-making for SoCal’s most popular new leisure. Skateboarding was booming fast, and as wheels became more global, so did shoes for riding.
In the time that has passed since the ’60s, skate shoes have grown considerably, shrunk downwards, become highly technical, and then Clearly minimalist again.
However, in the meantime, there is still a lot of persistence that has become a key identifier for this generation of performance shoes. Flat grippy soles, reinforced pressure points to withstand grip-tape abrasions, padding strategically to avoid ankle injuries, and the enduring popularity of the ‘pro model’.
It used to be that most of the brands selling skate shoes were small, rider-owned labels. However, with the growing popularity of skate-wear and the sport itself increasing popularity – the first sporting event at the 2020 Olympics, many major league sports companies have managed their way.
The Best Skate Shoes Brands
Here we take a look at the scene’s most dominant brands and the reasons why they’re deserving of your hard-earned cash.
When Nike SB first emerged in 1997, it was received discouraged by the skateboarding community. A global sports conglomerate trying to capitalize on a sport defined by its anti-establishment ethos was never going to be an overnight success, though, was it?
Decades on, however, Nike SB has proven itself useful in bringing skateboarding to a wider audience. With some of the sport’s most iconic pro models, it’s not hard to see why the brand has won the community’s respect.
It would be impossible to overstate the impact on skateboarding shoes on the California label Van. However, it did give rise to the whole concept.
Key styles such as Sk8 and Authentic become a skate-culture icon as popular today as they were in the ’60s and’ 70s. Elsewhere, models such as old school and slip-on have entered the fashion world, opening up the Van brand to a new audience and turning these simple skate shoes into a global footwear trend.
You know it best as the brand that’s been making the best canvas basketball sneakers in the game for more than 100 years, but for the last decade or so, Converse has been making inroads in the skateboarding world, too.
Cons is the label’s skate-shoe arm, boasting an impressive roster of pro skaters. At its helm, a crack team of sneaker designers tasked with reworking classic styles like the Chuck Taylor All Star and the One Star for the skateboard market. But it’s not all updates on classics, Cons exclusive models like the Alexis Pro have also gone on becoming icons in their own right.
Another specialist sneaker brand infiltrating skateboarding is Bostonian big hitter New Balance. The label’s ‘Numeric’ imprint aims to do for skate shoes what its elder sibling has done for running footwear. That is, make the best ones going.
The Numeric brand has been in operation since 2013, offering professional-approved skateboarding footwear that features New Balance’s trademark comfort, quality, and reliability. Look out for the brand’s pro models from the likes of Jamie Foy and innovative techs like no-sew uppers and super lightweight cushioning.
What? You thought Adidas was just going to sit back and watch as its rival Nike cornered the skate-shoe market all by itself? Think again.
Adidas Skateboarding is the Three Stripes’ attempt at taking a slice of the skate-shoe pie, fusing classic Adidas styling with technical, skater-friendly features. Expect simple styling, lots of suede, and even the odd familiar silhouette or two, albeit with a few skateboard-centric tweaks.
Founded by pro-skater Keith Hufnagel in 2002, Huf was one of the labels instrumental in the slimming down of skate footwear.
A cult favorite among those in the know, Huf’s shoes, many of which are emblazoned with a large ‘H’ to the side, appear simple and stripped-back on the surface but are actually packed with technical features. In addition to the footwear, there’s also a whole line of streetwear-leaning apparel. Look out for the iconic ‘Plantlife’ socks – a staple in any self-respecting skater’s underwear drawer.
You don’t have to be an avid skateboarder to be familiar with DC. The footwear label, started by Ken Block and Damon Way is a staple brand in not just skating, but in snowboarding, BMX and all manner of other extreme sports.
In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, DC had the whole puffy skate shoe thing on lockdown. A pair of DCs was the holy grail of oversized footwear, something that has brought the brand back into the spotlight with the resurgence of bulky kicks
Founded by a collective of high-profile skateboard pros, including the legendary Chad Muska, Supra is an American label that inadvertently redefined skate footwear.
The brand’s best-known style, the Skytop, was and still is a high-top sneaker that could just as easily have come from the latest Maison Margiela collection. It became a huge hit with celebrities and skaters alike throughout the mid-’00s, establishing Supra as one of the leading names in fashion-forward skateboarding footwear