“Let Me Google That”: Skate Shoes

We thought it would be interesting to see what people are asking Google about skate shoes and have a shot at answering them. As you can imagine with all things Google some are well thought-out, meaningful questions that one might reasonably ask the world’s favourite search engine and some are just…well…read on.

Footwear questions from Google are answered in the order they appear…

What are the best skate shoes of all time?

It’s the Van Half Cab. It’s got to be right? Mid-top height protects your ankles, vulcanised sole gives plenty of board feel whilst being thick enough that they are going to last a decent amount of time. They are relatively chunky and padded, protecting your feet from regular board-related smashes but still slim enough to wear normally.
Style, heritage, durability, Steve Caballero endorsed and available for the last 30 years. That’s pretty all-time-y to me.

You could also choose the Airwalk Enigma, worn by style king and 360 flip impresario Jason Lee (yes, the actor) or the Vision DV8 but you would need a time machine to get a pair, so forget it!

Vans Half Cab Nick Michel Collection
Vans Half Cab – Joe Walchester

Best skate shoes for beginners?

Something simple. You don’t want too many bells and whistles to begin with as you need a shoe you are going to learn to push in, kick turn and hopefully, should coordination and persistence allow, ollie.

  1. The sole needs to be flat, not higher at the back like a runner as this will lean you forward and mess with your centre of gravity.
  2. The sole unit also needs to be flexible, yet durable (at least 400nbs rubber) to withstand all the pushing and twisting you are going to do on the balls of your feet. Grip tape and tarmac are not your shoes friend and will eat your shoes.
  3. Ollie protection. Some shoes have rubber toe caps. These are really durable but can be slippery when you are learning to ollie, as the shoe scrapes up the front of the board. Suede is generally seen as the best toe cap covering as it is relatively durable and grippy at the same time. This is a key difference with a skate shoe compared to a cross trainer (for example) the suede on the shoe upper is thicker and often double layered or treated for maximum life span.

An éS Accel Slim is perfect as a beginner skate shoe – a modern classic that does all these things perfectly – it has all the features you need with none of the bits you don’t. They are very reasonably priced at £69.99 RRP too, so if you decide skateboarding hurts too much, you haven’t cost yourself the earth.

eS Accel Slim Skate Shoes - Olive/Tan
eS Accel Slim – Joe Walchester

Why do skate shoes wear out so fast?

They don’t! This is a common misconception.

If you put a normal pair of Air Max’s through the punishment that skate shoes go through, they would have bits of the airbag and upper panels peeling off all over within minutes of meeting a board.

Skate shoes are specifically built to skate in and therefore tolerate the ludicrous things we put them through. They must be tough whilst also looking cool and this is a balance.

A mid-top Wellington Boot (Gum boots to our American cousins) would probably stand up to skating for a little longer than a skate shoe but who wants to look like they arrived at the skate spot via tractor?

Skate shoes must be tough as hell whilst looking good and this is done with high-quality sole units and reinforced uppers in all the right places, tested by Pro skaters.

It’s all about the hours of use your shoes get on a skateboard, not how many months they last. It is understandable that uninitiated parents look at your two-week-old battered skate shoes and then at their gleaming year-old gym shoes and wonder what the hell is going on.

But have you mentioned it’s the summer holidays and you have skated 8 hours a day, every day for that fortnight on grip tape that is essentially sandpaper, constantly ollieing, flipping and hucking your carcass off inhuman heights?

That is 8×14 hours – 112 hours or the most brutal treatment a shoe can receive. Meanwhile, Dad’s Saturday trip to the gym for an hour’s half-arsed exercise has clocked up 52 hours of light use in a year and that is assuming he didn’t take a month off in December to focus on his mulled wine and pies habit.

So next time you are asked why your skate shoe is looking a little worse for wear so soon (and Mum is about to give us a ring and complain), remember its hours put into skateboarding, a very worthy investment, especially considering a pair of skate shoes is often cheaper than a full tank of fuel….

Does it matter what shoes you skate in?

Yes, it does. Running shoes are the wrong shape, Air Jordans should probably be on eBay, stilettos are a little unstable, work boots are somewhat inflexible, ballet slippers lack the padding and platforms lack board feel.

Skate shoes made by the likes of DC, Etnies, Emerica, Globe, Adidas, NB, Vans, Lakai and éS are made specifically for our skateboarding shenanigans. They are like Goldilocks and the three bears – just right. Flat, grippy sole, strong upper and padded for protection from falling boards.

Avoid sports store knockoffs that are unfeasibly cheap and ape the ‘skate style’. They are able to be cheap because they have used the weakest glues, thinnest materials and least dense rubbers on the sole, not to mention the dreadful insoles that will make landings feel like a car crash for your feet. The price tag is tempting but the experience of skating in them will suck. Get ready for heel bruises!

Can you use Converse for skating?

Yes, you can.

Depending on where Converse are on their ever cyclical ‘cool’, ‘ not so cool’ journey, you may choose the Kurt Cobain on a skateboard look. There are better high-top shoes though, including Emerica’s Omen and Pillar or Vans’ Sk8-hi.

If you do go for Converse, make sure they are the skate versions with Nike’s Lunarlon insole. The bog standard ones will make your feet sad after all but the shortest of skates.

How do you break in skate shoes fast?

At Supereight, we all rock our next pair of skate shoes around the office for a couple of weeks before skating them, so they are nicely softened up and ready to shred.
If you don’t have time to do that your best bet is to go for shoes that are ready to go, straight out of the box. That means a softer sole unit, supple materials on the upper and no sheen on the sole from the manufacturing process that may make the shoes initially quite slippery.
New Balance shoes like the 508 get going fast, as do Emerica’s ‘The Low’, which is the new name for the old Andrew Reynolds vulcanised shoe. I recently grabbed a pair of Ryan Sheckler’s Etnies Estrella shoes and skated them straight away and found they were perfect from the off.

If a shoe is a little rigid to begin with, run around a bit in them and maybe rub any ‘sheen’ off the sole on the tarmac. I have heard tales of people microwaving their shoes to soften them up, but this sounds foolish in the extreme. Your skate shoes are not food. Do not do this, especially if the shoe has metal eyelets!!!

New Balance Numeric 508 Westgate
New Balance Numeric 508 – Joe Walchester
Emerica The Low Vulc Creature
Emerica x Creature The Low Vulc – Emerica

How do you not destroy shoes when skating?

Don’t skate? Hover? I really don’t have a great answer for this one. Sadly, your treasured new hooves will deteriorate when you skate them. You can slow their inevitable decline though.

Here are 3 highly unstylish options that my parents made me do as a kid:

  1. Ollie flap. A piece of leather that we used to cut out and hang off the laces of the shoes, covering the area often marred by a good ollie sesh. The upside of this was you could identify other skaters back in the early nineties with these tell-tale leather flaps on their lead shoe. I have made lifelong friends due to this odd shoe-saving technique!
  2. Shoe goo. Still available to this day, shoe goo is a see-through gel smeared over a shoe’s ollie area to either repair or pre-empt a hole. It smells bad, looks worse and I imagine not made with the most environmentally friendly practices in mind. Avoid if possible.
  3. This may be unique to me but it was the worst shoe-saving technique of all time and involved a man called John-the-stitcher. He was a local shoe repair guy who my parents would pay to stitch a massive rectangular leather patch over the toe of my brand new and treasured skate shoes. It looked terrible but did make the shoes last until I wore through the sole to my socks. Bad times.

How comfortable are skate shoes?

Skate shoes are tremendously comfortable, a delight no less. Brands like Etnies, DC and Vans invest masses in their insoles so their pro skaters can huck themselves down huge stair sets without their foot bones crumbling to dust so the average person is generally blown away by skate shoe comfort.

Skate shoes are also often a wider fit than other shoes. Up until recently, shoe designers seemed to forget most guy’s feet are wide spades of meat and they made shoes slimmer and slimmer. We are often asked for wider fitting shoes and tend to recommend shoes like éS Accel OG, or DC Kalynx.

A word of caution though – proper skate shoes from skate shops are comfortable. Look-a-like skate-style shoes from average sports shops are, to use an industry term ‘despecced’. 

This means they are made to hit a price point, the net result is they are stripped of most padding, have thin insoles, have a basic sole unit construction and cheap, man-made material uppers. They look somewhat like skate shoes to the untrained eye, but they certainly aren’t fit for skateboarding and they definitely are not comfortable. 


Are gum soles better for skating?


Rubber sole shoes are good for skating. 

Gum is more for chewing in my mind. 

Gum itself would be rubbish for skating but Gum colourway soles are super good for skating! Why? Because a good pair of Black/gum or White/gum skate shoes like the éS Swift or the Busenitz vulc look super stylish and make you feel like Marc Johnson, Jason Lee or another skate style Icon of your choice. Feeling cool makes you skate better. Fact. 

So in a way, yes, Gum soles are good for skating.

Adidas Busenitz Vulc II
Adidas Busenitz Vulc II – Joe Walchester

How long do shoes last while skating?

Skating hammers your shoes, so it is important to get the right ones, especially if you need them to last.

Think in hours skated, not time existed. Like how a 2-year-old car with 100,000 miles on the odometer has already had a hard life whilst your Gran’s Honda Jazz is 5 years old with only 10,000 miles on the clock is still looking new.

If you want a long-lasting skate shoe, you need an Etnies Marana. They have a Michelin rubber sole unit, tough upper materials, and a rubber toe. This shoe has been in Etnies’ range for 10 years and is their biggest-selling shoe. People love it because it lasts a long time and skates great.

Etnies Marana
Etnies Marana – Etnies

How often do skaters go through shoes?

Depends on how much you skate. If you are a poseur and just hanging out, you could be passing them on to your children’s children. If you are a skate everyday ripper, get ready to invest in shoes on the regular.

How do skaters tie their shoes?

Apparently, surprisingly to some, skaters lace their shoes like all other humans. Make the bunny ears etc… Interesting this is asked often enough for Google to note it as a question people ask about skate shoes!

Do you want skate shoes to be tight?

The tightness of your skate shoes is very much a personal thing. 

You don’t want them to be too big as they will make your feet more inaccurate when trying tricks that often require very specific movements and coordination. 

You don’t want them too tight as it prevents your toes from spreading out correctly, making board control and pop more difficult. Make sure you get that sizing right. 

We put a size chart for each brand we carry on the Supereight website and we will mention if a shoe comes up big or small in our descriptions. Adidas and NB tend to come up quite small whilst Sole Tech brands éSEtnies and Emerica are what we would call true to size.

If by tight, the question is should the laces be pulled in, well that is a different matter entirely. Most skate brands like DC shoes and Etnies have tongue straps in their shoes. These pull the tongue down onto your foot which means most people don’t even have to do up their shoes. Having said that, they need to be laced tight enough so they don’t move around, opening you up to ankle tweaks or shoes exploding off your feet as seen in Jake Brown’s Mega slam a few years back.

It is also worth noting that skate shoe manufacturing is not a perfect science, so the fit or tightness of a shoe on a persons fit can vary depending on the kind of sole unit it has, how much padding is in the upper (specifically the collar) of the shoe and other material considerations.

What skate shoes does Tony Hawk wear?

Tony Hawk has skated for a lot of shoe brands. 

Tiny Tony Hawk of the mid-80s was first seen in Vans, progressing to Airwalk during Vert skateboarding’s heyday. There are so many iconic pics of Hawk in Airwalk Prototypes in colourways that would be great to see them again now. He had a pro shoe on Airwalk around ’94, ’95 at the same time as Jason Lee. 

Hawk was one of the earliest Pros on Chris Miller’s Adio Footwear and had a pro model on them around the turn of the century whilst landing the 900 for X games fame. Adio then made an entire Hawk Shoes branded line, which made shoes that looked like Muska’s Circa shoes, the Osiris D3 and a number of other more unique tech-looking shoes. This lasted a year or two and then he came back on top Adio proper with some genuinely great-looking styles. He was wearing these shoes when he and Riley Hawk came over to the UK for an Adio tour that I organised around 2005 but that is another story…

After Adio, Hawk floated a bit and if memory serves right, may have had a deal with Walmart or Target before settling on Lakai for a while where he had a signature shoe called the Lakai Proto. This shoe clearly took inspiration from the old Airwalk Prototypes and was a great seller for Lakai. 

More recently Hawk has been on Vans, but this seems to have been short-lived. Does anyone know what’s next for Tony? At this point, it’s not like he needs a sponsor but is kind enough to lend his name to a brand if it makes sense to him. 

Respect to the ambassador of skateboarding!

Why do skate shoes have big tongues?

These days, not all skate shoes have big tongues, however, the ones that do, like the éS Accel OG or the DC Pure are going to protect the top of your foot from impacts from a board gone astray. A deck or truck axle hitting the top of your foot hurts like hell and is going to keep you off your board for a few days, so a bit of padding is definitely worthwhile.

Vulcanised shoes are often slimmer fitting and may have no padding at all. The Vans Era or Vans slip-ons are great examples of this. They look super stylish and are great for cruising bowls etc but don’t expect to get away from a board impact to the top of your foot. It’s going to hurt.

Brands like Adidas and New Balance offer a moderate amount of padding for a modern, less puffy look but still with some shape and protection.

So, denizens of Google, I hope this answers some of your questions regarding the mysteries of skate footwear. 

To sum up:

  • The Half Cab is doubtless the best skate shoe of all time, always skate in skate shoes unless you are Tom Penny, in which case you can skate in Timberlands or anything you like because your feet are magic.
  • Skate shoes last longer than average shoes when rubbed against grip tape and tarmac for hours on end. To make them last longer, buy a pair with rubber toe caps or suffer the fate I did as a kid and walk around with patches of leather and rubber adorning your otherwise dope kicks. 
  • You can best break in your new shoes just by wearing them around for a few days but if you are in a rush, be sure to wipe or rub off any sheen on the soles from the production process.
  • Your shoes should be firm but not so tight that the laces are cranked to death, turning your shoes into bananas.
  • Surprise! Skaters tie their laces like everyone else. This is part of being a human.
  • Tony Hawk has worn many brands of shoes over his illustrious career but this need not dictate what shoes you wear. You are unlikely to be doing a 900 unless you are a teenage Olympic hopeful, so your choice can deviate from his.
  • Finally, skate shoes have been known to have big tongues. In the nineties we actually added tongues for extra dope puffiness… this was of course a style choice! Laugh if you like but it’ll come back around sooner than you think. 
  • Just check out the latest JS 1 John Shanahan from DC!

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