Like many in the pandemic, I’ve picked up long walks over the past five months. I enjoy the thinking time they provide and the ideas I get for home improvements while seeing remodeled homes. Recently on my walks, I’ve seen a lot of skateboarder kids moving from neighborhood to neighborhood.
What I appreciate is not much has varied from their style compared to when I was a young skateboarding teen. They are still in the occasional hoodie, Hot Topic-inspired pants (with chain), baseball hat and cool graphic tees. The only real difference between my days as a skateboarder and theirs, are the shoes. I used to love shopping for Vans when I was skateboarding. They were the IT shoe. Now they are replaced with Common Projects, Nike’s and dare I say… Keds. When seeing this new shoe era, I can’t help but think how on Earth are kids affording high-priced shoes and more importantly, when did Vans stop being a thing?
Vans began in 1966 in Anaheim, California, just 20 minutes outside my hometown. In the early ‘70s, skateboarders coined Vans’ as the perfect rugged and sticky sole shoe for the sport. Their approval of the shoe inspired their slogan “Off the Wall.” It was the shoe of choice for that generation of skateboarders. Everyone wanted them for the comfort and durability the leather panels offered. By the end of the ‘70s, Vans had 77 stores and were sold nationally and internationally.
At that time they had a couple shoes on the market, but their sales really took off with the introduction of the Sk8-Hi. This shoe pushed the functionality to a new level. It was a high-top that covered the ankle, the most abused body part of a skateboarder. The shoe became popular with skateboarders of all levels, it helped shield their bones and brought a whole new look to the park.
With the popularity of Sk8-Hi, Vans then introduced their Slip-On. They anticipated sales would skyrocket but a few years later they filed for bankruptcy as their other product offerings had drained their resources. They had a couple of dark years and began to make a comeback a few years ago but they were too late. They were forced to compete with brands like DC Shoes and Osiris, who had shoes that were chunkier, with more tech-forward silhouettes. The retro styling of Vans, fell short and felt irrelevant.
Now, the skateboarding-obsessed Millennial and Gen-Zer have more options than ever when it comes to skateboarding shoes. There are Puma, Reebok, adidas, and a slew of other skate brands that pride themselves in offering shoes that increase grip, board feel and absorb shocks and injuries.
I still miss Vans but I get that the young will only know what they see. And for so long, they didn’t see Vans.