Best Shoes for Longboarding in 2017?
When beginning longboarding, one question quickly arises: Do I really need to get skate shoes? The answer to that question depends a lot on the individual. No one needs a purpose-built shoe to skate on the driveway or cruise down the sidewalk. But the best longboard shoe is in its element once serious speeds and longer rides come into the equation.
Skate shoes make the best longboarding shoes because they have real advantages over the average athletic shoe. The flat surface of the deck dictates that the outsoles also be flat, and the unique forces and friction of longboarding require materials that can withstand abuse. The following shoes break many molds, and in the process solve the riddle of longevity and board feel in their own ways.
Nike Stefan Janoski Canvas
Stefan Janoski, a professional street skater for Habitat skateboards, is known for his smooth, effortless style. He is equal parts technical and flow, and his video footage is equal parts switch and regular. His breakout part in the first Habitat video, 2003’s Mosaic, is as classic as his signature shoe.
Nike first dropped the Stefan Janoski signature model in 2009, and it has since become one of the best-selling skate shoes ever. The low-profile silhouette is minimalist, and the Zoom versions have air-cushioned midsoles to provide comfort and protection. The canvas models are the lightest, but the leather versions do not tack on much weight.
Janoskis give excellent board feel, thanks to a vulcanized outsole, which Nike adheres to the thin, unpadded upper with foxing via autoclave. The herringbone soles have excellent traction, which remains for the life of the shoe. A low-profile upper heel gives some people issues with the shoe sliding off, but cinched laces cures the problem. This is a durable, comfortable skate shoe.
- Air-cushioned midsole heel provides superior comfort
- Pure, unadulterated board feel
- Excellent traction on grip tape or concrete
- Provide little protection, other than the cushioned midsole
- Herringbone sole design is grippy, but at the cost of longevity
Vans Sk8 Hi
Vans has been making shoes for more than 50 years. One of Vans’ oldest and most treasured models is the SK8-Hi, which is a high-top skate shoe that is famous for its roomy and comfortable interior. Like most Vans, it features vulcanized construction.
The Sk8-Hi also features Vans’ coveted gum soles with waffle pattern, which have deep dimples and ridged edges that are extremely grippy. The downside is that the gummy soles will wear out quickly at the usual forefoot and heel locations, especially if used for frequent foot braking.
The Sk8-Hi uppers are suede in high-wear areas and canvas in less-vulnerable places. The supportive ankle area of the upper has padded rings for protection, but the rest of the upper is thin. Sk8-Hi’s give the utmost in board feedback, but impact protection is not their strong suit. Making a stylish statement and giving responsive feel in comfort is what the Sk8-Hi is all about.
- A true classic, has the look and comfort to match
- Waffle gum soles provide unmatched feel and grip
- Strategic use of suede and wise placement of canvas gives affordable longevity
- Waffle gum soles get thin quickly, especially in high-wear areas
- Provide little-to-no impact protection
Etnies Jameson 2 ECO
The Etnies brand goes back to 1986 — to one of the early heydays of skateboarding. It has since spawned éS and Emerica, two brands famous in their own right. Etnies has a tradition of making quality shoes, designed by people who skate.
The Jameson 2 ECO is a minimalist, low-top, environmentally friendly update of the original Jameson, which is Etnies best-selling skate shoe. The canvas upper is made from recycled materials, and the sole and insole contain recycled rubber. The Jameson bloodline is built on cup sole technology, but the same minimalist design is available in a vulcanized version.
The Jameson 2 ECO is made with Etnies’ Faux-Vulc construction, meaning it has simulated foxing tape around the perimeter of the soul to give it a vulcanized look. It has a low heel, four eyelets and a one-piece toecap, so there’s less stitching to come undone. The tongue and collar are lightly padded, and there is a polyurethane insole for added protection, but the outsole is nearly as thin and flexible as a genuine vulcanized shoe.
- Roomy and comfortable interior
- Formed, polyurethane insole provides comfort and protection
- An unusually successful combination of protection and board feel
- Leans more toward board feel, less on protection
- Faux-Vulc construction is noticeably faux
Vans Era Pro
Vans’ original Era was never a great shoe for skating, and that was a shame because it has the look. The stitches were in bad places, though, and the rigors of skateboarding tore them up. The upgraded Era Pro is a different story, though.
Vans used the Era last to build the Era Pro, but changed the cuts to situate stiches in areas that see less traffic. It also added Duracap construction, which underlays the high-traffic areas with rubber. A polyurethane padded insole completes the update.
Remaining from the classic casuals is Vans’ patented grippy and gummy rubber waffle sole. With vulcanized construction, that renowned Vans board feel remains as well. The Eras are some of the best Vans longboarding shoes from one of the great names in skating.
- Seemingly endless colorways
- Classic silhouette
- The utmost in comfort, the shoes almost disappear after a while
- New design protects better, but still not a protective shoe
- Wide foxing changes profile of a classic design
Shoes don’t have to be designed for skating to be functional on a board, and the Adidas Superstars are proof. The shell-toed Superstar gained favor as a skate shoe in the 90s, and it has seen a resurgence in recent years. Adidas’ foray into skateboarding — team, shoes, video, etc. — has aided in their renewed popularity.
Superstars have suede or leather uppers and an iconic rubber toe section. There is a breathable mesh lining to wick sweat and keep feet cooler, but the sockliner lacks the padding and cradling effect of the insoles in Adidas skate-specific shoes.
Superstars have cup soles, and the stiffer rubber makes them excellent longboard shoes for foot braking. Whereas gum soles fade quickly, the denser rubber lasts forever. The tradeoff is that the Superstars never have the grip of gum, and they are naturally stiffer as well. Anyone interested in having more board feel should check out the vulcanized Superstar Vulc ADV, which has a smaller silhouette than the original Superstars.
- Street cred
- Denser rubber soles have staying power, even holding up to extensive foot braking
- Rubber toe cap adds to longevity
- Insole not the most comfortable
- Distinct lack of board feel, great cruiser’s shoe but not so much for freeride
Vans Half Cab
Original Bones Brigade member Steve Caballero invented the Cabbalerial — or fakie 360 ollie — and so a fakie 180 ollie became known as a half-cab. Caballero’s signature shoe, the Vans Half Cab, is a mid-top shoe, so the name fits. Few shoes of any type fit like Half Cabs.
These legendary skate shoes, which first hit the market in 1992, feature full suede uppers with double-stitched toe cap and perimeter. The tongue and collar are lightly padded, but not enough to affect feel, which is excellent. Vulcanization means flex as well board feel, but there usually isn’t a lot of protection for the foot. Half Cabs are an exception.
Since their debut, the Half Cabs have been at the forefront of the compromise between feel and protection. The padding isn’t obtrusive, but it is adequate in the areas that need it most. Like most Vans, there is little arch support or cushioning, all of which interfere with feel anyway. For riders who want to be in touch with their boards, but who also want ankle support and impact protection, Half Cabs may be the best longboarding shoes.
- Proven performance, with a decades-long track record
- An excellent compromise between feel and protection
- Will never go out of style
- Gum sole grips like no other, but wears quickly
- Still not extremely protective
There are essentially two categories of skate shoe: vulcanized and cup sole. The choice is between the amount of feel riders have for the boards beneath their feet and the amount of protection the shoe provides for the feet. Let’s look at them in turn.
Vulcanization is a process wherein shoes are baked to form the bond between outsole and upper. The process hardens the rubber, meaning gummier materials with better traction can be used. The soles can also therefore be thinner, which provides more of feel for the board’s location. For more on vulcanizing, this video on YouTube shows much of the process of making Vans shoes, while also celebrating the company’s 50th anniversary.
Cup soles are usually sewn to the upper or glued to it with adhesives. The soles are comparatively thicker than vulcanized soles, but provide greater longevity, stability and protection. Cup sole skate shoes often also have additional padding in the uppers, though this is not always the case.
The right choice is a matter of preference, but the best longboarding shoes will use one means of construction or the other. The particular discipline of longboarding will often dictate the type of shoes a rider needs. Longboarders who ride downhill will have different considerations than those cruising to class, for example, and should take that into consideration.
These riders should take the death-defying speeds at which they ride into account. Board feel is secondary when a slight wobble can turn into disaster. The most protective cup-sole shoes give this segment of longboarders the most protection in the event of a crash.
Freeride requires excellent spatial awareness. However, the speeds these riders achieve down hills warrants some level of improved protection as well. Shoes like the Half Cab offer a combination of feel and protection that suits the discipline.
It might not seem to matter, but cruisers should strap skate-specific shoes onto their feet when they ride. They may not need all the extra padding of some cup soles, but the grip and longevity skate shoes offer make them safer and longer lasting than most athletic shoes. Those who foot brake a lot should consider cup sole shoes for their thicker, longer-lasting outsoles. Otherwise, some classic, comfortable Vans Era Pros may be just the ticket.
The Ride Away
The best longboarding shoes are the ones that speak to their wearer’s sense of style, but also have the hidden features that make for long lives. Grip tape and concrete are abrasive, and shoes for longboarding must counter these forces. The best ones do so while still providing the comfort and board feel to make hours of riding time well-spent.
The process of foot braking can be a lifesaver. The video above clearly demonstrates the process for doing it effectively. Just make sure your soles are up to the task, or a shoe replacement will come sooner rather than later.