If there were a single word that could best describe the culture of skateboarders, it would be the word obstinate, defined as “stubbornly persistent in wrongdoing”. Whether it’s being told to wear a helmet or side-stepping a security guard to get in one more try, skateboarders have a history of refusing to comply with most societal impositions, even in cases where compliance could potentially lead to their benefit.
Recently, we’ve seen a number of technological advances that have improved the durability of boards, trucks, wheels, clothing, and shoes. While we’ve come to embrace some of these innovations, most of us tend to hold onto our old ways for as long as possible. Now, we know that not every product or idea will enter into the mainstream, but there does seem to be an unspoken element in play that dictates whether or not a product will gain acceptance by mainstream skate culture. With that said, we wanted to take a good hard look at some of the products out there that claim to be a viable solution to one of skateboarding’s most insufferable maladies – ripping the shit out of your shoes – after which, we’ll turn the focus on ourselves to find out exactly why we are so damn obstinate.
Disclaimer: we, by no means, aren’t suggesting that you not try these products. Pursue them at your own discretion.
Alternative Grip Tape
With the exception of a few minor changes, griptape has remained more or less the same for the entirety of skateboarding’s history. While this would seem to suggest that the current iteration of griptape is without fault, it’s more of a necessary evil than anything. The following products claim to provide the same amount of traction as griptape without the disastrous results.
Sota No Rip Grip
Sota Grip is made out of a rubbery asphalt-type material, making it much softer and denser than standard griptape. One reviewer equated it to the surface of an outdoor basketball court or a running track. Surprisingly enough, there are very few negative reviews about Sota grip out there, which may actually suggest that it is a solid product. Major complaints are its $15 price tag, considerable weight added to your setup, and that its thickness makes for a nightmare of a time applying it to your board.
Duckle Grip is a similar product to Sota, in that they claim that their product provides traction comparable to standard griptape, but without the abrasion that destroys your shoes. Duckle claims that its adhesion comes through the “plow effect”, meaning that as you scrape your shoe across the grip, it deforms the surface to create a sort of mound that creates adhesion between the shoe and the surface below it. My question is this: since the plow effect, in this instance, would seem to rely on surface malleability, how well would Duckle work in excessively hot or cold conditions?
Why these products won’t take off?
From an objective standpoint, neither of these products are bad ideas. They represent the type of innovation that skateboarding needs: improvements to existing products that promote performance and longevity. Unfortunately for Sota and Duckle, it looks as though they’ve already lost the battle. Sota’s website is deactivated and Duckle has been out of stock for some time. While both products offer a suitable alternative to the status quo, high pricepoints, excess weight, and a lack of proven effectiveness has prevented them from gaining mainstream acceptance.
Skate Shoe Protectors
Without a suitable alternative to griptape on the market, skateboarders are forced to come up with creative ways to extend the life of their shoes. Some like to go the shoe goo/super glue route, while others have resorted to making custom rubber toe caps with Plasti Dip spray. For those who want to protect their shoes but don’t want to go the DIY route, the following products are available to help.
Simply put, this is a suede band-aid for your shoe. And like a band-aid, you can use this to cover an existing hole or to prevent a hole in your shoe altogether. The practicality of this product makes it difficult to take issue with, but my one complaint with Skate-Aid is that they had to put a damn logo on it. They took a great idea and ‘kook-ified’ it by putting a big ass logo on it, which is ultimately counter-productive to the entire concept because the goal is to cover the hole, not advertise it. Good product; bad execution.
Houkie Skate Sock
Let’s be honest here. The Houkie Skate Sock is a prophylactic for your foot. Think about it, it is a rubber sock that fully engulfs a body part to guard it from the dangerous effects of unprotected contact. If that chilling realization isn’t enough of a deterrent, think about the type of clowning you’ll get at the skatepark when you roll up wearing these skate galoshes. You may save money on shoes in the long run, but you’ll pay for it with your dignity.
Innovations that have worked
If there is one thing to take away from these products, it is that improvements to durability cannot come at the cost of the visual aesthetic of a shoe. As I said before, none of these products are bad in theory, but we must remember that skateboarders are stubborn creatures, and it’s unlikely that they will compromise the visual appeal of their shoes for a little more protection. Fortunately for us, there are a number of companies that have already taken measures to increase the durability of their shoes without the need for unappealing additions. DC has Super Suede, Vans has Duracap (as do Fallen and Cons under different names), and nearly every footwear company has jumped onto the #returnoftherubbertoe train. The future of skate shoes is looking bright enough that products like those above aren’t really needed.
Ok, here’s the part where we get real nerdy.
I mentioned earlier that we would take a look at why skateboarders are so stubborn, even when they could benefit from doing otherwise. When it comes to innovative products like those above, we have to ask why, as skateboarders, would we balk at something that makes our lives easier? I think the answer lies in our innate obstinacy. You see, skateboarders have a unique perspective that results in an entirely different view of what is intrinsically valuable than the rest of the world. That’s because, I think, the inherent nature of skateboarding is rooted in a deep, personal understanding of destruction. What I mean by this is skateboarders, by nature, are intimately connected to the idea that every single aspect of skateboarding, whether physical or social, involves a destructive force of some kind.
Physically, skateboarding is objectively destructive; you cannot engage in the act of skateboarding without destroying your board, your body, a spot, or all three together. Even world class skateboarders break boards and take slams on a regular basis; getting back up and trying again just becomes part of the game at a certain point. Socially, our destructive nature mostly comes in the form of denigrating authority figures, circumventing basic traffic and trespassing laws, and disregarding the notion that property has enough intrinsic worth to negate it from being skated. Since destruction is an absolute in skateboarding, it makes it easier to view our obstinacy less as a negative character trait and more as a natural coping mechanism that allows us to simply accept the reality of destruction and move on.
This theory may shed a little more light on how we relate to the rest of the world, but the question of why we point our stubbornness at products that could potentially benefit us remains. Again, I think part of it has to do with aesthetic; we’re not willing to accept improvements to durability if it comes at the cost of visual appeal. But, I also think that we balk at products like those in this article because we recognize that any attempt to prevent the destructive effects of skateboarding is only prolonging the inevitable. Sure, abrasion-free grip or adhesive patches might give your upper some extended life, but the ground will still do its part in destroying your soles – rendering them useless. Who knows, maybe five years from now, when we’re pushing our hoverboards around in our auto-lacing Nike boots (Janoski 2?), we’ll look back at griptape and laugh at how antiquated it seems.
Until that day, we might as well learn to love the destruction.