Life is hard.
Regardless of what your beliefs on who we are or where we came from, one thing that is true is a large part of life is comprised of reacting and adapting to a never-ending series of unpredictable events. As a way of finding meaning in all of this uncertainty, we are often faced with questions that are so important and so pressing that they absorb the entirety of our consciousness for a period of time. Questions so meaningful that it feels like leaving them unanswered will burn a hole in your entire being, rendering a hollow and incomplete person inside.
Who am I? What is my purpose in this life? Why are so many people doing body varials right now? These are the big questions in life, and it is important to engage in an adequate period of introspection to find the answers to these mysteries.
Today’s burning question is a simple one. Why, in an age with such drastic advancements in performance athletic footwear, aren’t things like tongue stabilizers, padded heel counters, and arch support standard in all skate shoes? In other words, if the purpose of a skate shoe is to provide comfort and durability for skateboarding-specific movements and impacts, then why don’t we see more shoes with full-foot orthotic support? To unpack this concept a little more, let’s look at this question in regards to each feature.
These may not be the most important part of a shoe in terms of providing greater support while standing, walking, or skating, but there are definitely benefits to having the tongue of your shoe in the right place. One benefit, for instance, is preventing the excruciating pain of an errant board landing on the tops of your feet. It’s amazing how even a little bit of padding can soften the blow in those types of situations.
Aside from protecting your precious dorsals from being bludgeoned by your board, tongue stabilizers are really just a simple solution to an annoying problem. It’s such a simple fix that its absence seems inexcusable at this point. In most cases, they are just two elastic strips inside the shoe that anchor the tongue to the midsole and keep it from burrowing inside your shoe. Sure, sometimes the square footage within the shoe is a precious commodity to be saved for ventilation or added durability, and so the extra straps aren’t a viable option. But, we’ve recently seen shoes like the CONS CTAS Pro address their rage-inducing tongue problems by adding a gusseted tongue that connects to the upper rather than the midsole, so there are more than one option when it comes to alleviating this problem.
Padded Heel Counter
Again, this isn’t necessarily the most important part of a shoe when it comes to ergonomic design, but we think it’s important because of how shitty it is to get blisters from the counter digging into your heels. When the hard plastic of the heel counter isn’t covered by padding or a heel collar, it can make each insufferable step feel like another layer of your heel is being slowly shaved off by a dull razor. While this is something that goes away after a shoe is broken in, it’s another problem where the solution is simple enough for its continued presence to be indefensible.
You would assume that superior arch support would be a given for an activity where jumping down flights of stairs is considered common use, but there are surprisingly few skate shoes on the market that provide support for what many consider to be the most crucial part of the foot. This is a bit of a prickly issue to talk about, given that there are a lot of different professional opinions on whether or not adequate arch support is an effective means for lowering the risk of injury. What we do know, however, is that fallen arches are closely linked to back and knee pain, and one of the contributors to fallen arches is damage to the posterior tibial tendon from the repeated absorption of high impacts. In other words, there may not be enough compelling evidence to say that arch support is absolutely necessary to prevent certain injuries, but there are enough health concerns linked to an abnormal arch for us to take note – especially when considering the level of impact that skateboarders put on their feet in relation to any other activity.
So we can see that there are improvements that could be made to alleviate some common annoyances and provide more support, but what factors play into their absence from the skate shoe industry? When looking at performance shoes for any other sport or activity, many of the features we mentioned are not only present, but refined to a point where they don’t add any weight or bulk to the overall design. So, why do skate shoes seem to be behind the curve in this area?
One reasonable assumption would be cost. We must remember that footwear design is almost always guided by fashion and profitability, not health considerations. The concern of whether or not a shoe acts like a cheese grater to someone’s heel is far less important to skate shoe companies than if it will sell 400,000 units in a given timeframe. Even more so, we can often overlook the true cost of manufacturing a shoe, and even something as small as an elastic material to keep the tongue in place can add quite a bit to a shoe’s overall cost, which results in higher prices for the consumer. Skateboarders aren’t necessarily too keen on the idea of shoes being any more expensive than they already are, and most would likely choose the prospect of a cheaper shoe that is worse for their feet than an expensive shoe that provides a certain functionality.
Another likely reason is because feet come in all shapes and sizes, and designing a shoe that will fit each foot type is pretty much impossible. While a given shoe may feel perfectly comfortable to one person, it may feel like a little iron maiden for the next person. There is so much variance out there that it’s impossible to meet every need. With arches specifically, it’s difficult to gauge how much support is necessary. Too little can result in fallen arches, whereas too much can cause under-pronation and bring stress to the iliotibial band. Whatever the case, the unique purpose for which skate shoes are made to perform seems to demand an equally unique ergonomic design, and that design doesn’t seem to be largely available at the present time.
So where does this leave us? Should we start researching how to make DIY tongue stabilizers? Do we need to buy those little padded band-aids for the heels of our shoes? Should we all start ‘gellin’ with Dr. Scholls? Maybe we should plan on landing primo a couple times a week to keep our arches intact. Or maybe we should expect more from the skate shoe industry when it comes to advancements that promote the sustainability of our health as well as functionality. Who knows, maybe that will spark some change and we will start seeing people in their 40’s and 50’s who still have the ability to jump down big shit because they’re no longer wearing poorly evolved shoes.
As is the case with most of life’s burning questions, sometimes the answers lie in the asking of the question itself. There may not be a definitive action or lesson to walk away with, but the perspective of how things could be otherwise might be enough for now.
What are some other features that you think should be present in all skate shoes?