What Are Skate Shoes? A Brief Look at Modern Skate Shoes

While skate shoes are often confused with sneakers, there is quite a difference between the two. Skate shoes are specifically designed for skateboarding, sneakers are for daily wear. Regular shoes can’t take the abuse skate shoes can and will wear much faster.

Often skate shoes consist of durable suede that needs to withstand the friction from grip tape found on skateboard decks. Skateboard tricks require you to slide your shoes on your skateboard in various ways, this will cause wear and tear on specific parts of the shoe.

Basically a skate shoe is designed to withstand wear from grip tape, consists of grippy soles that prevent you from slipping, and offer support from impacts. Their flexibility allows for more control compared to a regular shoe. Skate shoes (should) have suede near the area where it comes into contact with grip tape to make them last longer.

collection of skate shoes

What Are Skate Shoes Made of?

Skate shoes compromise a combination of suede, leather, canvas, and rubber. A proper skate shoe should have quality suede on the parts where the shoe comes into contact with grip tape. Some shoes offer multiple layers of suede placed in the right areas of the shoe. This means you can still skate these shoes after you chew through the first layer of suede.

Do Skate Shoes Make A Difference?

I think by now you know the answer. Skate shoes make a huge difference because they allow you to control and feel your skateboard. The flat soles offer control and balance you don’t experience when using regular shoes.

As a skateboarder you need proper gear and shoes are the most important factors to consider when picking the right apparel. Proper skate shoes prevent injuries and when you find the right skate shoes, tricks will become easier.

There is no such thing as the best skate shoe but there certainly are terrible skate shoes out there. The right skate shoe is about what you like personally. You need to find out for yourself what works. No one can answer this question because it’s just an opinion and usually heavily biased.

Why Are Skate Shoes Flat?

skate shoe bottom view

Skateboarding is all about control and for that you need to feel how a skateboard responds to your input. A flat sole means your feet are as close to your deck as possible and makes it much easier to control.

I’m sure there are skateboarders out there than can kickflip a skateboard on high heels (let me see if I can find a video), but you see my point. The closer your feet are to your board, the easier it is to correct and control, and that’s just the riding part.

For tricks you want shoes that are flexible, thicker soles offer less flexibility and make it harder to pop a trick on the right spot. Flexible and thin shoes make your tricks more consistent and reduce the risk of rolling an ankle for example.

Skateboarders who want to learn tricks need skate shoes. Skate shoes are different from regular sneakers and can withstand impacts and abrasive material like grip tape. The soles offer extra grip that help you stick to the surface of a skateboard deck.

For those who only like to use a skateboard for transportation, skate shoes aren’t that important. However, you need shoes that allow you to feel your board. This means you want your feet close to the surface of the deck to be able to feel how it responds.

If you skate on runners or basketball shoes, for example, you will lose the connection with your skateboard and correcting your stance is much more difficult.

Type of Skate Shoes

There are only two types of skate shoes, Vulcanized skate shoes and cupsole skate shoes. The main difference is that vulcanized skate shoes are much more flexible compared to cupsoles and offer more board feel. Cupsoles offer more support and are better at absorbing impacts when jumping large drops. The also are more suitable for daily wear and offer better arch support.

ProsCons
Low TopsBest ankle mobility
Comfortable on warm days
Lightweight
Less ankle collision protection
Mid TopsMore ankle protection
Decent board feel
Less freedom of movement
Beefier shoe
High TopsSolid ankle protection
Confidence boost
Can feel constraining
Rather heavy
Slip-OnsMost board feel
No laces
Lack of ventilation
Less durable

Low Top Skate Shoes

This is the most common type of skate shoe. Low top skate shoes offer the most flexibility and range of motion. The only downside is that it doesn’t offer much ankle protection. Sometimes a board can hit your ankle but low tops don’t cover that part of your feet, it’s even worse when your deck has developed razor tail.

Mid Top Skate Shoes

One of the most know mid top skate shoes are the Half-cabs. Mid tops offer more protection near teh ankle area without compromising the range of motion too much. They sit right between low tops and high top skate shoes. Some love them while others feel they are a bit too bulky.

High Top Skate Shoes

High top skate shoes offer the most ankle protection, but don’t prevent you from rolling your ankles. They are harder to put on, at least I really have to squeeze into them but your miles may vary.

High top skate shoes sacrifice mobility for stability and are a bit heavier compared to low tops. You don’t see them often these days but Vans Classics Highs are the most common. I do like the secure feeling they provide but they feel constraining at the same time.

Slip-Ons Skate Shoes

Slip On skate shoes offer the most flexibility and freedom of movement, providing the best boar feel you can get from a skate shoe. They don’t have laces which is a big plus but can also lack breathability depending on the model and brand.

They don’t offer much ankle protection and aren’t the most durable skate shoes you can get, but are great for technical skateboarders.

Skate Shoe Insoles (Foot Protection)

skate shoe insoles

Skate shoe insoles vary in quality and materials depending on the skate shoe brand and shoe model. Because (vulc) skate shoes consist of rather flat outsoles, the insole helps to absorb impacts and protects the bottom of your feet.

Not all insoles are equal, some offer more impact protection than other depending on the construction. They all have one thing in common; all of them are flatter than you would expect from something that needs to absorb impacts.

It’s a trade off, you don’t want your insoles to compromise board feel, thicker insoles would offer more comfort but you still need to be able to control your board. More expensive skate shoes offer higher quality insoles where cheap skate shoes have very basic insoles don’t don’t offer much protection.

Typically skate shoe insoles are made from foam with added gel pads or air cushioning Vans Pro models offer one of the best insoles, but Dr Scholl’s or FP also offer more comfy insoles, which are especially useful when landing primo.

Other Skate Shoe Features

Time to dig into details to see what separates skate shoes from regular shoes and why those features are important for skateboarding.

Reinforcement In High-Abrasion Areas

I briefly addressed this already but one of the most important factors are the reinforced areas that come into contact with your grip tape. A decent skate shoe should at least have some of the following features:

Any good skate shoe has a reinforced toe and outsole to help make the shoe more durable. There are a few different ways these reinforcements are added, but here are some of the most common:

  • Toe Caps are especially useful for vert and bowl skating. They are made of rubber and prevent your shoes from ripping when you slide on your knees. Less suitable for street skating as the rubber toe cap is near the flicking areas and behaves unpredictable.
  • Bumpers & Ollie Patches offer extra protection, they prevent chewing through your suede and sit on the side of the toe area. The Enties Marana Michelin cups have this feature. Again not ideal for flicking your deck but extremely durable.
  • Some shoes like the Vans Pro (DURACAP) offer rubber-backed suede which is an extra layer beneath the suede layer and ads extra life to your shoe when the top layer is gone. This lines the inside of the high-wear areas of the shoe with rubber, making it harder to blow a hole.
  • Double or even triple stitching around the flick area offers an extra layer of durability. Some shoes lack stitches entirely which also prevents shoes from ripping.
  • Some shoes offer lace protectors to prevent them from ripping. The Etnies Joslin 2 for example cover the laces using a suede strip with Velcro. Other shoes offer metal eyelets or hide the laces in particular areas.
  • Those who are looking for more comfort should look for shoes with a gusseted tongue. They come with an elastic band to keep them in place making your feet feel more secure.

A Brief History of Skate Shoe Designs

In the 1950s, amphibious and ambitious surfers took to the streets, adopting a former child toy as an extension of their surfboards. These early renditions of the skateboard were rudimentary to say the least. They were flat planks of wood attached to roller skate wheels. Naturally, surfers originally opted to skate barefoot while “sidewalk suffering”. 

In 1965, the first ever televised skateboarding contest was aired, the National Skateboarding Championships in Anaheim, California. Skaters at this time had started doing flatground freestyle tricks, and bombing massive hills.

Barefoot wouldn’t cut it, so skaters typically wore the already popular Converse Chuck Taylors. The rubber souls of the Chuck Taylors were all the more practical back in the 60s, as skateboards still had no grip tape! 

Skateboarders in the mid to late 60s also skated Ked’s boat shoe style sneakers, which inspired Randolph Rubber Company to create a similar design with patented tough rubber. This shoe was named the Randy 720.

Unfortunately, the shoe wasn’t enough to keep the company going, but it did pave the way for the wildly popular skate shoe brand Vans to enter the market with their own take on the canvas and rubber combination shoe. As we all well know, Vans shoes stuck around. Various other shoe companies followed suit more renditions of the canvas

In the 70s and 80s, despite massive improvements in trick mechanics and skate style – via Tony Hawk and Rodney Mullen – skate shoe designs saw a lower rate of evolution. That is not to say nothing changed or improved. As tricks began to evolve around the ollie and have higher impact, skate shoe companies tried to combat this issue with shoe durability against grip tape as well as sole softness.

Vans, Etnies and Vision Street Wear all came out with more durable shoes with various materials. In the 80s, The Air Force Jordan 1 by Nike became widely popular with skateboarders. 

In the 90s, the design of skateboards – narrower with smaller wheels – spurred a desire for less bulky, lighter, low cut skate shoe designs. Etnies, DC, Dukes came out with shoes tailored to this new style of skateboarding, and more brands followed in their footsteps, such as Adidas, Nike and Puma.

Skateboarding shoes began to look like what is generally preferred by the skaters of today, thin smooth leather and suede uppers and a grippy (often gum) sole base. 

In 1997, Eric Koston released the first shoe with basketball shoe cushioning in the soles, called the Koston 1, with éS Footwear. This the spurred a revival, in the early 2000s, of the bulky sneaker style skate shoe.

However this trend soon faded, and skaters once again yearned for light and thin shoes that provided plenty of board feel, while maintaining durability from the uppers and adequate impact absorption from the soles. This brought about lots of technological advancements in sole (specifically insoles), and upper fabric design. That is where we’re at now with skateboarding shoe designs.

Photo of author

Theodore Harper

I love skateboarding but my age is catching up. I decided to use my experience to skate less and write more. 20 years of skateboarding allows me to offer original and unique insights for all types of skateboarders.