March 19, 2016

Thoughts on the Place of Vans in Skate Culture

Recently I was contacted by one of the senior editors of the periodical AdWeek. They were doing a story on the history of Vans and wanted an angle on the brand taken from its skateboarding roots. I don't proclaim to be an expert of course, but I know what I know and it's hard not to know something about the place Vans had in the history of skate culture if you have been paying any sort of attention whatsoever.

AdWeek ran a quote in their article, From Ridgemont High to 'Damn, Daniel,' Vans Is Still Kicking It at 50, and I thought I might publish the rest of my thoughts on Vans and skate culture. (I also want this opportunity to thank Ozzie over at Blue Tile Obsession who kindly agreed to read over my comments. I wanted to make certain I hadn't said anything too -- if you can pardon the pun -- off the wall.)

So without further ado, my fuller thoughts:

Vans are intimately tied up with the history of skateboarding. Whether you wore them or not, if you were into skateboarding you certainly recognized that classic Vans logo through skateboarding magazines and through the Vans stickers that inevitably would appear on a so many skaters' boards. It was just part and parcel with skateboarding, much like certain punk bands like Black Flag were.

Part of Vans popularity amongst skaters was practical of course. The rubber soles of Vans shoes gripped well and so they were certainly one of the shoes of choice amongst skateboarders. Getting a good grip on your board is important whether you are skating banks, street skating or skating pools.

What more, Vans shoes were also intimately tied up with the history of the legendary Dogtown skateboarding scene. The Zephyr skateboarding team, who hailed from Dogtown and who helped to pioneer what would become modern day skateboarding, had blue Vans as part of their team uniform. Seeing these guys, who so many held in awe, wearing those shoes was bound to have an influence on others who wanted to emulate them. That influence can still be felt today -- and to it you can now add a bit of history and nostalgia about the roots of skateboarding.

Aside from those aspects, it's important to understand that skate culture is one that is intimately tied to individuality and creative self-expression while also having a strong sense of community. Vans shoes, with their wide variety of colours and patterns gave skaters, I think, the ability to show themselves as part of a "tribe" if you will, while also giving them plenty of room to express their own particular style. The only other brand of shoe that I would consider even remotely close to Vans in terms of their prominence in the skate culture would be Converse. While those were really popular too, I don't think anything had quite the same level of iconic penetration into the skateboard culture that Vans did.

Many thanks to AdWeek for turning to Skate Culture.

Photo credit: I am sadly uncertain where this photo originates from. If anyone knows, please let me know so that I can give the photographer/image owner their just due.

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