How a Pair of Rubber Boots with a Stripe on the Side Threatens to Change the Way We Surf
Now, Vans Surf head designer Matt Nosbusch is gunning to break the booties/trunks stigma.
The first time I saw a pair of pair of black wetsuit booties with the patent Vans stripe down the side I wanted some.
It had nothing to do with performance, just pure aesthetics and the trust that Vans could put all their nouse into making a pair of rubber slips that would last longer than the butter-soft, liquid dipped daps that I inevitably put my finger through every winter. And it turns out I wasn’t alone, as Vans Surf head designer and driving force behind Vans’ foray into booties Matt Nosbusch tells me on FaceTime from California, speaking gingerly, as he’d just visited the dentist and was still numb from the novocaine.
“When we were first prototyping them we told the team riders to spray paint over the side stripe because we didn’t want people to know we were doing it,” Matt says. “I wore them a couple of times just at local beaches, and kids would paddle all the way across from another peak and say, ‘What? What’s going on here?’ I had to downplay it and say, ‘Ah it’s just something I’m working on. It’s no big deal, we’re not really doing booties.’”
You would’ve read a fair bit about Vans wetsuit boots on this website. Partly, being completely transparent, because Vans is a significant partner of ours and that’s how keeping lights on in the media works, but mainly because a skate shoe giant designing rubber shoes to make you surf better is big news in our world. But what we haven’t delved into in much detail is the extensive process that led to this potential industry game changer, thus phoning the man behind the cold water boot that’s already made waves, and the warm water boot that could well change the way we, or at least some of us, surf.
“Our skate shoes are all about grip, board feel and fit, so that was the focus, rather than protection or warmth,” Matt tells me of the fledgling stages of the surf boot. “I felt like a lot of the booties of the market were overbuilt, and Vans is known for simplicity, classic styling and strong function, so we approached it that way and tried to make the most simplified product we could. There’s no extraneous fluff. Every element, every panel, every shape, has a reason.”
The cold water boot was an instant success, which given their vogue function, even when the water only requires a 3/2, was no surprise to us. The mid-top warm water boot is a different beast entirely, but Matt’s as passionate as he is realistic about sliding it into the the canon of what’s acceptable to wear in warm water locales. And, contrary to the predictable rhetoric of every commentator/grizzly car park snubber (“bum rubbers!”), it’s got nothing to do with fashion, and everything to do with function.
“We’re known for grip and we’re known for rubber, so we came up with a special rubber compound and put it through thorough testing at our innovation facilities,” Matt tells me. “We tested a number of different treads and different rubber compounds, so there’s a fair bit of science behind it. They basically set up a whole simulation to find the best rubber for traction of wet wax.”
I’m not sure what the testing process is that goes into the rest of the booties on the market, but it’s a given that they don’t have the facilities or know-how to put footwear through its paces like Vans does. But creating a functioning product is only half the battle in surfing, where kook fear-mongering is rife. Matt knows that stigma goes out the window when someone ripping in the product confronts the cynics, and that’s the crux of Vans’ plan to change surf boot and trunks perception.
“Some of the team riders were into it, some of them weren’t,” Matt says (Dane Reynolds, don’t ever change). “Nathan Fletcher and Nathan Florence were super down for it because it helped their surfing, traction and connection to the board. It’s like wearing Sk8-hi’s with your boardshorts. You think of it as full Kook of the day vibe, but if you saw Nathan Fletcher doing giant airs at Pipe in them then maybe you’d change your perception.”
Wherever you stand on surfing in booties, a surf team as stacked as Vans’ utilising 50 years of footwear r&d to create better rubber shoes for surfing can only be good news for the rest of us.
Whether the mercury in your locale is dropping or rising, cover your hoofs in hi-tech slippers that’ll keep you glued to the wax.
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