Written by Matt Welty (@matthewjwelty)
Unlike most sneakerheads my age, I didn't grow up reading SLAM (sorry, Russ). Allen Iverson didn't dictate how I wanted to dress. I didn't have full-page spreads of Chris Webber in DADA sneakers on my wall. I had subscriptions to Transworld Skateboarding, Thrasher, and spent way too many hours arguing with people on SLAP's message board.
At 14 years old, I threw up a middle finger to the athletic world and put a skateboard beneath my Vans Steve Caballero pro model sneakers. There were DC Shoe Co. ads of Josh Kalis skating Love Park and Mike Carroll and Rick Howard's newly-minted footwear brand, Lakai, on my bedroom walls. This was my introduction into the world of sneaker fanaticism.
By the time I was a freshman in high school, in 2000, I had only owned one pair of Air Jordans: "Aqua" VIIIs that my mom purchased for me in second grade. I was more interested in Jamie Thomas' first signature sneaker with Circa and how it gripped my board and had a flexible midsole. It was the start of the new millennium, and skate shoes became exaggerated with their silhouettes. It forced me to look strategically at each sneaker I purchased.
That experience opened me up to the idea of sneakers being more than functional footwear or something that just looked cool.
I, along with my best friend, Nate, would critically look at each skate shoe we bought. Our sneaker choices were influenced by weeks of thumbing through CCS catalogs, what was worn by our favorite skaters in skate videos (old or new), or whatever the local skate shop had on sale.
The concept of "chillin' shoes"—the sneakers that skaters wore when they weren't posted up at the skate park or spot—hadn't been dawned on me yet. I'd walk around the halls of my high school with sneakers that would be Shoe Goo'd several times until they met their griptape-induced fate. As my big and pinky toes poked out of my right sneaker, I would think about my next pair. At that time, my concerns were strictly function-based. I had no concept of breaking necks, only landing kickflips.
My thought process changed in the summer of 2001. Stevie Williams' first pro model sneaker with DC had released the year before. The design drew liberally from the Air Jordan XII, and it was was the first skate sneaker I absolutely needed. I convinced my mom to pay somewhere around $100 for them—which was crazy for a pair of skate shoes that I would dog in a few months. But they had a navy upper with hints of baby blue and a white sole. I wanted to learn switch heelflips and 180 nose grinds just to be cool enough to wear these joints.
That wasn't the only moment that summer which changed my outlook on sneakers. I took a trip to the Gravity Games in Providence, and my friend, Joe, was an Eric Koston fanatic. By now, people know that Eric Koston is one of the biggest sneakerheads in skate culture. But at that point, we viewed him as arguably the world's most talented skater who was on his third signature sneaker with éS.
Koston was at the Games, and Joe had brought a pair of white/royal Koston 3s. When he approached the crowd, Joe reached out and handed him the sneakers. Koston's eyes lit up. He took a black Sharpie and drew the Chomp on This logo on the sneakers—a skate video which was only speculative at that time.
In our eyes, the sneakers became priceless. Koston had blessed them with much more than a scribbled signature. He had given them a whole new meaning. It also didn't hurt that the K3 was also a play on the Jordan XII.
That experience opened me up to the idea of sneakers being more than functional footwear or something that just looked cool. They had a life all their own.
I started to pay closer to attention to skaters' sneaker choices. Rob Welsh wore all-white sneakers in Aesthetics' Ryde or Die, Vol. 1 video, and Pat Washington managed to skate the piers of San Francisco in a pair of Saucony Hangtimes.
Skaters didn't just have to wear black, vulcanized-soled sneakers. They also didn't have to wear sneakers from skate brands, either. I realized it was okay to reach outside of the skate-owned brand bubble, and I started to search for models and silhouettes that spoke to my personal views on style.
Around that time, you were likely to catch me in a pair of oversized cargo sweatpants, an Alphanumeric T-shirt, and 5-panel hat. That's when I decided that the adidas Pro Shell—the mid-top Shell Toe with the strap—was perfect for me. I could undo the strap and the sneakers had a fat tongue. They weren't great for skating, but they looked cool. And that's all that mattered to me. Maybe it mattered too much.
I no longer skateboard, but the impact on me goes back before I knew what a limited-edition sneaker was.
Later in my high school career, I briefly hung up my skateboard so I could focus on going to parties, trying to talk to girls, and diving into the rabbit hole that's underground hip-hop. This was around the same time that Nike SB launched. As the years went on, and I still kept a clean pair of adidas, I turned my eye back to skate culture.
It was around 2005-2006, and Nike SB had grown from ads of Richard Mulder and Gino Ianucci in the back of Thrasher to the bubbling aspect of sneaker culture. I had always wanted a pair of Dunks, but they felt impossible to track down in suburban New Hampshire.
I learned this local shop in Portsmouth, Identity, carried SBs. And with my connection to skate world, it only felt right to cop a pair. It was a meeting point for sneakerheads, skaters, and those who fluctuated between both worlds. The skate rats would talk about sneakers with people who had worn Jordans their whole life. There was an authentic sneaker culture being formed, and it opened the floodgates to me buying multiple sneakers each month and getting sucked into Internet sneaker forums and blogs. It was a wrap for me. I was completely hooked on sneakers.
I no longer skateboard, but the impact on me goes back before I knew what a limited-edition sneaker was. Every sneaker I owned was limited, because I knew it wasn't going to last long.
These days, I'm almost always laced up in a pair of Nike Frees, Nike Air Maxes, or runners from various other brands. But if DC decides to retro Stevie Williams' first signature sneaker, you better believe I'm picking up two pairs.