You may be surprised to learn the fastest shoes on earth wer not running shoes, so don't look for them on the running track. They were rail riding shoes (soap shoes) which could cost in excess of $200 per pair. What makes Soap shoes a little special is the adaptation they have on their soles. Each shoe sole is fitted with metal grooves (or runners) for sliding down hand railings and other smooth surfaces. The speeds reached by rail riders are very high and of course this fast growing street sport caused urban mayhem, as well increased attendances at A&E Departments.
Many broken legs and sprained ankles were reported and that is only the rail riders. Great concern has been expressed for the safety of innocent people whose misfortune it is to meet a young adult in full flight. The craze started in the US in the 90s and the shoes were banned from many schools. Needless to say rail riding shoes were for a time the new trend.
Our urban fascination with wheels at our feet goes back to the late 19th century when the wheel was rediscovered with a vengeance. Cycling revolutionised women’s clothing.
After the Second World War, pram wheels were put to good use by children who took to building karts or bogies.
Usually a wooden crate with four pram wheels, the make shift racing cars became a valued part of a kids toy collection.
By the middle of the twentieth century and surfing became established on the West Coast, urban street kids modified their bogies and swapped their pram wheels for smaller ones made from clay. New innovations were made to the trucks or devices which held the wheels to the board and improved maneuverability meant city and town kids could now sidewalk surf.
A decade later the popular pastime gained greater popularity with the introduction of professional boards and new promotions including professional demonstrators. Soon organised competitions were introduced and by the end of the sixties international contests were common place with even a movie and magazines available to the devotees of the wee wheels. Cities began to ban skateboards in response to health and safety concerns and for a while anyway bad press concerning fatal accidents caused the industry to dip in sales. Skateboard became an underground activity contained to only certain areas.
When the polyurethane wheels were discovered skateboarding took on a new life. Further modification meant the new skateboards were easier to use, more reliable and the perfect vehicle for pedestrian maneuverability.
Skateboard parks began to spring up all over the place as the skateboard design was lengthened to give greater stability on vertical forces. Accidents however continued to dog the new recreation and when skateboard insurance escalated many parks had no choice but to close. The BMX craze took over and again skateboarding fell out of favour.
By the 80's exhibition and competition skateboarding still held its attraction for some but it was only when companies started to target street kids did the extreme sport eventually take hold.
In the 90's the popular move from competition to freestyle skateboarding meant boarders (now called slashers) could ride the freeways and did not have to rely on skateboard parks again. Clever marketing paid off and along with the new Thrasher Image* the movement introduced casual clothes to youths. Skateboard shoes, another mutation of the canvas trainers, (Vans, Airwalk and Vision) began selling in huge quantities to young people around the world.
By 1992 the new craze of inline skates was rediscovered and its impact was felt on snow, surf and street fashion.
* Influenced by hardcore punk style incorporating the clothing worn by US, Hispanic street gangs. Thrashers initially listened to heavy metal music but are more likely today to include rap and hip hop.
Macdonald K 1999 It's hip to slip The Sunday Times (WA) June 27 pp 26
Takamura Z 1997 Roots of street style Tokyo; Graphic-sha Publishing 163-164