The best skate shoes are made for more than landing a kick-flip. Skate style has long since infiltrated the highest realms of luxury fashion (remember when Vogue launched its own “Skate Week” in 2016?) and today, iconic skate shoes from the likes of Vans, Converse, and Adidas have become everyday wear for thousands of non-Thrasher subscribing customers. Heck, skateboarding is now a bona fide Olympic sport—and an eminently watchable one at that. So consider this the opportune time to familiarize yourself with the coolest shoes the pastime has to offer.
The Best Skate Shoes Shopping Guide
Once trusty stalwarts of the scene like DC Shoes, Emerica, and Lakai might not be in the mix as much anymore, but their influence is still deeply felt. The garish Supras Justin Bieber paired with skintight jeans and an impish grin before he mercifully embraced a far more enviable take on skate rat style? Forget ’em. But those super-sized Etnies you associate with the skateboarders of your youth? Might be worth remembering. (In fact, they offer a pretty spot-on aesthetic antecedent to so many of the hulking sneaker styles popular right now.)
To help you finally nail that tre flip (read: learn how to ollie), we took the time to round-up a pro-caliber roster of the best skate shoes around, each one as beloved for their cushioning, impact protection, and overall durability as for their timeless good looks. They probably shouldn’t replace your running shoes out on the track, but rest assured you can wear ’em pretty much anywhere else.
The General Release Icon
When it comes to the Vans catalog, are there good cases to be made for the Old Skool, Sk8 Hi, and Era 59? Probably! But the Half Cab splits the difference, looks just as good as it did when it launched in 1992—and maybe even skates a little bit better in 2023. Plus, it has a fun DIY origin story: pro skater Steve Caballero had his own hi-top model (the Vans Caballero) with plenty of ankle support but limited dexterity, so he (and a bunch of other skaters) started chopping off the collars and duct-taping the sides. Eventually, Vans just decided to do it for him, and the Half Cab was born. It quickly became a favorite among pros and average Joes alike, and, in the intervening 30 years, has been riffed on by brands like Supreme, Dime, and Our Legacy. In a world of ever-expanding hem widths, the Half Cab can handle the widest.
The Reimagined Daily Driver
When it comes to secondary market popularity and overall fervor, the Nike Dunk SB Low has had its peaks and valleys (the Pigeon riot and the Panda pandemic were nearly 20 years apart, with a fallow period in between). But when it comes to design and functionality, it’s basically stayed consistent for 21 years. The SB itself was a riff on the regular Dunk, which had been doing its thing since 1985—functioning as a lower-tech Jordan 1 in many ways, and offering broad customization options to universities eager for that sort of thing at the time. In 2002, Nike beefed up the tongue and collar with added padding, threw in a retrofitted Zoom Air insole, popularized a slew of dubious nicknames (Rayguns! Dino Jr.’s! Heinekens!) and the rest was Tier Zero history.
The Pro-Model Kicks
It’s hard to overstate the impact that both the “pro” and the “model” have on any given pair of pro model kicks. For every best-seller, there’s an entire universe of forgotten, ignored, or otherwise unappreciated counterparts that never quite caught on (shoutout to the Nike Zoom T-Bugs). But when they work, they work—and few work better than the Adidas Tyshawn Pro, a mid-top sneaker that boasts an adhesive-like grip, a bombproof toe box, and enough cushioning to handle the burliest gaps in NYC. The silhouette looks good with pretty much everything, but, as you might expect, it looks downright transcendent with baggy-ass pants.
The New-Age Classics
For a sport that is, objectively speaking, hard as shit, skate gear is largely spartan—fatigues over four-way stretch, cotton tees instead of moisture-wicking anything, jeans not joggers. This is for a number of reasons—budgetary concerns, utility, a general DGAF aura—but chief among them is that skateboarding always has been, and always will be, a stylistic pursuit as much as it is a technical one. And yet! The Nike SB Nyjah Free 2 wraps the tech of a running shoe in a low-profile silhouette that lives up to the standards of a dude with 12 X Games gold medals—and looks all the better for it.
The Skate Shoe That Knows It’s a Skate Shoe
New Balance hasn’t been making skate shoes for that long, but their catalog of court kicks is a reference dreamscape, helping iterative styles like 1010 Tiago appear both brand new and ever-present—like the 550s cousin who just moved back to town and happens to rip. Make no mistake: the 1010 is unabashedly a skate shoe, and an uncompromising one at that.
The Skate Shoe You Probably Shouldn’t Skate In
If you absolutely must buy a pair of obscenely expensive sneakers you could also plausibly skate in, these are the ones to get. They dutifully reference the halcyon Etnies-Osiris-DC era without losing that designer context, plus, they’ll look great with some big ol’ stacked pants. The nubby brown color will both hold up to wear and play well with most of what’s in your wardrobe, so at least the cost-per-wear can work its way into the low double-digits. You might never skate these—and most people won’t confuse you for someone who would—but that isn’t really the point, is it?