Wax the Coping: Classic Skate Vans

WTC: Classic Skate Vans

A few months ago, I started following @pillowheat on Instagram. The account belongs to Henry Davies, a Vans aficionado, historian and collector in London. If you're a fan of vintage Vans, it's definitely worth clicking that + Follow button on his feed. With all this Propeller radness going on lately I thought I'd hit up Henry and get his take on some of the most classic skate Vans in the company's rich history. Hit it, Henry: (Note: these are in chronological order; this is not a rating system.)

Vans official association with skateboarding did not come until the mid '70s, however, the 1966 style #44 was worn by the surfing mentors of the kids who would ultimately revolutionize modern skateboarding. Aptly named the Authentic, it was adopted for superior board feel and due to affordability, durability and their being available with characteristic Vans retail flexibility, the navy blue authentic was immortalized as the uniform of the infamous Zephyr team and endures as an icon of youth counter-culture to this day.

No. 2: ERA
Ten years after the brand's beginnings, Vans capitalized on their reach within local skateboarding and released their first skate-specific footwear as the style #95 Era in 1976. Alva and Peralta were consulted to add a padded collar, reinforced heel panel and infused the deck shoe template with Off The Wall style and attitude. The blue/red/blue remains the Era-defining colorway, however, the solid black maintained classic status through the '90s and beyond.

Initially taking the backseat to the simplicity of the era and high impact of Sk8-Hi to follow, the 1977 style #36 was the first significant departure from the classic Vans deck shoe mold. Favored early by Peralta, who was the first skater to be paid to wear Vans, it was the first skate-specific Van to feature suede and was also the first incarnation of the archetypal sidestripe. Somewhat overshadowed at times, Old Skool wearers welcome this and took it in stride as it accompanied them through decades of gnar.

No. 4: SK8-HI
Is there a shoe more loaded with skate significance than the style #38 from 1978? Beyond the extended ollie patch circa 1990, the Sk8-Hi remained relatively unchanged for 35 years. It embodies the spirit of skate, to where it remains loyal. An unofficial member of the original Bones Brigade team it had, and still has, vert and street credibility. The most versatile, sought after and preeminent core shoe of all time.

Despite the recent Supreme reissue, the circa 1988 Native remains the most underrated Van of all time. The precedent was set by the Vans Madrid Flys (deserving honorable mention), but for me the Native captures that loaded time period of transition from vert to street. The evolution from the early cornering patch, blazing neon Natives to the modified street version in core black/black, worn by Cab, Bill Danforth and a young Rowley to name a few, shows the versatility of this understated classic.

In the same way the trick can’t be talked about without mention of the Caballerial, so too can the 1992 Half Cab not be discussed without reference to the full Cab. It's phenomenal that the Half Cab actually came to fruition and shows brand open-mindedness to adhere to street demand and downsize their first signature Vans shoe. Progression from vert to street necessitated a lighter, better, faster prototype and the post-op Cab was now more reflective of Stevie’s compact style and low center of gravity. Standing the test of time and being worn by everyone who is anyone helped cement the Half Cab as the greatest skate shoe of all time.

A questionable moment in the Vans back catalog or a classic with all the answers? The status of the Airwalk One-inspired style #86 Lampin is indeed of generational importance. The killer two-tone suede combos of 1993 were super comfortable and functional and it's influence on the Rowley Special helped solidify its legacy. A legacy unfortunately not shared with the oft-forgotten elder brother, the Lampin-Mid/Turf!

Mike Carroll was signed to Vans shortly after being named Thrasher Skater of the Year in 1994. At the time, Mike was skating mostly in Half Cabs, the influence of which was clear on his elusive signature shoe. 1996 was a transitional time for Vans and Mike's contract was short-lived, however, his shoe captured that moment and reconciled old world vulcanized simplicity with elements of the bloated tech swing to come.

Rowley will never outgrow that wild intensity he had as a little grom out of Liverpool. He enjoys the hunt, not only for wild game or skate spots, but also the hunt for the perfect shoe. Heavily invested in the creation of his signature line, the Rowley pro was pioneering in 1999. Shortly after destroying the Staple Center in (made in USA) Eras, he dropped the slim, lightweight jazz-striped Rowley pro at a time of predominantly puffy, tech-laden aberrations and changed the direction of future footwear design.

No. 9: AVE
Modern footwear doesn’t normally register on my radar of RAD, but several signature AVE shoes are right up my alley. AVE favors the minimalistic and his signature classic is perfectly stripped back simplicity. The AVE native is more advanced with greater reinforcement and was actually modeled on an elusive mid-90s hybrid. Van Engelen has done Van Doren proud. The Native model will undoubtedly endure, more than earning its jazz stripes.

Learn more about Pillow Heat at pillowheat.com or on Instagram: @pillowheat

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