The colourful canvas shoe that caught a wave and rode in as a 1980s fashion phenomenon.
Sean Penn’s surfer dude character (Jeff Spicoli) in the 1982 hit movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High popularised Vans when he wore – and carried, and hit himself in the head with – a pair of checkerboard print slip-ons.
The ultimate in 80s unisex shoe apparel, Vans had a splash and dash of creativity that other kickers lacked and that teenagers embraced.
A man, his vision, and a few partners opened the first Vans store in Anaheim, California in 1966. The Vans vision belonged to Paul Van Doren, a shoe manufacturer who believed in bringing quality shoes to the customers without the middleman.
Van Doren was successful at selling casual athletic shoes, but it wasn’t until 1976, when skateboarders adopted the sturdy canvas shoe, that Vans became linked to the teenage set.
At the request of skateboarders who wanted a standout shoe from the regular kickers available, Vans agreed to customise a colour block shoe for skateboarders. This resulted in the ERA, a half-red/half-blue shoe that was specially designed by two professional skateboarders, Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta.
The shoe became an automatic hit, and the brand became a necessary part of the skater’s uniform.
The popularity grew from skateboarders to surfers, and – thanks to Spicoli – to everyone.
Feet thousands of miles from the ocean, ones that had never even powered a skateboard, proudly displayed their Vans. They were produced in both slip-on and lace-up variety, but in either style, the coolest way to wear Vans was surfer-style, without socks.
The Vans company still creates the ultimate in skate and surfwear, but the casual coolness has been replaced by high-tech design, much like the simple skateboard gave way to the technical wizardry of today’s product.