Everything You Need to Know About Gum Soles
Vans has rubber in its DNA. It was Paul and Jim Van Doren’s rubber company that started making shoes and selling them directly to the public back in 1966. Though everyone loved the comfort and style of this casual footwear, skaters also noticed that their grippy vulcanised rubber soles also made them perfect for tricks.
Soon, Vans would be creating sneakers to meet skaters’ specifications, including gum soled shoes. But what are they and how do they benefit skateboarders?
What are gum soles?
Gum soles are made from natural latex (rubber) which is both durable and sticky. The latex is extracted as a liquid from rubber trees and then heat treated to break down its proteins and turn the substance into solid rubber. Gum soles keep the caramel brown colour that forms naturally in the process and can be reheated to form a strong, watertight bond with the fabric of a shoe.
Importantly, gum soles are not rigid or stiff like some synthetic sole materials. The soles warp under pressure and squeeze themselves into the tiny contours of the surface they’re pressing against, whether that’s a road surface or skateboard. This helps to keep skaters’ feet firm against the board.
Then, when the pressure’s released, it bounces back into its original shape. This deforming and reforming ability means gum soles can last for years, unlike hard soles which wear down under pressure from other surfaces. Not gum soles: their durability and flexibility mean they’ll last and last.
Are gum soles better for skateboarding?
Gum soles are durable and grippy, which makes them perfect for sticking to a skateboard hour after hour. Though some skaters love them, your final footwear choice will depend on the style of skateboarding you prefer. For example, their high level of grip can make it tricky to perform kickflips.
If the gum extends around the toe cap, like on the Skate Authentic Shoe, then that gives skaters the extra bit of grippy push you need as the board rolls across your toe during the flip. Generally, if you’re doing low-impact tricks, gum soles will be sweet, and they’ll last for many sessions in the park.
Gum soles are also loved by skaters because they tend to be thinner, which has two advantages: a shorter break-in time and enhanced boardfeel. Your feet will get more information from the board and the surface you’re on, so the shoe will feel like an extension of your foot if it fits snugly. That means you’ll sense everything and be able to judge pressure and direction, essential for fine-tuned ollies and manuals.
When it comes to high impact tricks though, gum soled trainers are less appropriate, as finesse is less important than absorbing the impact of hitting hard surfaces. If that’s your thing, look for high-performance footwear.
So are gum soles better for the casual skater? We’d say yes. It’s fine for everyday skateboarding on streets and some light runs at the skatepark. Plus, their classic look makes them a stylish choice, whether you choose Old Skool trainers or a pair of SK8 high sides.
If you’re just looking for a pair of gum sole sneakers for everyday wear, check out the Skate Collection. The style has hardly changed since ’76 and its canvas-gum sole mix has become a streetwear staple that always looks fresh.