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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thoughts on SOLE footbeds

Matt from SOLE asked me for suggestions on how to improve SOLE footbeds for use by skateboarders.
So, here are my thoughts.
For an overview, I was using the SOLE Thin Sport footbeds in Vans Holder, Old Skool, and 106 Vulcanized models, C1RCA Tony Taves, and IPATH Mantis. The main problem I was having was the SOLE footbeds were too bulky in the forefoot area. My toenails were being pushed up into the shoe; uncomfortable. And I couldn't move my toes around. My heel was also slipping out of the shoe a lot. It was the opposite of what I want: forefoot freedom and heel support.

In general, skateboarders need heel protection, arch support, and lots of feedback in the forefoot area.
Here are my particular suggestions:
1. HEEL PROTECTION. Slightly square off the bottom edges of the heel part of the footbed. Vulcanized, minimalist shoes like Vans, Converse, Draven, Fallen, and the like do not have cupped shapes inside. They have a flat insole connected at a right angle to a flat wall. SOLE footbeds kind of "spring up" when placed in these shoes, causing the heel to slip out. The Superfeet 3/4 cups I mentioned have squarer edges that tend to sink all the way into the shoe. See the photo for a comparison.

You can see on the Superfeet insole (left) how it is squared off, while the SOLE Thin Sport (right) is more rounded. There is also a small "flare" on the outside of the heel part of the Thin Sports that makes it feel like my foot isn't seated well in the shoe; you can see it as a little lip in the photo. The Superfeet insert tapers into a smooth transition with the inside wall of the shoe. I need my heel and ankle not to move around in the shoe - that's why I wear the minimalist shoes. Some skaters like a lot of room in their shoes, and don't even really lace them, but you asked about minimalist shoes, and most skaters I know who wear minimalist shoes lace them pretty snugly, as I do. As for padding on the heel spur, I have tried soft padding and hard heel forms. Soft padding made heel bruising more likely, I found. I definitely find that a deeply cupped hard heel form, like what SOLE and Superfeet and Birkenstocks have, is the best. Heel cups even help heal heel bruising. The Thin Sports are good on the foot side, the top side, but don't feel secure because of the shape of the shoe side, the bottom side.
2. ARCH SUPPORT. The arch support on the Thin Sports was perfect for me. The heat moldable feature of these insoles is most noticeable in the custom fit of the arch.
3. FEEDBACK IN THE FOREFOOT AREA. When considering insoles for skateboarding, there isn't much need for anything in the forefoot area, really. Skateboarders like to feel the board with the balls of their feet. This is called "board feel", and it is important because skateboarders learn the special places to place their feet to make the board respond in certain ways. The difference in foot placement between making the trick and not making it is sometimes millimeters. Skateboarders need to precisely feel the bends of the concave. The SOLE Thin Sports were still really thick in the forefoot area. The Thin Sports were also far too rigid on the balls of my feet. There were pressure points on my feet on the inside ball, big toe, and the outside ball over by the pinky toe. I trimmed the footbeds and there was no improvement. I then cut one SOLE Thin Sport footbed set in front of the arch support, and it helped a little but I could feel where I had cut it. If there is anything in the forefoot area, it should be something thin and springy, like soft polyurethane. Anything too rigid and skateboarders will lose board feel.
4. One more thing: Don't worry too much about PADDING. Skateboarders choose their padding when they choose their shoe.Vulcanized shoes from some manufacturers are extremely flexible in the forefoot area, even sometimes a bit floppy. The heel is usually pretty rigid. Vans Core line shoes have relatively thick soles. Dekline soles are so thin I could feel the mounting bolts and the lines I cut in my grip tape.  I find that my insole choice is driven by the needs of my heel and arch.

I've also skated puffy shoes, and they're pretty different than minimal shoes like the Old Skool that I prefer so much. Puffy shoes, like the Globe Fusion and Vans Skink, have a lot of padding all around the foot, and skaters usually wear them loosely laced. The forefoot area of puffy shoes tends to be snug around the foot. Before they wear them for the first time, some skaters microwave their puffy shoes to soften the padding and quicken the process of breaking the shoes in to fit snugly around the foot. The heel part of puffy shoes is loose-fitting and heavily padded. The skater's heel moves around a lot, even when the shoes are laced up all the way. The padding of puffy shoes all but precludes tightly lacing the shoes; I found that puffy shoes, when snugly laced so the heels didn't slide around, cut off the feeling to parts of my feet. The soles of puffy shoes are usually rigid, especially with cup soles. In the case of puffy shoes, skaters probably would look to some arch support, and I would say the Thin Sport or really any of the athletic SOLE footbeds would work great. However, the skaters who prefer puffy shoes would probably have to trim the forefoot area of the SOLE footbed or else the edges would curl up in the narrow, heavily padded forefoot area of the shoe.

I hope this helps. I would love to see a heat-moldable custom footbed designed for minimalist, vulcanized skate shoes. My toes are good, and I like to wiggle them in the shoe, just help me stabilize and protect my heels and arches! I would suggest that if the minimalist shoe has a removable insole, then a full-length footbed would be in order. If the shoe doesn't have a removable insole, like the Converse All Stars and Vans Old Skool shoes, then a 3/4 length footbed (heel and arch) would be preferred. Thanks again, Matt, for asking.


  1. Wow! Thanks for that awesome response. I'll be sure to pass all this feedback onto our product team. I think you've pretty much nailed it with the 3/4 length for minimal shoes. I've had the exact same problem with the Thin Sports and my vans. Thanks again.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Thanks for your 11-5-10 comment, Matt. Check your email.

  4. i used super feet for awhile, they were really comfortable but had to take them out b/c they raised my instep so much that it caused me to lose circulation to my feet. id go with whichever one is thinner to avoid such a problem. (i even had the thinnest super feet available)