Ever since pro model skate shoes first arrived on the scene in the late 1980s, it’s been a wild ride in a constantly evolving market that, to this day, continues to be influenced by the wider sneaker world (hello, Air Jordans!) yet nonetheless carves its own path.
Style and street cred are largely subjective, though, so instead of trying to rank these one through seven, we’re listing each of the below in chronological order with an emphasis on the impact they had upon their release. Let’s get started!
1. etnies Natas | 1988
The one that started it all…
These were the first pro model skater shoe thanks to etnies and Natas Kaupas. Taking cues from the Air Jordan—like so many on this list—it sported a rubber ollie guard, four colorways, and a generally streetwise look that was instantly appealing.
2. Vans Half Cab | 1993
What some consider literally the greatest skate shoe ever, the mid-cut variant of Steve Caballero’s celebrated hightop was a strong successor to Van’s first Caballero in 1989, pushing the industry forward by offering greater freedom of movement.
3. etnies Sal 23 | 1994
A simple, no-fuss shoe at first glance, the etnies Sal 23 stands as the epitome of a skateboarding-first shoe to this day, despite the clear MJ homage via the stitched “23” near the rear. Skating pioneer Sal Barbier’s influence goes far here, as does the subtle ollie patch that works to mitigate seam ripping.
4. éS Accel | 1995
Super 90s in some respects, there’s actually plenty in common here with modern vulcanized shoes, and designer Pierre Andre’s use of suede stands as a signature hallmark of the design that makes this one memorable. Also, lest we forget, the Accel cements its place in history as the first skate shoe to ever rock a kevlar ollie pad.
5. DC Kalis | 2000
Speaking of suede, peep the DC Kalis. We really wanted to include DC and Josh Kalis involvement with this 2000-era release made it easy. And the red colorway? Gah, it’s just too iconic to leave off this list.
6. éS Koston 3 | 2000
By the turn of the century, Eric Koston was absolutely blowing the hell up. In 2000 alone, he won the Globe World Championships, Gravity Games, and the X Games, and even made an appearance in a little-ole-game you may have heard of, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. Honestly, it’s super apt that 2000 saw the release of both that game and the éS Koston 3s, as both are pretty damn legendary. And with the latter, you can seriously see the influence of the basketball world more than any other shoe on this list, making it distinctive among its contemporaries yet still as steeped as any of them in the skateboarding scene.
Oh, by the way, be sure to keep an eye out for a little Eric Koston career retrospective we’re dropping next week!
7. Nike SB Dunk Low Pro Mulder | 2002
Fresh. As. Hell. That encapsulates the aesthetic of the Nike SB Dunk Low Pro Mulder. They’re insanely classic in their look, which is hardly a coincidence—Richard Mulder wanted something that looked as if it was ripped straight from his childhood, a pair of shoes evocative of the first Nike tennis sneakers he ever owned. The all-leather white and royal blue design of these Nike SB’s are sensational, but more importantly, they were the first kicks in a series that acted as the building block of Nike’s relaunched skate shoe initiative.