When The Van Doren Rubber Company first opened their doors in 1966, no one could have guessed the small Southern California store would become the giant success it is today. The Van Doren Rubber Company has since transformed from a single shoe store into the globally-recognized Vans brand. From early legendary skateboarders to the average teen, Vans have been loyally worn for over four decades. Paul Van Doren, founder of Vans, believed that to accomplish something you either have to ‘love it or leave it’and that is exactly what he did. Van Doren shaped Vans into the thriving brand it is today without losing touch of its skateboarding roots or his passion for shoes.
Let’s warp ourselves back to the early 60's, Paul Van Doren packed up his family and moved from Massachusetts to sunny Anaheim, California to start a new kind of shoe manufacturing company. That is where the waffle sole began. Paul Van Doren believed that making an affordable shoe of the best quality was possible. The waffle sole was a key point in this idea. Van Doren did not set out to make a skate shoe but he built shoes with great traction at an affordable price and local skateboarding enthusiasts chose Vans as their shoe of choice. The Z-Boys (Zephyr Competition Team) skateboarding team consisted of Allen Sarlo, Jay Adams, Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta. The team saw the affordability and quality in the skate shoe. Over the decades Paul Van Doren found ways to perfect the waffle sole and made its traction last longer.
Skateboarders like Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta were the first to use the phrase ‘off the wall.’ The story behind the phrase is, Alva and Peralta were at the Santa Monica Vans store talking about the time Tony Alva was skating in an empty pool and while still gripping his skateboard, Alva and his board went airborne above the pool’s edge. Skip Engblom, founder of the Zephyr Competition Team, said, “Man, you just went off the wall!” It would become an iconic phrase for Vans and the company started using it on their shoes. Skateboarders were able to differentiate which styles were skate-specific by the “Off The Wall” logo.
Alva and Peralta played a big role in shaping Vans into what they are today by expressing what a skateboarder needed in a skate shoe to the Van Doren family. Alva convinced Steve and Paul Van Doren that there was a greater market for Vans in skateboarding. Vans responded by designing shoes with riders’ needs in mind adding extra cushion around the ankle for better comfort and increased longevity. In turn, skateboarders were loyal to the brand because Vans had great grip, supportive ankle cushions and of course, funky colors and patterns. Vans’ influence on skateboarding was a shift in sports history not only for legends like Alva and Peralta but for young riders today.
A random doodle by Paul Van Doren would turn to be the signature staple of the Old Skool, originally called style 36. Paul Van Doren called the doodle his ‘Jazz Stripe’ and it became Vans’signature mark in 1977.
If someone walked into the Vans store and couldn’t find a color they liked, the store offered custom colors. Paul Van Doren was one of the first to satisfy the styles and preferences of many. Even podiatrists heard of the customizable Vans. People could order just about any color and Vans would make it. This was just the start of their crafty creations.
In 1982 Vans debuted on the big screen with the movie ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’. Sean Penn played Jeff Spicoli in the film and the actor was given the opportunity to be his own stylist. The NYC kid intuitively knew how to adapt to southern California culture and he brought the Vans Checkerboard Slip-On to the set. Vans had no plans to sell outside Southern California but when teens everywhere saw cool guy Jeff Spicoli rocking Checkerboard Vans on the big screen, the shoes became worn and wanted worldwide. It was a product placement jackpot for Vans at no cost thanks to cool kid Spicoli.
Although Vans were known for their skate shoes, the company began to make a move towards other action sports. It was decided the Triple Crown Events was the place for Vans to start. The events began with surfing and later expanded to wakeboarding, freestyle motocross, supercross, snowboaring, and BMX. It was known as the VTCS (Vans Triple Crown Series) all around the world. TV production companies began to recognize the growing popularity of the events. ESPN and NBC became partners with VTCS in televising the sporting events that took place in different countries. Vans began to be seen as not only a retailer but an nationally-recognized brand.
Action sports weren’t the only place Vans dabbled their waffle soles in. Vans knew a thing or two about music and in 1995, Vans found the perfect venue to sponsor. The Warped Tour was one place where teens could see tons of their favorite bands playing on multiple stages. The Vans Warped Tour vibe is like live music on a warm summer night chilling at a fair ground. Warped Tour still has that same effect of making you feel the live music in your ears and getting pumped by the sounds of punk-rock, hip-hop, reggae, pop-bands, local bands and more. Warped Tour has featured bands and artists like Sublime, No Doubt, Black Eyed-Peas, Kid Rock and more. The key thing Vans never forgot was making a festival like Warped Tour available at a small cost.
The story of Vans is far from over. From local shoe store yesterday to global success today, Vans has left their mark on action sports, music and fashion. They’ve been worn by pros and loved by countless fans. Vans shoes are must-have style items that never seem to lose their cool. Classics are classics for a reason. Just pick a pair and wear them to the skate park, wear them to your favorite music festival or wear them while you’re out making memories. Keep your Vans Off The Wall.