It may not appear look like it, but the Koston 3 from Nike is, in fact, a skate shoe.
“Yes, I know it is going to shock people—and I like that,” Eric Koston tells SI.com. “I want it to be intriguing and for people to look at it a couple of times. I know there is going to be a lot of averse reaction to it as well, but I think skateboarding needs a little bit of a shakeup, especially on the footwear side.”
Koston teamed with Nike SB Footwear design director Shawn Carboy for two years to create this new look for Koston’s third signature shoe, a sneaker that reflects a change in the way the pair approached skate design and performance.
The most obvious change comes in the Flyknit collar. “I’ve always loved the way Flyknit looks and feels, but I didn’t want to bring it to a skate shoe just for aesthetic reasons,” Koston says. “It needed to serve a purpose.”
In March 2014 Koston saw a Flyknit collar debut on the Magista soccer cleat and he knew then that the yarn engineered for lightweight breathability—he was always concerned skate abrasion would limit Flyknit’s ability—had a future in skate. “The Flyknit collar is about fit and sensory,” he says. “You feel your shoe connected from your ankle all the way down. Subconsciously, you feel the shoe doing what you want it to do. It becomes almost instinctive. The collar helps you be aware of where your foot is moving.”
Carboy says he modeled the collar from the Hypervenom soccer cleat, saying the “lockdown” fit around the ankle gives a rider more control over his or her board.
And while the collar provides a completely new look in the skate world, there’s quite a bit else new to skate woven in too. Carboy created the shoe on a men’s training last to get the skateboarder “closer to the ground for a more natural feel.” And he added a new Hyperfeel sole construction, also with the aim of board closeness.
“Connection is paramount,” Carboy says. “In skate, your feet are your hands. So the more feel you have for your board, the better positioned you are to pull off a trick.”
The Hyperfeel concept features a molded foam midsole that can contour, allowing for thinner cushioning around the toes to enhance board feel. “There was an early prototype that explained the concept of what Hyperfeel would be,” Koston says. “But it was just a concept. That said, it was very advanced, especially in the skate world. I saw the advantages it could deliver if we could mold it into how I need a skate shoe to perform. There was much trial and error in those two years, but we pulled it off.”
Koston says striking that balance of cushioning and feel is important for skaters. “You can make the most cushioned shoe ever, but if you can’t feel your board, then what’s the point? You’re trying to get as close to that barefoot feeling with a shoe as possible,” he says. “You want to be protected, but you still want to be able to feel every trick in such a way that you’re not even thinking about what’s on your feet.”
Materials on the outside of the shoe help with board grip. Suede, long a popular skate material for its durability—Koston says his shoes as a kid didn’t have suede in the right spot, forcing him to duct tape the ripped canvas to stretch the wear of his sneakers—also works to grab the board. The Koston 3 includes a web rubber sidewall treated with a texture to grab the board. The more the two materials break in, the better they grab.
“Suede is always one [material] that is hard to go away from because skaters are really familiar with it in how it reacts to your grip tape,” Koston says. “It is hard to replace. It is funny, but the way it reacts is the best.” Koston experimented with other synthetics—he even started with a neoprene collar instead of Flyknit—and found a mix of suede and other materials that balanced grip performance with flexibility and breathability. “I needed suede where I needed it, but I wanted to minimize it as much as possible to keep weight down.”
Getting the Koston 3 to a final iteration involved roughly two years of testing and design—and plenty of tweaks along the way. During the process, Carboy used video and studied data from a Koston wear map to determine the precise locations he needed to provide additional protection, traction and grip. With all the varied material and design decisions reflected in the Koston 3, the final package doesn’t have a traditional skate aesthetic. “It is fun to shake it up,” Koston says. “I wanted to push both the aesthetic and the performance of my footwear. If it’s disruptive, so be it. I’m not afraid of change. That’s when progress is made.”
Koston says skate design has fallen into a place where designers are out there “ripping off a Janoski” simply by moving a stitch line here or there. “There is nothing new happening and I hope [the Koston 3] kind of jars everyone else’s creativity,” he says.
That is part of what Koston hopes his footwear legacy already symbolizes, a desire to help skaters with the shoes he has created, helping them innovate along the way. With that hope comes a personal touch. Carboy says that Koston always looks to bring new ideas and technology to his shoes, but he also has a style that’s important to him. “At the end of the day, the shoe needs to work with his overall style,” he says. “The Koston 3 is a disruptive design that looks unlike anything in skate before it—and it certainly made both Eric and me uncomfortable at times.”
Koston says he always works to maintain a balance between high performance and an uncompromising style. “I speak through every millimeter of that thing,” he says. “I sat there and micromanaged that thing like we were constructing a building. I see through it, every texture, the skin, the width of things, stitches, the thickness of the sockliner, the bootie, everything. Every single bit of that shoe.”
Koston knows the Koston 3 down to the millimeter. He knows the Koston 3 looks and performs like no other skate shoe before it. And that was the plan.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, sneakers and design for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.