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If it floats, rolls, skates or glides, you'll find it at the Action Sports trade show--where clothing manufacturers, retailers and trend watchers gather to pick the funkiest, flashiest and most functional gear for the freshest street mavens.

September 10, 1997|D. JAMES ROMERO

SAN DIEGO — They skateboard in London. They skateboard in Paris. They skateboard in East L.A.

Last weekend at the Action Sports Retailer Trade Expo here, which is traditionally anchored in surf wear, skateboarding companies took up one-third of the floor space. New York's Zoo York peddled street skateboard decks while companies such as New York's Rookie and California's Flexdex showed off the first generation of skateboards designed for women.

But it was the skateboard shoes that laid the biggest tracks.

With venerable lines like Vans, Airwalk and Etnies churning out footwear designed for skaters as well as for the non-skating masses, dozens of smaller companies have cultivated the burgeoning legion of hard-core skaters by being exclusive and cutting-edge.

Skateboard shoes have traditionally been but a mirror of old-school tennis and basketball sneakers, such as the flat-footed Adidas "shell toe" of the '70s. But the freshest styles are lightweight, lined with leather in places that typically blow out (the outside top) and based on thoughtfully designed soles that resist ankle twists during crazy tricks.

DC Shoe Co., only in its third appearance here, has become the leader in this area by pairing savvy marketing with shoes you can use. All of DC's shoes are "technical"--they are designed strictly for skateboarding. Some are even designed for different styles of skateboarding--ramp riding versus street skating, for example. The company only advertises in skateboarding magazines, often using members of its all-star team of pro riders. And DC will only allow shops that sell skateboards to carry its product.

The shoemaker kick-started the trend away from plain, sneaker-like skateboard shoes toward more high-tech, athletic designs influenced by Nike and Adidas. The shoes, in fact, are made in high-tech Korean factories--the kind Nike uses to build its shoes--that help DC churn out one new model a month. The company was also one of the first to break the $50 barrier in retail price, and now offers a model that retails for $90.

"When we started we said, 'Why does a skateboard shoe have to look so boring,' " recalls co-owner Ken Block. He says his Vista-based concern, which also sells two other lines of skateboard and snowboard apparel, is growing by 300% a year. At DC's expo booth, the receptionist was also the bouncer. The sales floor was swamped with retailers desperate to place their orders, while not-too-savvy workers turned away reporters and photographers.

But it's all part of the skateboarding image--rebellious and core.

Can non-skateboarding companies make it in such an image-conscious industry? Adidas is going to give it a try. The athletic clothing company thinks the market is so hot that it is introducing a highly technical skateboard shoe next spring that looks like a cross-trainer but is built with padding and wear zones that befit street skating.

"Skateboarding is a sport that hasn't traditionally been on our radar screen," says Alexis Herman, Adidas product line manager. But Adidas has realized the sport's growth is "phenomenal," she says.

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