Skating became a phenomenon in the US during the 1980’s but it’s roots stem from as far back as the 50’s. As the skateboarding boom began, there was a growth in the sport amongst new athletes as well as new skateboard accessory manufacturers. The sport truly began to take off and as more and more people gravitated toward the movement experimentation with new things was inevitable.With the Air Jordan 1 rolling out many OG colorways and high top models recently, it’s only fitting that we take a look at how the AJ1 began as basketball shoe but also found a home in the skateboarding world as a surprise alternative to traditional skate shoes. Hit the jump for more on how Jordan became a well known name in a sport not involving a basketball.


The skateboarding culture revolved around a desire to express freedom from boundaries and most skaters tended to buck trends and rebel against the norm. Creativity reigned supreme and this applied to gear and accessories as well. All of the major brands had some sort of offering that catered to boarders, with skaters rocking many classic shoes from Nike, adidas, Puma, and Converse. Vans was the first major brand that pretty much had a dedicated line designed primarily for skateboarding. Other brands, like Hobie, Sparx, and Randy among others, made shoes just for boarding but many of their shoes served as more of a niche shoe and never gained the popularity that would call for more designs. The problem with skate shoes was the price. Some of the low tops could be purchased for $10-$20 in the 80’s and a high top could be as high as $40. With inflation that would translate into approximately $55 for a low and as much as $112 for a high top.


The sport began as an alternative for surfers to get the same feel as you would surfing but with the convenience of sparing you a trip to the beach, and because of that the initial riders largely preferred to board with no shoes at all. Thankfully the invention of grip tape made shoes a necessary accessory and with that began the cultivation of the skate shoe. The dilemma here was comfort vs. mobility. The low top offered a much more mobile experience that was in essence the next step up from riding barefoot and offered much less restriction than riding in a high. Cost was also key here and skateboarders tended to be very concerned with price points always leaning towards a functional shoe rather than a good looking one. High tops offered a much more comfortable ride and while many initial riders leaned toward lows in the early stages, there was still a market for high tops. That’s where the Air Jordan comes into play.


There were actually many parallels that can be drawn from the Air Jordan 1 and the skateboarding culture. When the AJ1 was first designed by Peter Moore for Nike, it was intended to go against what traditional basketball shoes were meant to look like. The top basketball shoe brand in the 80’s up until this point was adidas and even MJ himself had to warm himself up to his first signature after he had worn Converse throughout his collegiate career. As we all know the AJ1 black and red was banned, seen as a black sheep, only created as a jab from Nike to the NBA for having many uniform restrictions at the time. Skateboarders shared the sentiment. If you were a skateboarder, you were viewed as an outsider, a rebel who rode just because you were not bound by many of societies limitations, including the law. This vintage Nike ad captures the atmosphere.


The Air Jordan 1 was not adopted by skaters right away though. With a retail of $65, there was no way kids were gonna hand over that kind of money for shoes. The unique aesthetics of the Jordan shoe is what piqued the interest of early adopters to the line but it’s also what scared a lot of people off. Because of this the AJ1 began hitting sales racks. Once the price points began to go down it was natural for skaters to give them a try. Its high top design and new technology added a new sense of comfort and the outrageous looks catered well to those thinking outside of the box. Prices would eventually drop to where a low top retailed for and this would encourage more riders to begin choosing the Jordan over the other options available. The Bones Brigade, which at one point included Tony Hawk among other many famous riders, was notorious for going out and skating in Jays. Not only was the shoe functional as a skater, it looked freakin’ cool too. Over the years kids still chose to opt for the AJ1 over other skate kicks and it lived a long and successful career moonlighting as a skateboarding shoe.





Photos: Complex



Third World Born Chicagoan pursuing all things pursuable. Follow me on IG: @oscar_castillo


  1. […] Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot for the 1982 NCAA championshipSource: Youtube A signed pair of Michael’s game-worn Converse sneakers from UNC’s 1982 national championship seasonSource: Sneaker News Michael wearing Converse sneakers in the 1984 Olympics. A pair of these game-worn Converse sneakers sold in June 2017 for $190,373Source: Peter Read Miller, The Sports Digest Game-worn Air Ships from 1984 that sold for over $71,000Source: Kicks on Fire Letter from Russ Granik to Rob Strasser concerning the un-sanctioned shoes worn by Michael in October of 1984Source: Sole Collector Michael wearing the “banned” black and red colorway of the Air Ships in the 1985 Slam Dunk ContestSource: Yahoo Sports Original commercial for the “Banned” Air Jordan 1’sSource: Youtube The “Banned” Air Jordan 1’s, as promoted by Nike. These look remarkably similar to the black and red Air Ships, which are thought to be largely the prototype for the Air Jordan 1. Boys’ Life Magazine cover from 1989, depicting a skateboarder wearing Air Jordan 1’sSource: Vintage Skateboard Magazines Skateboarders wearing Air Jordan 1’sSource: Modern-Notoriety […]

  2. […] That’s where they were picked up by skateboarders, who back then weren’t the X-Games celebrities you see on TV now. Skateboarding was a counterculture pursuit, seen as less of a sport than a novelty, and there sure wasn’t much money in it, even for professionals. So those discount Jordans made for the perfect skate shoes, with their sticky outsoles and leather uppers that stood up to the wear and tear of sandpaper-like grip tape. […]


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