“The Timbo hits with the prints underground/Timbos on the toes, I love the way it’s goin’ down”
This was originally going to be a study of supposedly MIA Dogtowner Chris Cahill, until I realised there wasn’t enough information for me to add anything to the Cahill mythos that wasn’t already out there. Ah, if only more bloggers out there threw in the towel when they realise the extent to which they’re out their depth. Still, there’s a blog to be written, skating lore is on the brain, and you can’t beat a good pair of Timbs on the feet.
I kind of liked Timberland when they were accused of racism – at least they weren’t haplessly trying to crossover, meaning that in a curious way, their longevity was guaranteed, and people were foolhardy enough to think that throwing on some Lugz or North Faces instead was the answer. Wrong. The brand’s vastest misstep lately has been to embrace street culture a little too whole-heartedly, some might say, over-compensating for their earlier attitude, with a plethora of lurid colours, rolltops and varsity fonts. The Workboot should be kept clean.
Alife know what time it is – their version stuck to the wheaty script (their 40 Belows were bananas too, and true to the original), Colette knew the correct colour to maintain; they didn’t paint ’em black like George Costanza (though they used leather akin to the 2003 anniversary variations), and the David Z joints with a fleece lining were inspired. That’s as far as modifications need to go. At present we’re assailed by work and hiking boot talk – hand stitched soles, made in the USA, Japan-only line…yada, yada, yada…you’ve all sent me full circle. Fuck it. Give me a sweatshop-made staple. No fuss. No availability issues. Minor break-in time. Iconic design. Thank you. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the wheat Timberland 7-hole boot. Some deride them for being so ubiquitous. That’s the point…they’re a staple. Build quality isn’t what it used to be either, but yo, that’s applicable across-the-board. If you’re living in a new-build home, you can probably hear next-door’s hamster snoring through the House-Of-Miyagi-thin walls.
Skate shoe styles may have become theatrically wide – padded loaves of bread with tubular laces in recent years prior to a necessary pare-down, but nothing tops the legend of folk skating in workboots. Before discussing the tree-logoed Massachusetts brand, think back to a more innocent time, when a vert skater like New Zealander Lee Ralph could appear from nowhere, as if he were a defrosted caveman, shred it, invent some tricks and spend a whole contest wearing full-height cherry-coloured Dr. Martens on his feet. Consider the sport’s embers of non-conformist attitude burning at the time, and that punk rock spirit, and while they’re a strange choice of performance shoe, they made a curious sort of sense on the late ’80s. At the turn of the ’90s, nothing had the level of impact on street skating that H-Street’s truly unshackled ‘Hokus Pokus’ did, and Matt Hensley defined the style of the decade to follow with that hair, mid-cut shoes like Vans Chukkas, the shorts and socks, chain wallets, and occasionally, skating in a pair of Dr. Martens shoes. A bold move, and while everything else got cloned, the shoes seemed impractical enough to avoid cloning.
Laughing in the face of board feel, a Dr. Marten isn’t the ideal skateboarding shoe. Air Wear and oil resistant soles aren’t built with that occupation in mind, and to wear them to skate is showboating; self-inflicted footwear adversity that still can’t hinder your footwork. Sit the two together, and the Air Wear number is a Vans Era compared to the bulk of the Timbo, and that weight that makes you feel like you’ll have Popeye forearm calves within a week of wear.
Tales of Tom Penny brought the Timberland as a skate shoe to my attention. Hearing tales of Oxfordshire-born Tom ripping it on a mini-ramp in Timbs and a leather jacket fired my imagination. Tom was a practitioner of baggy garments, but this was next level. Maybe it was all the magic mushrooms, but it seemed like the behaviour of a true style master – which is actually the case. But alas, along came Mr. Don Brown and Franck Boistel in a 2007 issue of Transworld to rain on the parade, by rendering the Timbo-talk moot with some brand facts. Tom’s supposed Timbo turned out to be a different brand, and if tales are to be believed, on close inspection, they were more akin to the moc-toed City Escape efforts that the 6in Boot…
“All the while, Stateside, rumors of Tom’s whereabouts and exploits circulated like old wives’ tales. One such rumor, which in fact turned out to be true, was Tom’s decision to send a torn and tattered Timberland boot to éS as the model for what was to be his first pro-model shoe. Apparently, Tom had taken to skating solely in the same pair of Timbos for nearly a year-obviously, much to the amazement of those around him. Don Brown, senior VP of marketing at Sole Technology explains, “Penny went through one of his many vanishing missions in England, and eventually he was spotted at South Bank in London, kind of raggedy looking and rocking a pair of Timberland boots with a small heel. He basically closed down the session and left everyone in typical Tom Penny amazement-not just from his amazing lazy style and perfection, but from that fact that he did everything in a pair of Timberland boots!”
After being repeatedly asked by Sole Technology for some direction on his first pro shoe to be, Tom eventually sent in one of those very boots. Former Sole Technology Designer Franck Boistel elaborates, “For the record, I think Don Brown brought the boot to us. We were asking Tom if he wanted to design a shoe for years. Then we got this beat-up Timberland that Tom obviously skated in. You could see tons of tear and wear on the ollie area and the bottom was falling apart. We nonetheless did come up with some sketches.” The craziest thing about it all? That forever-rumored and all-over-the-message-board lore proved wrong. It wasn’t even a Timberland at all-it was a Columbia hiking boot.”
Fuck it. Never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn. Tom’s technical éS model still had shades of Timberland in the mix. Watching ‘Deathbowl To Downtown’ features some blink-and-you’ll-miss-it real-deal Timberland skating in the mix. It’s an NYC and Washington DC thing. Champion sweats were as integral a piece of skate attire as they were hip-hop, and even skate kids in the north of England were jocking ACG sneakers beyond the board. While some clueless marketeer will leave a snail trail in excitement over the notion of a crossover, there certainly was a meeting point perfected in the ’90s. It seemed pleasantly fitting yet functionally illogical that Timberland would be skated – fuck, they’re hard enough to keep crispy at the best of times, but ollied and kickflipped? Maybe that D.M. punk spirit hadn’t forsaken skateboarding at all. There was Pepe Martinez (R.I.P.) rocking a pair for a whole section in Chris Hall’s 1996 ‘True Mathematics’ video, and witness Kyle James ripping the Brooklyn Banks in a pair of butters circa. 1997.
Other occasional exponents of the world’s flyest, yet utterly inappropriate pick of skate shoe include Drake Jones, Greg Stewart, a pre-prison Ali Boulala and Brian Wenning. Ah yes. Brian Wenning. After being ejected from DC, he appeared on a clip a year ago rocking Timbs and a cycle helmet at a park – the helmet may have been a gag we weren’t privvy to, but initial perceptions saw the helmet negate the inherent gnarliness of the boots, making the whole act pointless. As is the 21st century malady, there was too much information as Brian went on homemade internet video talking brand beefs, smoking a cigarette like a blunt and bragging about skating in Timberlands. There lay the mistake. Not the slow nicotine tokes. Not even the helmet, but talking too much about his choice of footwear and killing the mystery in one outburst. Cheers Brian.
While Timb-alike Uptowns are a given, don’t forget the skate shoes that carry elements of the boot as the key to their appeal; from the light brown Airwalk NTS (tenuous), to the 2002 SB Wheat/Bison Dunk Hi, Globe’s dull mid-cut effort, the ill Dunk Mid that took a more direct makeup lift, to DC and Situationormal getting their beef and broccoli on, but for all the fuss, the best lift came in the shape of a special colourway of Chad Muska’s Skytop – that size makes them feel like a direct descendent. As soon as Tom Penny decided to return to skating, it’s telling that he picked his friend Chad’s Supra brand as his footwear sponsor – while his pro-model is arguably the simplest in the whole line (and a low-cut), those February 2008 ads with him in fine form promoting the lofty Vaider silhouette, it all made a certain sense