pillowHeat x sneakers MAG ¬ under the RADar ¬ changing of the guard ~ the history of vans ankle guards July 19 2014


the time is 1976. the place is southern caifornia. the legendary z-boys of dogtown have revolutionised skateboarding from a 60's sidewalk-based recreational paradigm into an attitude & style-driven form of self expression on banks, in pools & parks. tony alva & stacy peralta having adopted vans deck shoes as their uniform of choice at the time, personally helped design one of the 1st examples of skate-specific footwear. vans style #95 (era) came with added reinforcement & infused with the aforementioned attitude & style. the 'off the wall' exploits of like-minded kids however called for even greater protection from knocks & jettison decks & necessitated a design which captured that fleeting moment in time. as such, the vans ankle guard was born. a design which has since been forgotten & now travels under the RADar!


if you've ever been on the receiving end of a flying skateboard to the ankle you know tht this can become your achilles heel, so to speak. inventor & engineer james van doren of the van doren rubber company saw the potential of a device offering maximum ankle protection & decided to clear that gap in the market. in 1977 jim applied for a patent for his van (ankle) guard. without a doubt it was vanguard & experimental in spirit. however it was questionable whether it was an avant-garde breakthrough at the forefront of development. by this time vans had already released the more athletically advanced style #36 (old skool) & the short-lived style #37 (mid-skool) but one must understand that this was a time preceding high-tops - long before jordan 1's, before the popularity of the blazer & before the style #38 (sk8-hi)! ironically it was only a short decade later that kids were instead cutting down their full-cabs & sk8-hi's as vert skating fell by the curbside. but thats another story entirely.

the 70's van guard vinyl prototype was a velcro strap-on design featuring the off the wall logo, available in 4 sizes & 3 colours for $8! it was worn over your socks, under the foot with the rear pulled down over the shoe & utilised less as a brace & more of a guard against direct trauma. worn by the likes of stacy peralta & rene carrasco from all reports it was more desirable than a swollen (c)ankle but was cumbersome to wear. 


i tracked down rene of the famous flying carrasco brothers seen below on the set of the wonder woman tv series in van gurads. he performed in thousands of demos for the pepsi skate team from 1977-1981. he speaks highly of the van guard for freestyle skateboarding when kickflipping an 8-wheeler; "those things really saved my ankles". he still has a pair but claims he only wore red ankle guards.



the van guard was prominent during skate-dominated realm of the late 70's, however it was not used exclusively in skateboarding. shortly thereafter another off the wall SoCal pastime was seemingly in its infancy & about to dominate the next decade, bringing with it ankle-breaking style & ushering in the changing of the guard.

there have been moments whereby i happen upon some old school bmx footage or imagery in pure disbelief. "what are those unusual checkerboard high-tops tim judge rocks above the tabletop?" upon closer inspection they were identified as 2nd generation vans ankle guards & it was within the burgeoning world of bicycle motocross in which they saw greatest use! perhaps ankle dexterity is less important on bike than on skateboard but if you ever smash your ankle on the crank you will curse their absence. its interesting though, because by the time bmx was flourishing, style #38 & other high-tops were readily available. but we are talking 80's bmx remember! an era of showmanship, head-to-toe factory flavour & lets not forget the stylised arena of freestyle bmx (with its ankle implications). fittingly then in the case of the 2nd generation ankle guard, the OTW logo was gone, as was the vinyl, replaced with canvas in solid red or navy or 4 combinations of checkerboard.









just as quickly as the ankle guard arrived on the scene, in a similar fashion, it disappeared, resigned to become a fossil of the bygone daze. but here, under the RADar, we relish those very relics, which are scene but not herd! on this occasion, a relic, which captured an unguarded moment in the explosive vans canon, whereby a company alsmost admits to the limitation of a low-top while at the same time masterminding the most genius piece of up-selling of all time!