The Man Who Created Vans Shoes is Dead

Vans, makers of the ubiquitous skater-culture sneaker, has lost its founding father. James Van Doren (pictured, right) died on Oct. 12th at age 72 at his home in Fullerton, Ca. The cause was cancer. The company began as the Van Doren Rubber Company, maker of rubber-soled canvas leisure shoes for the casually stylish California man. The classic Vans slip-on, made iconic by Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, was initially devised as a boat shoe with an extra-strong grip to keep the wearer firmly upright on a pitching deck.

From the New York Times obituary:

Mr. Van Doren collaborated with a chemist to develop the rubber recipe used in the sole. A mechanical engineer by training, he also devised its characteristic tread pattern: diamonds interrupted by a band of tiny six-pointed stars at the ball of the foot. Together, rubber and tread made the sole clingy.

That stickiness became an instant hit with the emerging skateboard culture, who needed better grip to perform increasingly ambitious aerial maneuvers. And thus, inside countless drained swimming pools, an enduring alliance was formed. Rest well, Mr. Van Doren. We dedicate this failed attempt at an Ollie, our 2,737th, to you. YeeeeeeeOWCH! [Photo of Van Doren via LAT, Spicoli via Universal City Studios]