In this series of posts, I review some of my choice gifts from Christmas morn. In the spirit of patriotic commercialism and material excess, I give every product a perfect 10 rating and my highest recommendation. Please buy accordingly. Any product NOT reviewed can be assumed to also receive a 10, and furthermore, it may be assumed that I did not get that product for Christmas. Please send accordingly.
At school there was a kid in one of my economics classes who wore these shoes. He also wore denim cutoffs just above the knee, v-necks, had a messenger bag and rode a fixed gear around campus. I imagine he listened to a lot of nameless underground rock outfits and old, forgotten 1970’s punk – except on a customized hi-fi, never an iPod, and only while entertaining casual acquaintances with wine in a quaint but tasteful apartment. This is how I thought of Alvin, whose real name is a mystery. Alvin seemed like a pretty cool cat; probably the type who regularly uses the phrase “cool cat.” Deep down, though it isn’t a conscious decision, I know that I wanted these shoes because they’ve got a trendy association with cool cats like Alvin.
Recognizing this, I abstained from buying the shoes when I first saw them in a Manhattan shop last September. I thought it a very mindful and sensible thing to do, resisting more unnecessary foot ornamentation. I get rubbah slippah. Stay jus as good. But my mother asked for a Christmas list, so I mentioned the M410’s and I got them. And they’re NEAT!
The shoes themselves are lightweight and soft in the heel, so there’s no chafing or discomfort when you walk about town. Socks are totally optional. The soles have a sort of uneven topography that makes you feel like you could run in them if you wanted to (try that in slip-ons). In fact, the M410s are part of New Balance’s Retro Running line and are described as “running-inspired.” Note briefly: if you wear something that’s explicitly “retro,” you’re a doofus. I’m ok with that, I like my shoes.
People are thinking a lot lately about the way we consume various products and how those consumption decisions reflect our values. One of the best among such thinkers is Rob Walker, whose ideas are worth a solid read. But whatever you believe about shallow materialism or environmental responsibility or fiscal conservatism, walking around in sweet new shoes is a pleasant experience (buy buy buy). What does this all have to do with surfing? Nothing! New Balance isn’t a surf company, it’s for treadmill fatties and gridiron gangs. And that’s the point, actually, the most important point. We’ve arrived at (and perhaps already passed through) a period in which surfers actively suppress their beach roots in image and behavior to don a more urban costume. No baggies and sandals and bushy-bushy-blonde-hairdos. RVCA makes money selling cardigan sweaters, like Mr. Rogers wore. What does it all mean? I think the next post will be a diatribe on this most recent anti-surf aesthetic, its significance (or lack thereof) for surfers, and what might be coming next.