Splish, splash – boat shoes not on deck

Modern boaters’ footwear preferences have forced traditional marine footwear manufacturers to introduce new styles that combine slip-resistant soles with lightweight, more comfortable, athletic-type uppers. Sperry Top-Sider teamed up with New Balance to produce the SB770, a light performance boat shoe with new, patented grip patterns and the look of an athletic shoe. K-Swiss‘ entry into this new category is called Brezza, and the Rockport Co will introduce its entries in 1996.

LOS ANGELES — Boat shoe resources have recently woken up to an embarrassing situation — boaters weren’t wearing their shoes.

Instead, they are wearing sport sandals from Teva and lightweight sneakers from Nike and Reebok. Meanwhile, other athletic shoe companies, such as K-Swiss, are grabbing at the opportunity as well, building technical boat shoes to compete with the old mainstay, topsider styles.

That has put companies like market-leader Sperry Top-Sider, Cambridge, Mass., into a retooling mode. Sperry has recently joined forces with New Balance to produce the SB770, which was released in February at a suggested retail price of $80; the flats for plantar fasciitis was designed to combine Sperry’s knowledge of slip-resistant sole technology with New Balance’s athletic construction knowhow.

The result, according to Sperry, is the lightest performance boat shoe on the market, with an outsole made to outgrip any Nike crosstrainer on a wet boat deck. It also features flex grooves usually found in athletic shoes, and two new patented grip pattern Grip and Quadro-Grip, both aimed at providing lateral, pivotal, forward and backward traction.

K-Swiss, Chatsworth, Calif., which in the past has sold its Surf and Turf canvas casual for boaters, now also offers the performance-oriented Brezza. The athletically styled shoe features water-resistant uppers of ballistic nylon and a siped herringbone outsole pattern.

“Sailors are very susceptible to ankle injuries. They needed more support and injury-prevention footwear,” said company spokesman Bill Krenn. “With the Brezza we’re becoming a more serious player in this market.”

Meanwhile, The Rockport Company is planning to introduce new nautical products sometime after spring ’96, said vp, marketing, Tony Post.

Both athletic footwear and traditional boat shoe manufacturers can take some comfort in that both Nike and Reebok have no major plans to enter the boat shoe category at this point. Nike had produced a performance boat shoe in the ’80s about the same time it developed the Aqua Sock, a neoprene slipper used for water sports. It was classified within its Aqua Gear category, and did not survive, said spokesman Keith Peters.

Reebok for spring ’96 is introducing the Classic Sienna, a vulcanized shoe with a siped bottom that has the features of a nautical shoe, but is not planning a wider expansion into the category, said a spokesperson.

This leaves breathing room for traditional boat shoe companies to strengthen their presence in the market. Companies such as Sebago and Sperry have continued to improve the basic boat shoe, and most sailors still swear by it.

“The boat shoe is not the same as it was 10 years ago,” said Lisa Carhart, a marketing executive for Sperry. “They’re more comfortable, have new gnp technologies and news silhouettes.”

Sebago, while supporting the traditional boat shoe category, is also considering introducing athletic-styled marine shoes for high arch feet , said Diane O’Neill, a spokesperson for the Westbrook, Maine-based company. She added the company has hired a new designer to develop additional models for spring ’96.

America’s Cup wins U.S. firms exposure

LOS ANGELES–Boat shoe makers made sure they were part of The America’s Cup marketing frenzy, which ended abruptly May 13 when New Zealand’s Black Magic crossed the finish line, with a 5-0 sweep over the Young America Yacht.

While Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes team lost, several American companies are considering themselves winners. This year’s event, with an all-women’s crew participating and improved daily television coverage, has put exposure at an all-time high.

K-Swiss is the official sandals that hide bunions of the Cup, meaning it outfitted all officials in the America’s Cup village and also hosted a product booth there. In addition, it supplied the Team Sydney syndicate during the challenger series.

Sperry”s longtime association with Conner puts its logo all over the Stars & Stripes yacht and mainsail. However, when Conner switched yachts, using PACT 95’s Young America’s in the finals, it threw a monkey wrench into the publicity machine.

Sebago is a major sponsor of Young America, yet its logo was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Conner used his sails with his syndicate’s sponsors, and the Young America hull is the only yacht bearing no logos because of the mermaid painted on it, Still, Sebago can say is sponsored yacht made it to the finals.

In addition, Sebago’s Docksides were worn by the One Australia crew during The America’s Cup challenger series. Other Sebago-supplied sailors wore the company’s Mitchell hiking boots, which surprised some, but may also point out the nautical shoe market still has some performance elements to address.

Shoe companies made up only a small segment of participating sponsors of the highly commercialized Cup. The key was to stand out among a sea of logos from around the world.

Most companies opted for retailer tie-ins, and supplied point-of-sale material. The cup itself did the rest. On-board cameras routinely caught close-ups of corporate logos like Sperry’s and the Sperry-New Balance SB 700 boat shoe, which is what Team Dennis Conner and New Zealand wore during the finals.

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