What is it you look for in the humble surf boot? Is it warmth? Is it comfort? Do you turn over that many questions or simply go with what you've had before? Are you of the split-toe persuasion, or do you go round-toe only? Do you go for just pure fashion?
That's a tonne of questions. And, ultimately, if you pick wrong, you're going to end up with more of a soggy bag on your feet than functional, toe warmers. During your surfing life, there will be a time when you need to clad your poor feet in 2mm, 3mm, 5mm rubber and the above questions will either float around your head or it will simply be; 'what thickness do I need' and 'how much are they?'
That simplicity's fine, of course - we're all beach mongrels trying to scrap our way into the water as much as possible, and we shouldn't let the cost of stuff trick us out of that. Me? I'm a simple man, gimme boots where I can feel board under foot, while protecting against the frigid winter months, and I'm yours. But there comes a time when you want/need a bit more out of those rubber-heeled beauts.
For the past few months, I've been putting the Vans Surf Boot through its paces. And, quick question, did you feel the water temperature plummet about a few weeks ago? During December, we were clad in 4mm suits, no boots, no gloves, no hood as the UK winter ebbed in. Toward the end of 2019, and into this year, the water just seemed to dramatically cool much quicker than past years -- which meant a fresh pair of boots were very much welcome, more so than the three-year-old pair that have been crushed into oblivion during the warmer months, discarded at the bottom of a tub, not seen the light for half a year and more.
And if you didn't know, this is Vans' first ever high performance surf boot. A brand running for 50 plus years deciding to move into the bootie market is kinda risky but, also pretty neat as well, showing some companies are still willing to think about innovation. Here's what they say about them: “Innovative and elemental in design, Vans’ new surf booties come in two variations, Mid and Hi, addressing both warm and cold-water conditions.
“Grounded by the ubiquitous Vans Sidestripe and iconic checkerboard detailing, the Surf Boot Mid and Surf Boot Hi are designed 100% with performance and function in mind, emphasising feature benefits such as grip, skin-tight fit and climate versatility.
“Everything Vans knows about skateboarding, like Vans’ original waffle grip and board feel, has been reimagined in a surf bootie design to elevate your surfing in all conditions. Vans’ surf booties are so grippy, you’ll want to wear them all the time, even in warm water! Every inch and stitch have been crafted for comfort and performance—Off The Wall and into the water.”
Oh, sure, sure, sure, but how does that translate from theory to a frosty, dawn session reality? First up, they're easy on the eye, as you'd expect from Vans products. The iconic check marks are subtly laced on the top of the Hi boot, while the Mid version (aka more a shoe than a boot) pays homage to designs of old, maintaining a black and white aesthetic. Just an FYI, it is the 5mm Hi boot we've been putting through the wringer.
Warmth? These things are toasty. I'm usually in the water for around 2-3 hours during the winter and, during my surfing life, it is always my feet to go first. I do not know why. Wimpy feet. With these, very little water seems to make its way in, so I'm not left with a pool at the bottom when I take the boot off.
Now, that could be because the boot rises higher up the leg than other models, creating a tighter seal around the top of the ankle. This does have a two-fold effect; 1) water doesn't tend to seep down or in and 2) they can be a bit of a chore to get on.
However, it's a nice touch that'll keep your toes warm throughout the session. Actually, in the water, they're comfortable without feeling cumbersome, the under side of the boot seems to mould to your foot, creating a nice seal along the bottom, pulling your foot closer to the material and thus, closer to your board -- incredibly tactile. There's a lot of grip in the boot, too. Once your feet are planted, they aren't moving much, which is a blessing and a curse. If you need to shift your front forward slightly to add a bit of umph to a turn, it takes a bit of doing because of the amount of traction. But it's just a simple case of putting a little more effort in, nothing major. If you're surfing in 5mm booties -- you're certainly used to putting in an extra 10, 20 per cent, or whatever amount, anyway, so what's the extra bit really going to cost you?
Which brings us on to thickness. Does 5mm sound like a lot to you? I usually fluctuate between 3mm and 5mm boots depending on where/what time of year I am surfing. Some of my mates stick to 5mm all year round and some of them are masochists with no boots at all during the winter. While I salute the bravery, that's noise I don't need.
Look, if you're in Europe/UK, do yourself a favour and just buy the 5mm versions if you're struggling to decide between them or the 3mms. They don't feel as thick as it sounds and you get a lovely little Vans foot hug included. Sounds cheesy but if it's longevity in the water you want, then shoot for the moon.
Now, the toes are perhaps the biggest difference in boots I've worn in the past. Usually, I find a split-toe has a bit more control, a bit more comfort and doesn't cram my oversized porkers together. The Vans Surf Boot isn't a hard split in the toe, but has a slight tip between your big toe and the other little piggies, which actually feels natural and offers a bit more freedom than I expected rather than holding my foot in a death grip, like some other models do.
As for sizing, I'd recommend ordering a size up from what you usually wear. And, according to reviews, a lot of people feel the same way. It was what was advised when I spoke to Vans about getting a pair of these and they're right.
If you feel like you want a remarkably comfortable boot that has a more going on under the hood than your usual budget pair, or if you want to take a swing at something different, I'd fully recommend the Vans Surf Boot, they feel great, fit snugly, are water resistant and look good – like a modern throwback to Vans' 1966 Californian routes. It is more fashion meets function rather than either or. But fashion is subjective, of course. If you've anything else you'd like to know, just hit the comments below and I'll do my best to answer.