Soap Shoes: The Devastating Effect of Nineties Fad-Footwear on My Sixth Grade Year

Throughout the course of my life, I’ve suffered through my fair share of hardships. Breakups, financial missteps, drifting friendships, and even minor physical trauma. But few experiences weigh so heavily on my memory as the “Soap shoes” incident of my sixth grade year.

I had an older cousin who lived in a neighboring state. One summer she came up to visit and brought her boyfriend Ryan along. I thought he was the coolest dude in the universe. He was a skateboarder, BMXer, and, as I would soon discover, a “Soaper”.

In the late nineties, a company called “Soap” started making shoes with plastic “grind plates” on the bottom of the sole so you could slide, or “grind”, down rails. Some may consider it an early form of parkour. I would analogize it as the vape-pen of nineties apparel.

Behold: my White Whale

When Ryan rail-slid into our quiet rural county, none of us had ever heard of Soap shoes. My little brother and I had a little grind-rail set up in front of the garage, upon which we’d pathetically attempt to boardslide with our Wal-Mart skateboards.

Ryan grabbed my board and deftly slid across the rail.

“Whoaaaa,” my brother and I said in chorus.

Then he set down the board, took a few running steps, and slid across the rail in nothing but his shoes.

“WHOAAAA.”

He showed us the Soap shoes, noting the plastic grind plate on the bottom with special attention, and told us how huge they were going to be. Think Pogs huge.

Suddenly I sparked an idea: I could introduce Soap shoes to our school. I would be the coolest kid in class with a monumental trend-setting move like that. But would I be able to hone my skills fast enough to grind rails and impress everyone like Ryan before the school year started?

Ryan was one of those cool older kids who was surprisingly friendly to younger kids like me and my brother. He let us both have a turn on his Soap shoes as he coached us from the sidelines in his socks.

I was the first to give them a try. They were of course several sizes too big, but I surprised myself when I jumped onto the short rail and smoothly slid across it. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Again my daydream video played—now inflated with cola sponsorships and hot groupies.

Ryan and my cousin left, and I promptly bombarded my mother with requests for my own pair of Soap shoes. The school year was fast approaching and I wanted to make a good first impression. But my mom just didn’t appreciate the pivotal role that Soap shoes athletes would play in the future of extreme sports. At least not to the tune of eighty dollars.

As the clock counted down I increased my begging and waved the CCS catalog in Mom’s face like a banner of war at every conceivable opportunity. But she would not budge. Instead, when she took us back-to-school shopping a couple of weeks away from D-Day, we came home with practical, reasonable, affordable new clothes.

Eventually, the time was drawing nigh: only twelve hours before I would be stepping onto the bus for the first day of school. I looked down at my shoes. New and fashionable as they were—a pair of Vans skate shoes—they were no Soaps. And if I was going to become the coolest kid in sixth grade, I needed those Soap shoes.

Never one to admit defeat, I resorted to the next logical step: I dug through my closet and eventually found, nestled among the cobwebs, an old, dirty, and weathered pair of white New Balance sneakers—archaic relics of seasons-past. The soles of the old beat-up sneakers were relatively hard-plasticky and smooth like Ryan’s real Soaps, I reasoned. Satisfied, I got a black Sharpie marker, and crudely wrote “Soap” on the outside of each one, along with the rounded-square Soap logo. Then I wore those badass motherfuckers to school.

Around mid-day I was in PE class, reaching for my toes across the polished gym floor and admiring my magnificently improvised extreme sneakers. With an air of preteen brattery, this stuck-up-assed girl next to me said, “Why did you write ‘Soap’ on your shoes?”

I looked at her like she was a complete idiot. “So I can grind rails with them.”

In response, she stared quizzically.

“Like Tony Hawk,” I continued. Internally, I began to wonder if my homemade Soap shoes were going to have as big of an impact on the local community as I’d imagined.

Another dickhead kid, Jeffrey, witnessed this innocuous exchange and decided it required his input. “How does writing ‘Soap’ on your shoes mean you can grind rails?”

A reasonable question; one for which I’d been preparing an answer for weeks. This was my chance. It was time to set this trend. I explained to them why Soap shoes were so amazing and cool (“I can’t believe you haven’t heard of them yet”) and how Tony Hawk would soon be nothing more than a has-been with a rolling two-by-four. I glossed over the fact that my repurposed thrift-store-esque New Balances were not in fact authentic Soap shoes—but I think we can agree the Sharpie marker logo told that part of the story for me.

During the PE class that followed our stretches, Jeffrey gained more followers and they proceeded to heckle me. At this point, I’ll admit I was starting to question the decision-making process that led to my wearing old shoes with “Soap” written on them. But in a classic case of overcompensation, I replied to their skepticism with hubris. I touted my hidden status as an extreme sports prodigy, telling them I grinded rails all the time, did 360 spins and backflips, you name it—no big deal.

At the end of class, the PE teacher blew her whistle and told everyone to hit the locker rooms. The locker rooms in our school were at opposite ends of the gym, each down a set of stairs—one leading to a dank dungeon of mildewy tighty-whities and sweat-sopped hazing, and the other leading to, well, who could say for certain. Fortunately for me, the girls all started heading toward their side at this point. We started walking to ours, and I hoped the battery of questioning was finally coming to an end. Little did I know, it was about to become a trial-by-fire…

“If you’re so good at grinding rails,” that son of a bitch Jeffrey said, “why don’t you grind the rail down to the locker rooms.”

More faces nodded in agreement.

Gulp.

“Sure,” I said. “Since I do this all of the time—like I’ve been telling you guys—I will be amazing at this.”

All of the boys in class gathered around the top of the staircase, leaving me a narrow runway. I found myself staring down an open lane of sixth grade boys, about to run through a somewhat literal gauntlet of adolescence. As I stood there, I remembered the rail in front of the garage; how I’d found it to be surprisingly easy. I got this, I thought. Just land on the rail, make sure you lean forward, and slide down it.

I ran to the staircase. I jumped, floated about six feet, and landed on the rail in a perfect position for my glorious 50–50 grind. Lacking the essential plastic grind plate on the soles, my shoes stuck to the rail and stopped my feet like a stick into the front spokes of a bicycle tire. My upper body lurched forward until I Superman’ed into the concrete at the bottom of the stairs, landing first with my elbows and knees, and then with my face and lungs. My glasses left my face and skidded across the floor. The air left my chest with a horrific, embarrassing wheeze. My soul left my body. The laughter of insidious middle schoolers filled my ears. I tried to stand, but my shattered knees and ankles left me with the gracefulness of a newborn giraffe. I half-stumbled, half-crawled my way into the locker room, trying to escape the laughter and shame.

That’s okay, I thought to myself amidst the aches and tears, in a few months—a year, tops—you’ll forget this ever even happened.

Writer, musician/producer, traveler, and marketing professional. Lover of the outdoors and floppy-eared dogs. www.planestrainsandbrokenstrings.com