“I’m always stoked to return to the unknown,” says Anthony Van Engelen. Though his statement is made in relation to his new signature shoe with Vans, the ultra-advanced AVE 2.0, in many ways, it’s a look at his career through a macro lens. One of the 21st century’s most influential skaters, Van Engelen — the 2015 Thrasher Skater Of the Year and co-founder of both Fucking Awesome and Hockey — is known for his speed, power and utter lack of fear on his board. There’s no gap too wide, no rail too steep, no ledge too sketchy for Van Engelen, and that balls-to-the-wall mindset extends to his signature footwear. Since he joined the Vans Skateboarding team all the way back in 2005, he’s aimed to push the boundaries of what’s possible in skate footwear.

“Exploration is a key piece of the partnership,” he continues. “Since day one, we’ve been exploring aesthetic possibilities, looking to shed weight off the shoes, tinker with no-sew construction, whatever we could.” The adventurous mindset displayed by Van Engelen is on full display with the AVE 2.0, an uncompromising shoe that blends the best features of cupsole and vulcanized skate sneakers, all with an ultra-lightweight RAPIDWELD knit upper bolstered by DURACAP suede and a smorgasbord of Vans Skateboarding’s best tech, from an UltraCush midsole to an UltimateWaffle outsole with SickStick rubber.

Though Van Engelen, one of skateboarding’s most storied rabble-rousers, has mellowed (slightly) as his career progresses, he still projects a no-bullsh*t intensity, a need to get right to the point in whatever he does, energy echoed by Vans team members accompanying him during a Los Angeles media session for the AVE 2.0: skate footwear design director Neal Shoemaker and lead archivist/historian Cathrine Acosta. “What I look for now is the same thing that brought me to Vans in the first place,” AVE, as he’s often called, notes. “The chance to skate a stripped-down shoe that offers exactly what you need with nothing extra.”

How does it feel to have the AVE 2.0 out?

Anthony Van Engelen: Definitely exciting.

Is the excitement you’re feeling different from the excitement you felt when Vans released your first few pro models, or has it remained unchanged over the years?

AVE: It’s similar. We’ve always aimed to push the boundaries, so I’m always stoked to return to the unknown.

What stuck out to you when you first threw the AVE 2.0 on? Did any features catch your eye right away?

AVE: I loved how sleek it was. It’s always a challenge when you’re starting to design a new shoe and trying to top a successful previous model. In my opinion, we pulled that off here. That growth is the marker of success for me, making sure each new model is just a bit better than the last one.

I’m always looking to take a little more off the shoe and cut weight wherever possible, and as we continue to work with a knit material we’ve been able to do that. I’m also proud that we’ve combined the best features of skating cupsole sneakers and vulcanized sneakers. The board feel and grip is second to none on a vulcanized sneaker, and we’ve achieved that in a cupsole. When I put them on, I was like, “Wow, the grip on these is really f*cking strong. We’re in the vulcanized realm now.” There’s no break-in period either. They’re good to go right out of the box.

Neal Shoemaker: We call that grippy rubber SickStick — a compound the scientists at VF Corp [Vans’ parent company] helped us create. It began rolling out in the Skate Classics line in around 2017, and we’ve begun incorporating it in a bunch of other models since then. Another upgrade from the last shoe to this one is a midfoot TPU clip that shows off the full-length midsole, offers support and stability through the foot and keeps the forefoot flex strong.

Do you create based on pillars — material innovation, grip, board feel, comfort — or is there another method for going from concept to finished product?

NS: We’ll usually start with an athlete or consumer insight, or even look to fill what we see as a blank space in our skate line. There have been a few times we’ve had a specific construction in mind, and we wait until we can present it to the right athlete — like we did with the translucent outsole on the AVE Pro in 2019 because we thought Anthony would like it [Van Engelen nods]. With the AVE 2.0, the insight was a shoe that felt like a “second skin,” almost like a stripped-down indoor soccer shoe.

AVE: Exploration has always been a key piece of the partnership. Since day one, we’ve been exploring aesthetic possibilities, looking to shed weight off the shoes, tinker with no-sew construction, whatever we could. What I look for now is the same thing that brought me to Vans in the first place, the chance to skate a stripped-down shoe that offers exactly what you need with nothing extra. I still feel the same way now, but the tech has advanced so much since I first joined the team.

NS: What makes AVE so exciting to work with is his impetus to try new stuff, like using modern materials to push a skate shoe’s construction into the future. We’ve taken that and run with it over the years, but the core goal has always been and will always be utility for skateboarding.

What’s the biggest progression you’ve noticed in skate footwear since you joined the Vans team in 2005?

AVE: Back then it was all about big and bulky styles, like the pairs DC Shoes, Osiris and éS were making. They were all, like, fake tech. Their key design elements didn’t serve any functional purpose. That’s what brought me to Vans. I wanted slimmed-down shoes with plenty of function. Now, here we are making advanced shoes with all the same ideas in mind, just even better tech to create the ideas with.

NS: Vans has the classics covered, and we’ll never go away from those, so it’s exciting to try and expand what that heritage means. Capture a new consumer, a different look, create new franchises for the brand.

Catherine Acosta: To add to Anthony’s concept of “stripping down,” if you go back to the beginning of Vans skateboarding footwear in the ‘70s, the design ethos was about subtle modifications and reduction. From an archival point of view, it’s really great to see the AVE 2.0 carry on that sort of design thinking and legacy with Vans skate footwear.

It’s an interesting time for the footwear market in general. Trends are moving faster than ever, and the long-held footwear industry theory that “team sport” companies need to innovate in the performance market to hold interest in classic lifestyle offerings seems to be roaring back to the forefront. Do you think that extends to skate footwear as well?

NS: I think showing that you’re pushing the boundaries is important for any footwear brand these days, especially with the multi-dimensional trend cycle we’re in at the moment. In the past, it seemed like there was only one “mainstream look” at a time, but the current consumer is open to all sorts of silhouettes. They might love something sleek like the Samba, or they might love a puffy ‘90s skate shoe. Then, if you look at a brand like HOKA or On Running, the entire reason they’re seen as a fashionable choice is because of the functional aspect — running — that they’ve satisfied. Basically, all of their lifestyle success is rooted in that performance. That’s no different than skate shoes. If they don’t work as skate shoes, they won’t work as lifestyle shoes. That’s why it’s so important that everything we do be rooted in skating.

CA: What’s unique about the intersection of skateboarding and lifestyle footwear is that skateboarding is rooted in subversive, subcultural aspects that starkly contrast the mainstream adoption of team sport culture. Skateboarding’s history with music, street art and street culture really lends itself to the lifestyle side of Vans being unique and well-rounded because it has an edge that’ll never go away.

Anthony, you’ve been with Vans for almost two decades. What does that tenure mean to you? Your partnership is almost as old as some of the Vans ams!

AVE: [Laughs]. It’s weird, man. It definitely creeps up on you. Almost 20 years? God. It’s incredible. I look back on it and it trips me out. It’s a huge honor to be in this position at this point of my career.

Do you feel like each of your signature shoes represents a different chapter in your career?

AVE: Yeah, in retrospect it’s easier to bookend them like that. At the time, I’m not really thinking about it at the time — more looking to move forward — but when I look back it’s nice that they do that. You’re wearing those shoes a lot in the block of time that they come out, filming video parts and all that, so they definitely do define a time period after the fact.

Did you ever think all of this would be possible back in 2005?

AVE: Definitely not.

The Vans AVE 2.0 is available via the Vans webstore now, and is priced at $130 USD.

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