Cupsole vs Vulcanized Skate Shoes: The Great Argument

An argument that has been hotly contested as much as is a hot dog a sandwich? Who really was JFK’s assassin? Did Yoko break up the Beatles? Is it considered blasphemy to eat pizza with a knife and a fork?

All of these questions have typically two sides. Much like the bipartisanship of skate shoes. Vulcanzied or Cupsole. Both equally represented by skaters but usually different in pricing and the manufacturing process. If you understand the conceptual difference between cupsole and vulc, then this article means nothing to you unless it’s a rainy day and you’ve somehow stumbled upon this blog. If that’s the case, crack open that tall boy of cheap beer you got by your side and enjoy the next three and a half minutes of scholastic writing.

If you actually are here to learn about the difference between vulc and cupshole shoes, then prepare yourself for a complete miseducation of the subject.

Vulcanized Shoes 

Vulcanized Shoes are:

  • Better boardfeel
  • Easy to break in
  • Insole makes the difference
  • Less expensive

Now to fully explain what vulcanized shoes are, you have to imagine yourself in a hot, steamy factory in the middle of the Guangdong province in China (and that’s not a dig at China, they just happen to have the world’s largest population thus leading to a comparative advantage in human labor intensity, thanks college). Moving on, vulcanized shoes are twice baked, like your mother’s potatoes she makes whenever steak is being served.  The rubber outsole of the shoes is assembled onto the typically heat-resistant upper part before the rubber is completely cured. The first baking takes place before the assembly and the second ‘steam baking’ takes place after assembly to ensure a tough, durable yet easy to break in shoe.

Vans Rowley Solos in Black

Vans Rowley Solos. Example of a Vulcanized shoe.

The important part to remember here is that many of the materials have to heat resistant, so that means no foam material such as EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) or TPR (Thermoplastic rubber). These kind of materials, however, you will find in cupsole shoes. Since vulcanized shoes are much easier to make, thus leading to mass production (if economies of scale exists…if you don’t understand what economies of scale means, check out microeconomics, it’s essentially the reason why the american economy became so fucking dominant) and a much cheaper price than you would pay for a pair of cupsole skate shoes.  Additionally, since vulcanized shoes do not typically have EVA or TPR in them, which act as a cushioning agent, the insole of the shoe is going to be the most important.  That’s why you’ll see Vans offering the Ultracush, Ultracush HD, and Ultracush Lite, which offer those pretty little feet of yours some protection when you’re hucking yourself down a ten stair. Footprint Insoles, which just creates insoles for both skate shoes and snowboard boots, found a niche market for people who wanted something more of out of their insoles for both vulc and cupsole shoes (just rip the liner out of the cupsole and you can put in one of their insoles).

So what does all of this mean for skating in vulc shoes? To make it simple and because I’m sick of typing already, it gives you a better boardfeel overall, quicker and easier time to break in the shoes, option to replace the insoles (most of the time), and usually a lower price tag which is easier on your wallet. Also, if you’re concerned about protection (I’m not, was raised Catholic but that’s neither here nor there), don’t go looking to vulcanized shoes for it. They usually have minimal padding which can lead to blowouts in the shoe but companies have been inserting second layers into toe caps to combat this.

If what was just written about vulc shoes tickles your fancy, then we’d recommend going down the road of Vans, Lakai (Selects), Emerica (Vulcs), Nike SB (Janoskis) and Adidas (Vulcs).

Cupsole Shoes

Think comfort. Think nestling yourself between two giant, all natural, warm and supporting…pillows. Could’ve turned this article into something your aunt reads on vacation but for time being, we’ll stick to cupsoles.

Cupsole Shoes are:

  • Supportive
  • Protective
  • Harder to break in
  • Offer less boardfeel
  • More expensive

Cupsoles are special. Special in the sense, they were specifically designed for skateboarding.  Skaters complained they kept getting heel bruises, designers listened, and voila, cupsole is born. Creating a cupsole is a lot like making pizza, put a solid layer down first, then some cushion and then finally a rubber layer sprinkling. Cupsoles, as mentioned previously, use EVA or TPR as a cushioning foam that is placed inside a rubber ‘cup’. The rubber ‘cup’ is traditionally bigger and filled with the EVA or TPR foam which gives more space between you and your board but more support to your foot and ankle.

What’s getting baked though? Am I baked? Why so many food metaphors? Cupsoles don’t get baked. This is mentioned before if you were reading carefully. Cupsoles are traditionally stitched to the top part of the shoe. Since there is no baking, companies can puts all sorts of technology and goodies into the cupsole before it is sewn to the upper portion. This is why you’ll see things like airbags, arch support, heel support, and any support you need besides financial and emotional in the cupsole. Moreover, the ability to put all this feet saving tech into a pair of shoes is why cupsole shoes are the preferred shoe amongst folks who jump down giant shit. Would you rather tie paper bags to your feet when you’re about to drop 15 feet in the air or foam reinforced bubble wrap? I’d go the latter but I’m a firm believer in libertarianism so you can choose whatever makes you sleep at night.

Nike SB Koston 1 (Red/Black/Gum)

Nike SB Koston 1 – Example of a Cupsole shoe.

Why do you cupsole shoes make the most sense to you? If you’re down for big stair sets, huge rails, and overall man-sized shit. Recommendations? Emerica was pretty much founded on cupsole technology, so getting a pair of those is always a solid move. Lakais with XLK or VLK technology (click the link to learn more about that, I’m not typing it, that’s plagiarism, and you should always be learning something new everyday). Nike SB’s such as P-Rod 9, Koston 1 and 2 (not the vulc), Adidas Busenitz, and any Vans Crocketts (Waffle Cup technology, again, look it up, it’s like a hybrid of vulc and cupsole).

I hope this article has answered some questions regarding the vulcanized vs. cupsole argument. Pick one side, or pick both, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re old and over the age of 30, I’d recommend cupsole. Why? Because your knees and ankles are on the brink of collapsing and cupsoles may prolong the inevitable demise of your lower body joints. You under the age of 25 and slightly healthy? Go vulc for the reasons of it’s easier on your bank account and your body can take the abuse. Or if you want to be a big spender and spring for a nice pair of P-Rods, go for it, I’m not one to judge.

Fortunately, here at the shop, we have an extensive selection (90+) of shoes that are vulc, cupsole and hybrids so you can come in and find the pair that’s right for you. Remember, buy a pair get the next pair half off. Questions? Call us at 716-837-8743.

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