Hoka One… WHAT?!?

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by Chris McClung

“So, we’re bringing in the Hokas.”

Those might be the last words I utter on this planet. Well, the last words before the rest of the words in this blog.

Yep, cue the apocalypse. Hide your children. Grab your bug-out bags and zombie survival manuals. Retreat to your doomsday bunkers. And, don’t forget to bring your parkas because hell is getting mighty frigid about now.

BUT, before you freak out or begin typing out your own “Open Letters to Rogue,” please allow me a moment to explain. This has been a decision that is 11 months in the making with no shortage of very heated internal debate. In fact, as recent as 4 weeks ago, I was personally adamant that we should not bring them in, even though my favorite mancrush, THE Paul Terranova, is a loyal fan of the brand.

This is the story of why we are adding Hoka shoes to our assortment, and perhaps more importantly, insight into how we consider potential new additions to the wall.

First, a quick background on us…

For those not familiar with our shoe fitting philosophy, we have a very different approach  to putting shoes on your feet than most other stores in our industry. As a quick summary, our philosophy centers on this concept: keep it simple. The shoe is not the end all; it is a facilitator, which should “get out of the way” and allow you to achieve your most efficient gait. We favor simplicity over complex “technologies,” neutrality in the shoe vs. corrective stability, lighter and leaner vs. heavier and more “cushioned.” And, perhaps above all, the shoe should be everything you need and nothing more, allowing your body to most efficiently and naturally do the work needed to move you forward through space.

Hoka, on the other hand, would seem to represent the exact opposite of what we believe. The brand is at the center of a new “maximalist” movement in running shoes; it’s the new yin to the yang of the minimalist/Vibram movement from 5 years ago. Hoka founders reference the success of “over-sized” movements in tennis rackets and skis as rationale* for their design. If you have seen the shoes, they are downright beefy like moon boots, with ultra thick midsoles that make even the most petite individuals look like giants in a pair.

We essentially espouse a philosophy of “less is more.” Hoka says that more is more. So, what gives?

Three things:

1. Every shoe has a purpose. And, Hokas are no exception. The shoes have their roots in the ultra-trail world where athletes must endure long, sustained periods on their feet as well as very technical terrain. With max cushioning and a broad, stable ride, Hokas create the perfect platform to bomb down really technical downhills as well as provide long-term support/cushioning for 50+ mile runs. Over 50+ miles, the body will break down no matter what, regardless of how strong you are, so having a plush, well-cushioned shoe can provide an advantage during an ultra-marathon after 12+ hours on your feet. For the same reasons, Hokas are now becoming popular in the triathlon world, particularly with Ironman-distance athletes, as a friendly companion for their feet during the final 3-6 hours of their already long days.

In these cases, the shoes are doing the work in a situation where the body simply cannot, or at least when the body needs some serious help to endure.

Our own Erik Stanley wore a pair during his top 5 finish at the Bandera 100K last January, and of course, Mancrush Terranova dominated in them on his way to top 10 at Western States in June.

That said, our worry with the Hokas is that they will be used as a crutch in situations where the body SHOULD be doing the work instead of the shoe. Just as the Vibram Five Fingers and barefoot running were not the answers to all of your running pains, neither are the Hokas. They have their place in situations described above or perhaps as a tool while returning from injury, but as currently constructed, we would not recommend them to an everyday runner who is strong enough or could be strong enough to run comfortably in a shoe with less cushioning and a lower platform.

2. Given their purpose, the shoes are good… really good. Yes, the shoes are 6-8 millimeters thicker in the midsole than any other shoe on the wall, but other than that, they meet our criteria on almost every other dimension: simple construction with no unnecessary “technologies,” a level platform (4-6mm offsets), light materials with relatively low weights for their size, a smooth transition with complete ground contact from heel to toe, and a lightweight/breathable upper that fits well on many different kinds of feet.

We know we like them because staff members have been wear testing seed pairs for nearly 11 months. We are never quick to move on any new shoe brand; we need time to test it, learn about, digest it, and understand how it fits into our philosophy. Ultimately, after taking the time needed to evaluate it, then you won’t see it on our wall if we don’t believe in it.

With the Hokas, we have made no exceptions to our vetting process, and in fact, we’ve had more debates over this brand than I can count with every member of the team. Ultimately, with the verdict in, the Hokas are Rogue approved.

3. You asked for them. When we say, “Rogue approved,” we aren’t just referring to our staff. Because so many of our customers train with us, we have a different degree of accountability on the shoe floor than most stores. If we screw up the fitting process with anyone in our groups or if a shoe just isn’t working, then we generally hear about it immediately and LOUDLY.

Therefore, our shoe wall is a living and breathing reflection of our expertise AND your feedback. If a shoe isn’t working with you, then it doesn’t stay on the wall. And, likewise, if you want something or ask for it, then we will give it a much closer look. Newton is a brand that we carry in part because you screamed loudly for it. Hoka is a similar story. We received 4-5 calls a week per store asking if we carried the brand, much more than any other brand in recent memory. Of course, Mr. Terranova has also been incessantly lobbying for them.

That type of demand only comes when the product is really good, validating our own conclusions, and giving a much broader meaning to the phrase Rogue approved.

With Hokas (and any shoe on our wall)… Rogue, the collective Rogue, approves!

Note: We currently carry the Hoka Bondi B2 and the Hoka Stinson Trail.

* All arguments in this blog aside. I happen to think this rationale is more about marketing than anything valid. Over-sized tennis rackets are about generating power and increasing the size of the sweet spot. Over-sized skis are essentially about improving aerodynamics. Neither of those scenarios says anything about the potential success or failure of over-sized cushioning, but that’s an opinion of one.

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Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 2.46.38 PMChris McClung heads up all things retail at Rogue Running, and currently coaches half marathoners and those taking on the Austin Distance Challenge.

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Want to check out a pair of Hokas yourself? Stop by either Rogue Running location!

Austin: 500 San Marcos St. 78702 / 512.493.0920

Cedar Park: 2800 E. Whitestone Blvd. 78613 / 512.777.4467

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One thought on “Hoka One… WHAT?!?

  1. Thanks for posting this! I just grabbed a pair of Hokas from ya’ll last week. I’m coming back from a metatarsal break (while training for NY) and decided to throw them in the rotation. 🙂

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