(Last Updated On: April 20, 2021)
Almost every running shoe has a story to tell. And the HOKA ONE ONE Bondi, the company’s first road running shoe, is no exception.
Many people are unaware that HOKA and the Boulder Running Company, one of the JackRabbit family’s great local Colorado stores, have a long history. They’re the type of friends you’d see sharing a beer following a long run and reminiscing about old times.
In 2009, the visionary Frenchman Nico Mermoud walks into The Running Event, an industry gathering which uses the first HOKA prototype. Nobody ever saw a shoe like this as maximalist. It was a neon sign at a time when minimalist running shoes were trendy. The impact was remarkable – both in colour and in coatings – and the focus was on the Boulder Running Company’s co-owners, Mark Plaatjes and Johnny Halberstadt, who took the shoes off Nico and took it for a test run. Unlike anything they’d run in previously, the cushioning was unheard of in such a light package, a completely new concept for trail runners. The possibilities created by this cushion/weight combination were game-changing.
Nico and his co-founder Jean-Luc Diard, both of whom have a background in the outdoor sports industry, were inspired by various sports and the allure of the trail running community. They drew inspiration from technological and design advancements in the running and a variety of other sports such as skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, golf, and tennis. Just as fat powder skis, oversized tennis racquets, and jumbo-sized golf club heads increased power, performance, efficiency, agility, and self-expression, the unique design of HOKA shoes shattered any preconceived limitations of running. The Mafate, a ridiculously light trail running shoe designed for long runs and speed downhill, was the first shoe the BRC family saw at that running show.
When the Halberstadt’s (father and son team Johnny and Jason) recognized the value of this novel approach to running, they put their heads together, sat down with Nico, and devised a strategy to assist in the launch of the first HOKA shoe into the US market. This meant putting their own money on the line and taking a chance on bringing this radically different shoe into The Boulder Running Company store in sufficient quantities to demonstrate their commitment to making it work and their faith in the concept. And, as they say, the rest is history. The Boulder Running Company’s tight-knit crew that tried the shoes was soon running up the Boulder foothills in their newfound ‘BFFs. They began spreading the word enthusiastically to the Boulder running community, encouraging them to give these ground-breaking shoes a try. The proof of any running shoe is in how well it performs for the runner, and runners quickly jumped on board, and thus the HOKA story began.
As Vibrams did a few years ago, Hoka’s are dividing the running community. There are die-hard fans (like the man who ran up to me on the street to tell me how much he adored his Hokas) and those who believe that a more minimalist shoe is the best option for runners. And these shoes are far from minimalist.
Pronounced ‘Oh-nee,’ this brand was founded in 2010 by two Frenchmen who had previously worked at Salomon and were looking for a modern trail shoe to use on the Alps mountain trails. Powder skis and mountain bike tires inspire the overall sole design.
Although the sole is thick, do not be fooled; they are incredibly lightweight and designed for comfort, stability, and cushioning. The exclusive tips upward at the ends; this meta-rocker geometry is intended to promote a natural running gait by providing a smooth roll off your toes that helps prevent lower limb injuries. The shoes offer additional stability because your foot is encased in what the brand refers to as the ‘bucket seat’ midsole. Although the sole is substantial, the heel-to-toe drop is not excessive, measuring only 4mm, which results in a minimal shoe with massive cushioning, in contrast to many cushioned/supportive shoes significant drop. I expected to despise Hokas and was prepared to write a review complaining about their size, but I didn’t. I adored them. They were incredibly light and buoyant! And it appears as though I am not alone. While researching the scientific portions of this post, I attempted to locate some negative reviews of Hoka One One but came up empty. Jonathan Beverly, the shoe editor for Runners World in the United States, was quoted as saying that when running in HOKAS, you maintain the same posture as if you were barefoot but with all the cushioning.
I particularly liked them on the trails; I didn’t feel any of the small stones I ran over and didn’t feel unstable on some of the bumpier paths – that said, I’m not sure how these particular styles – Clifton 3 – would perform on more technical trails. I brought my Hokas with me to New Zealand and enjoyed running in them…until I couldn’t. I discovered blisters between my toes six miles into a twelve-mile run along the Great Taste trail near Nelson. Precisely at the point where we could either turn around and return home or continue to the end – in either case, I needed to cover another 6 miles. (I apologize if you’re one of those who despise feet and now find yourself unable to unsee the above photo. Side note how pretty my nail polish is! I assumed sand in my socks from pre-run beach yoga, but it was actually due to the shoes being too small. It was heartbreaking – I adore them but was forced to leave them in the care of one of my cousins in New Zealand. Even more tragic was that I was forced to hike in flip-flops in Abel Tasman national park due to my blisters and painful feet!
Finally, I adored the Hokas and am eager to try a size 6.5 or 7 – I typically wear a size 6, so these may be one to an extent up in for others. Because I have wide feet, the wide toe box in the proper size shoe should prevent future toe blisters. I run on a variety of trails and roads at home and enjoy the idea of additional cushioning for my long runs around Henley; however, these will not be used for my speed or treadmill runs; for those, I’ll stick to something more minimalist.
If you’re a runner, you’re well aware of the critical role that the shoes you wear on your feet play in your overall success. There is an infinite number of sneakers available, but one that has been making waves recently is Hoka One One. If you’re looking for a great pair of athletic shoes but aren’t sure which brand to choose, or if you’ve been shopping and keep seeing Hoka One One pop up but want to learn more about the manufacturer and their products, here’s a brief history of the company to provide you with some context and help you decide if Hoka is the right choice for you.
Hoka One One, a French company, was founded in 2009. They’ve made some significant waves in the more than ten years they’ve been around. What drew runners’ attention was the sneakers’ unique design, which features an oversized outsole (dubbed the “maximalist”) that provides additional cushioning. In an era when the minimalist design was all the rage for running shoes, Hoka One One’s revolutionary design truly set them apart.
Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard founded the company to develop a shoe that would allow runners to run faster downhill. After experimenting with several concepts, they settled on the “oversized outsole,” which provided more cushioning than any other running shoe available when Hoka One One launched. When translated from Maori, the company’s name translates as “fly above the earth.”
Hoka One One’s sneakers initially caught the eye of long-distance marathon runners. It’s easy to see why, given the increased cushioning and stability provided by the oversized outsole. They quickly gained popularity with all types of runners due to their lightweight and maximum cushioning. The initial success of the manufacturer’s high-cushioned sneakers has been followed by lighter-weight shoes (which retain the original oversized cushioning), lightweight trainers and racing shoes, and even track spikes. Deckers Brands acquired Hoka One One in April 2013, the parent company of other popular shoe brands such as UGG and Teva. Today, Hoka is a major sponsor of professional runners. Initially, the company-sponsored trail-ultra runners; however, their roster has expanded to include several track and field triathlon and road-running athletes. Additionally, Hoka has a long history of sponsoring professional training groups, including the Northern Arizona Elite of Flagstaff, Arizona, the New Jersey New York Track Club, and the California Aggies Running Club.
What distinguishes Hoka from every other running shoe brand on the market is the sensation they provide. The shoes offer quite a unique feeling due to the enhanced cushioning they provide in conjunction with the thoughtfully engineered midsole. They feel smooth, soft, and efficient as you run in them.
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