“I'm looking for life, love and laughter -
Everything in between and what happens after -
I'm looking for life, looking for love, looking for laughter.”
- Donavon Frankenreiter, “Life, Love, and Laughter” (video after post)
You’d be hard pressed to find a footwear company that gives off better vibes than Sanuk.
The company name is a Thai word for happiness and balance. One of their company mottos is “Smile! Pass it on.” And the goal of their business is to make your feet feel like they’re spending a day at the beach.
Sanuk was started in 1997 by a dude named Jeff Kelley, who thought he’d try making sandals out of inner tubes and indoor-outdoor carpet. While that prototype doesn’t sound particularly comfortable, he eventually developed a smooth, stylish, durable flip-flop and started attracting the most chill group of partners and consultants imaginable to promote and advance his product line.
Today, Team Sanuk consists of twelve charismatic athletes, all of whom are either professional surfers or extreme rock climbers. You’ve probably seen their crazy ads in outdoor magazines, which highlight both the products and the company’s unique brand culture. Their spokespeople are also a group who firmly believe in the importance of allowing the foot to perform without restrictions.
Think about it: what two groups of athletes are more reliant on optimal foot performance than surfers or rock climbers? If you want to carve a tight bottom turn or avoid making a barn door out of a dyno, you need as much natural foot strength and flexibility as possible. That same philosophy also determines what these athletes put on their feet after exiting the water or belaying down the rock face.
Sanuk footwear – referred to as sidewalk surfers – is built with the premise that the foot should function naturally. Or, as their website states: We think that nature has endowed us with a nice set of functional feet...they worked well for eons. Our guess is that the first shoes were designed to protect from the elements, but many societies stuck with sandals. Why? Because they are the closest things to walking barefoot.
One of Sanuk’s advertising tag lines is “They're not shoes, they’re sandals.” There are no rigid boards or shanks, and the thin flexible footbeds enable your feet to bend naturally when you walk. Imagine a lightweight canvas upper sewn onto a thong flip-flop bottom, and you get the idea. They call this approach Barefoot Un-Technology, which allows all the muscles in your feet to work as if they’re bare.
The cool surfer attitude of the company founders is evident in every model in the Sanuk line. Per the company philosophy page, they strive to make products that are as much about funk as they are about function. That eclectic style is clearly apparent in the model I tested, called the Donny.
(I pretty much had to pick that one, didn’t I? Although the name isn’t short for Donald, but Donavon – as in Donavon Frankenreiter, the professional surfer and chill music badass whose music I’ve embedded on this site before. I mean, if you’re offering a barefoot shoe model that’s practically named after me, that promises happiness and balance, and is inspired by a dude who happens to be one of my biggest role models … you have me at hello.)
The styling of this shoe is remarkably cool, both from a color standpoint and the way it looks like a well-worn beach shoe right out of the box. The canvas upper is very thin and immediately comfortable without any breaking-in period.
Sanuk’s soft molded EVA footbed is just thick enough (at 22mm) to provide your feet with killer comfort, but maintains a lot of the ground feel you have from purely barefoot shoes like Vivo Barefoot or Feelmax. Given the beach theme, the footbed reminded me of walking on the firm sand of the ocean’s edge, where there’s a little bit of support underneath, but your feet are still doing most of the work.
On the other side of the footbed, Sanuk makes a rubberized EVA “Happy-U” sole. The traction of it isn’t super – about the same as you would have in a pair of flip-flops – but there’s one point worth a closer look:
Lots of little happy faces! I guess that’s why it’s called Happy U.
Truthfully, a lot of things about this shoe make me happy – an extremely comfortable fit, a ‘very close to barefoot’ feel, and a classic surf dog design. It will definitely be my number one choice for casual outings when I can’t get away with going barefoot, but still want to channel my inner beach bum. If there’s a shoe equivalent of enjoying life, love, and laughter, it would have to be Sanuk.
The Sanuk Donny retails for $60 from Amazon.com.
*Product provided by Sanuk
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Donavon Frankenreiter, "Life, Love, and Laughter" (click to play):