The most common way is to ask your skater friends. If they hate Etnies, then YOU hate Etnies. This method works for a short time, but there are some dangers. Your friends might get sick of you always following along and never having your own opinions. Or, more likely, your friends might be wrong. They probably are. The more you find out about skate shoes, the more you will discover that you think EVERYONE is wrong. That's normal. That's part of being a skater.
The next best method is to try them out. This works a lot better than just asking friends, but it will get expensive. And, the more you buy shoes that don't work out, the more frustrated you might become.
The third way is to actually figure out what makes a pair of skate shoes GOOD, and then look at each pair on a case-by-case basis. I like this method. Here are some things to look for on skate shoes, to tell wether or not they are worth your cash:
- Stitching - look around the shoe, and make sure that they are actualy stitched together. Not just glued. And, they should be largely double stitched, or even tripple stitched (that means that there will be two or three little stitch lines running along togther, instead of just one). Good quality skateboard shoes need to be stitched together. It helps them hold together longer.
- Material - what is the shoe made from? Canvas? Throw it out, unless you never plan to do anything too aggressive. Leather? How thick? Is it treated? Are there layers? Strong skate shoes are usually made out of leather or suede, or something synthetic that is just as strong. But be careful - Fallen is the only brand I know of that makes good strong synthetic leather. Some brands promise extra strong leather.
- Reinforcement - just having a shoe made of leather isn't enough - you need lots of reinforcement. You aren't just walking in these shoes, you're skating. And skating destroys shoes - that's just a fact. What you want are shoes that will last as long as possible! Look for extra layers on the toe cap (I like several layers on the toe), some on the side where you will be dragging your foot during ollies, along the lace eyelets, around the heel ... the more the shoe looks like it could survive a nuclear attack, the better.
- Weight - here's the balance. All that reinforcement is great, but if the shoes are now concrete blocks, you won't be pulling off many tricks with them. All of this technology and design needs to be light enough to not drag you down. But not too light - if the shoe feels miraculously light, then it might be miraculously flimsy. Be careful!
- Grip - the sole needs to be made of a grippy gum rubber. Not just regular street shoe rubber. You need these things to grip the board. Most large name skate shoe brands will be grippy enough, but not all shoes made by any given company are made equal...
- Padding - this is a matter of taste. Personally, I like padded tongues and heel collars, and a good cushy heel pad. But that doesn't matter as much as you might think. Padding is all for comfort.
- Lace Protection - this is a little thing that a lot of skaters miss when looking at shoes. Are the lace holes reinforced with metal? If not, you can rip through them easily. Does the shoe come with flaps for the lower lace holes, that will protect your laces when you do flip tricks? If not, you will probably burn through your laces fast.
- Pro Signature - having a pro's name on the shoe does NOT make it a good shoe. At all. But, here's the weird part - a pro who has a good name will not want his or her name slapped onto a crappy shoe. That's BAD advertising. So, if the shoe has a well known, well respected pro's name on it, then it's a good chance it will be a good shoe. But there are some exceptions - if the pro has his or her own entire shoe brand (like Hawk), then that doesn't mean all of those shoes are good. At that point, he or she isn't really involved as much with each individual shoe anymore.
- Style - the least important feature as far as skatability, but most skaters put it on the top of this list! It's not un-important to think about style - you gotta like your shoes! But, it should be down the list, taking a back seat to some other concerns!