History of Ultimate Cleats: Part 5

Here at TOKAY we are really into cleats. Join us for a look back at the fascinating history of cleats.

PART 1 – Cordwainers and Cobblers (from the first mention of football boots to the early 20th century)
PART 2 – Rise of the Brands (cleats of the early 20th century)
PART 3 – Post War Innovation (cleat development from the 1940’s onwards)
PART 4 Rules, Regulations, and Industry
PART 5 – The First Cleats for Ultimate

Cover Picture Source: Kijiji

PART 5 – THE FIRST CLEATS FOR ULTIMATE

Ultimate celebrates its 50th anniversary as a sport this year. And for most of that history, our athletes have been using footwear designed for other sports. This remained the case for the first three decades of the sport, until Brett Price started Gaia in 1998.

As founder of first company to design and produce cleats specifically for Ultimate, we consulted with Brett during the research and design of our own TOKAY cleats. Initially he simply advised us against the idea. But once he understood that Robin was truly serious about the project, we talked more at length about the pros, cons, ins and outs of ultimate footwear.

Our series on the history of ultimate cleats would be incomplete without an interview with the original ultimate footwear innovator. So without further ado, we present to you: Brett Price!

What led you to starting Gaia? And during a time at which playing barefoot was allegedly quite common, what prompted the decision to make cleats for ultimate?

I started playing ultimate in 1996 and was immediately hooked. I had recently developed an entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to start my own company. Ultimate was becoming quite mainstream in Vancouver the league was flourishing but no one knew which type of footwear to purchase. I started GAIA in 1998 with a focus to develop ultimate specific footwear along with fully customized apparel and accessories, and to also advocate for the development and growth of the sport.

We started sponsoring some of the top club and national teams and through our distribution partner (Jump and Reach, Heiko Kissling) sponsored the 2000 World Ultimate and Guts Championships in Heilbronn. That was a fortuitous tournament as it is also where I met my future wife who was a local spectator (who also started to play ultimate after seeing the event).

Playing barefoot on grass was never common, though you would see it from time to time. Ultimate is pretty unique in its stresses on the foot and the human body in general, the quick lateral motion with stops and starts takes a toll on the body and the foot. Our shoes tried to increase performance but also safety and comfort.

Ultimate in those days was rarely played on well manicured fields, the grass was long, and there were lots of holes and variability, pretty dangerous actually. These field conditions were quite different than those for soccer/football and so we needed footwear unique to our sport. Much of this rationale continues to exist today.

Gaia Cleats
(ltr) Women’s Ion Sky, Men’s Ion Flame, Unisex Ion Vapour, and G4
Picture Source: Brett Price and Zasu

How were the goals to increase player performance, safety and comfort manifested in the design of Gaia’s cleats?

This was achieved through longer sharper studs, better support through the midfoot and heel and a 3/4 cut upper that supported the ankle without isolating it.

The polyurethane outsole had long and sharp studs. While the stud length was great in long and wet grass, the sharpness meant that they would bite into firm sunbaked ground.

We kept our studs round so that they would pivot in the grass and not create a cookie cutter effect where you could blow an ankle or knee on quick directional changes. The upper gave additional support without isolating the ankle…which then puts increased stress on the knee.

The midsole and heel counter also had to be super stiff and waterproof to ensure that the shoes don’t degrade in the wet and heat. It is critical though that players dry their shoes out immediately after use…and please remove those insoles to dry the insides too! Good care means the shoes perform better, longer.

In your own experience, what is the most important characteristic of cleats you use for Ultimate? And what would you advise people to look for when selecting their cleats for Ultimate?

There are a few equally important items. Make sure your shoes fit you well and take care of them. Don’t let them stay wet, and don’t walk on pavement..this will keep the uppers/midsoles strong and supportive and the studs sharp. When the studs get too rounded or the uppers sloppy…time to replace them. Use cleats until their performance degrades, not till they rot off your feet!

Gaia Endura Cleats
Picture Source: Gear Trade

How did the cleats evolve over the years?

We started on the footwear line from the very beginning, though it took many years to get the shoes to something that we were truly proud of. We had 3 models, a top mens, a top womens and a mid market unisex model.

We started with the Strike (mens) and Sky (womens). The original ones were leather and super comfortable, but leather stretches and retains water so we moved into synthetic uppers. The Endura was always synthetic but was otherwise the same shoe. Leather was considered premium back then.

The G4 was a major advancement, we changed the outsole to our own proprietary outsole that we developed in Italy along with a much stiffer midsole/boardlast and heel counter. The shoes were much stiffer, lighter and didn’t absorb water like the original models.

Distribution was a major challenge as e-commerce was still in its early stages and not everyone was as comfortably purchasing footwear online as they are today.

Despite this difficulty, Gaia’s cleats did well and people still speak fondly of them to this day. So what led to the decision to end production?

We stopped making cleats at the end of 2008. During the credit crisis of 2008 we operationally integrated and were therefore reliant on our primary production facility. The banks called a loan on them which basically took us out. They never gave us any early warning that they were in trouble and so we lost the ability to produce…and consequently our company.

These were dark days and a few people lost money due to the somewhat duplicitous actions of this factory. After about 6 months of licking my wounds, I restarted GAIA as a smaller more focused brand. Our new focus has been great for us, the product is as good as it has ever been with over 99% accuracy (i.e. virtually no mistakes) and we haven’t shipped an order late in almost 10 years. Things are going really well these days.

Gaia Vapor Cleats
Picture Source: LetGo

When you look back on Gaia’s early history, before rebooting the brand in 2009, what is your biggest takeaway?

Biggest lesson. Hmm. Tough one. Certainly focus is important, we used to try and do everything, travel the globe, hit every event, make every product, and market in every way imaginable. Now everything is just easier, and better. It was a wild and fun ride though, lots of experience(s) that I wouldn’t have had if I took the the safe route from the beginning.

What were some of your highlights from that early history during which Gaia produced cleats?

There were certainly highlights and “lowlights”, the vast majority of players/customers were very reasonable and gave great support to us along our journey. However there were certainly those who had unrealistic expectations on almost everything. They didn’t fully value how hard we ultimate players are on shoes and they expected them to perform well for a decade..when that is not really a reality for any athletic shoe, ultimate or otherwise. We also had several sent back because they “blew out” but when we pulled out the insoles they were literally caked with green mold…a full science experiment. As I mentioned previously, keeping your shoes dry as much as possible is key!

There were many highlights though, it’s a great feeling to see your cleats on top players doing amazing things. Lots of personal interactions with players and basically just having fun “talking shop” about the development of a key piece of equipment.

What are you up to these days? What new business adventures are you undertaking?

GAIA is going strong and we have another brand called Kazoom Cycling, custom cycling apparel for road and moutain bike. Great fit, fabrics and service delivered on time. Check us out! Thanks for the plug.

Thank you Brett for taking the time to talk with us about Gaia and its historic cleats!

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