words // Zack Schlemmer
images courtesy of adidas Skateboarding
as published in Sole Collector Magazine Issue 47 - The Skate Issue
A man’s man. A ballplayer’s ballplayer. This type of saying is an old cliché, but there’s really no better way to describe Dennis Busenitz than that he is a skateboarder’s skateboarder. As authentic as they come. The world of skateboarding can often be a selective and cynical place, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the culture—be it a fellow pro or a kid down the street—that doesn’t respect and admire Dennis.
“Dennis Busenitz represents what true skateboarding is about on all levels. He's the full package: style, speed, well-rounded, and constantly progressing. Most of all, Busenitz doesn't get caught up in the Street League, commercial contest crap. That says a lot about what goes on in his head, and makes me back him even harder.” – Ryen Motzek, Owner of Atlas skate shop in San Mateo, California
Not overly tech or overly gnar, either, he won’t be found doing some ultra-technical line or hucking himself down 20 stair handrails. He can be found skating hard and (very) fast, but with a seeming effortlessness. His style seems to suggest that he’s just out there having fun and skating exactly how he wants to, not worrying about impressing anybody, doing the latest trendy tricks, or landing another sponsor. Remember back in the good ol’ days of skateboarding when you watched a video and saw tricks that you, the average skater, could actually do? That’s what watching one of Dennis’ parts is like. Maybe you can’t go as fast or big as he does, but his parts make you want to grab your board and actually go skate. And that’s one of the main reasons he’s a fan favorite amongst the skateboarding community.
It’s not just that he’s one of the best skateboarders alive (which he certainly is) that makes him so highly regarded; it’s his choice to do things the way he wants to do them, never compromising his own outlook on life and what skateboarding means to him just to make a few more dollars.
Also never one to be motivated by the certain level of fame that can go along with professional skateboarding, Dennis can be considered somewhat of a recluse—at least compared to other professional skateboarders of his caliber. Dennis prefers to keep to himself, mostly. With a wife and children at home, he seems content being more of an ordinary family man than a famous pro skater.
From his unique approach to skating, to his disregard for the overly corporate pro contest circuit, to the sponsors he chooses to endorse, Dennis seems to only do what he thinks is right for himself and his family, not what will get him the next magazine cover or “totally extreme” soda sponsor.
“I don't think you'd ever see him pushing some crappy energy drink or anything he wouldn't use himself, so when he endorses something, skateboarders pay attention.” – Jerry Harris, owner of 510 skate shop in Berkeley, California.
Enter adidas Skateboarding, which gave Dennis his first signature shoe in 2009, the Busenitz Pro. It's a shoe that has already become one of the most classic and iconic skate shoe models ever—and the shoe that gave the then-recently formed adidas Skateboarding label legitimacy in the skate community. Of course, adidas has been in the skate shoe market for quite some time—legend Mark Gonzales has been sponsored by adidas since the late 1990s, for example—but it wasn’t until the revamped adidas Skateboarding line came along in 2009 with some of the brand’s classic silhouettes remodeled specifically for skateboarding like the Campus Vulc and—above all— the Busenitz Pro (heavily inspired by the Copa Mundial soccer boot) that the world of skateboarding really started to pay attention.
“I think it [the Busenitz Pro] put adidas on the map as a major player in the skate shoe market, especially in our shop.” – Jerry Harris
Thanks mostly to adidas Skateboarding, the idea of a soccer-inspired skate shoe seems like a no-brainer now, but only five years ago when the Busenitz Pro was released, it was actually a bit of a risk. Dennis reminisces about the first time he pulled out a pair of his new shoe to skate. “I was stoked for sure, but at the same time a little freaked out, because it was a huge deal,” he says of getting a signature shoe. “And also because I was worried about it being a flop. I liked the shoe, so I tried not to think about if people would buy it or not.”
“The one thing that sticks out to me about the Busenitz is that it's pretty much the first soccer-inspired silhouette marketed for skateboarding that actually has had a good sell-through for our store. We used to always skate in soccer styles like the adidas Gazelle back in the ’90s, and skate companies always acknowledged that and tried to incorporate it into their lines, but it never seemed to sell. But what better company to pull it off than adidas? It's very natural with their heritage. The Busenitz Pro has proven to be a very unique shoe, and very skateable.” – Eric Blanding of Premier, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Not only did the Busenitz Pro help establish the soccer silhouette in skateboarding for good, but it’s also partly responsible for the rebirth of the cupsole on skate shoes. The thicker, one-piece rubber cupsoles were the norm for the big, bulky, and heavily padded shoes of the 1990s, but in more recent years, the classic vulcanized sole made a major comeback after skaters began favoring the more grippy, closer-to-the-board feel. Now the cup is back, albeit slimmed down a bit in most cases, compared to its ’90s brethren, thanks to the risks taken on the Busenitz Pro.
“Dennis sort of brought back the cupsole. There weren't many at the time when his pro model launched, and now it seems there's a strong resurgence of the cupsole.” – Ryen Motzek
The success of the Busenitz Pro is that much sweeter when you know it came from exactly what Dennis wanted for his signature shoe, not something recommended to him by the brand, or a shoe they just slapped his name onto. The inspiration for his shoe went all the way back to his days playing soccer as a kid. Born in the states but living in Germany as a child, Dennis was no stranger to the soccer field, and he decided to use the sleek soccer silhouette of models like the Samba and Copa Mundial for his own skate shoe all those years later. “That’s something I liked and pushed for,” he begins. “I always liked the Copa Mundial when I played soccer, and I thought it would make a nice skate shoe.” We now know that he was a bit worried about his first model upon its launch, so it goes without saying that he was as surprised as anybody about its success. “There are so many factors in having a successful shoe, and to have them all fall into place makes me feel rather lucky.”
The heavy soccer inspiration, the clean and simple design, the reintroduced cupsole, and the oversized tongue (with instructions printed on the back side telling you to grab some scissors and cut it off if you’re “not feeling” it) all together made the Busenitz Pro a shoe not quite like any other skate shoe before it. Perhaps it was a design that was just in the right place at the right time, but it would be hard to argue that Dennis’ name on the shoe, and the influence that name holds in the world of skateboarding, isn’t what propelled the model to the next level and solidified it as a classic even while it’s still in production.
Since the triumph of the Busenitz Pro, Dennis has already had two more signature models, the Busenitz Vulc, and his latest model, the Busenitz ADV. The Busenitz Vulc is pretty self-explanatory—a trimmed-down, vulcanize-soled version of the Pro with, of course, all the same quality and lines of the original. The fittingly named Busenitz ADV (Advanced) is indeed one of the most technically advanced skate shoes on the market, with a minimalist one-piece quarter and toe panel, Nano cushioning technology in the heel, GEOFIT foam in the tongue and collar for padding and a snug fit, and a hybrid vulc/cup sole. Built off of the foundation of the Pro, these next two models have also been accepted with open arms by the skateboarding community, thanks to their clean looks and always purposeful, never gimmicky tech.
Each of his three models seem to have a perfectly organic blend of form and function that end up being attractive to almost any type of skater. So it’s easy to forget that they are actually created to the exact specifications of what Dennis wants and needs in a shoe.
“The way Dennis skates, his shoes need to have more structure because he comes with so much speed and force,” says adidas Action Sports Senior Design Lead Jesse Rademacher. Adidas gives each pro full freedom with the details of their signature shoes on everything, right down to the location and amount of cushioning in the midsole for their own ideal comfort and board feel. “What goes on in the midsole is based on rider style and cushioning preference. Whether we use impact absorption technology like adiPrene or Nano, cushioning is derived from what kinds of loads and G-forces the rider puts on their feet.” The results of adidas’ keen attention to performance details inside and out equate to shoes perfect for Dennis, but also very appealing to a wide audience of skateboarders.
“Dennis' pro models have always been a hit. From the time that he had his first Gazelle colorway, which was the best-selling adidas for us at that time, to now, where the Busenitz Pro, ADV, and Vulc are all sought-after shoes by skateboarders that respect Dennis and want a shoe that performs.” – Ryen Motzek.
And speaking of colorways, Rademacher notes that adidas gives each rider freedom with the choice of colors for their signature models, as well. “The rider’s individuality is expressed. We take note of the pro’s habits, music, favorite art, fashion, color preferences, etc.,” he outlines. “This allows us to pull together all the pieces that will give a pro something they are excited to wear and fits their style.” Just like his own sense of style on and off the board, none of Dennis’ shoes ever come out too flashy or in your face, instead they stick mostly to the tried-and-true hues of black, white, blue, brown, and red, in various shades. “I like the simple / boring / classic colors, but I've been told there are people that like neon pink … and the customer is always right,” Busenitz jokes. Even if the customer is right, Dennis hasn’t let it affect any colorways yet, always keeping to what he knows best. Just another example of how he doesn’t let anybody else sway his judgment of how things should be done.
With the help of Dennis Busenitz, adidas Skateboarding has become one of the most respected and successful brands in today’s skate shoe market. But don’t give all the credit for the success of the brand just to Dennis and the blow-up of the Busenitz Pro. Much has to do with the brand’s own strategy and philosophy in the industry—which is not unlike Dennis’ own.
“Adidas has done a great job of not tainting their brand by just going after big-name pros.
From Gonz, to our (Atlas) team rider Mark Suciu, to Dennis Busenitz, they've been very selective with their team, and customers realize and respect that.” – Ryen Motzek
Even with three shoes under his belt, Dennis doesn’t seem to be slowing down on the board or in the skate shoe industry any time soon.
So what’s next for Dennis Busenitz and adidas?