In 6th grade, my best friend and I set a goal to never once wear water shoes in our entire lives. They were an offense to our fashion sense and completely unnecessary in our eyes. Tennis shoes or flip flops, people. It’s not that hard.
Then I started doing sea lion research on a desert island in the Gulf of California. This is around the time when Keens hit the market, both setting a precedent for ironically hideous water sandals and offering an alternative to the dreaded Tevas. I had no choice. It was in the name of science that I purchased a pair of Keens, but I chose to drive over an hour to the REI that had them in a bright blue color. If I’m going to look ridiculous, I’m going to damn well look like I MEANT to look ridiculous. (My best friend forgave me of my choice when we went on a Grand Canyon rafting trip and her tennis shoe/ flip flip combo proved to be inadequate and inconvenient).
Turns out, water sandals come in handy in many aspects of field biology and adventure sports, and my Keens got a good workout. For the record, I never once wore them as a ‘normal’ shoe. Outdoor activities, ONLY. Sold on Keens, I still frowned upon those biologists who chose Tevas or Chacos.
In the Spring of 2010, I did tortoise population surveys for the US Fish & Wildlife Service, walking close to 500 miles in 3 months. Unbeknownst to me, I have high arches and the foot pain & soreness I experienced after long bouts of walking or standing was not, in fact, normal. By the end of the first week of my work with FWS, my feet were shot. I had injured the arches with inadequate arch support in my shoes, resulting in plantar fasciitis. By not stopping there (quit my awesome tortoise job? no way!), I ended up tearing the tissue in my arches. Basically, I ruined them. There was bed rest involved, talk of surgery and walking casts ignored. I did, however, face the music in terms of footwear. Gone were my days of Converse, Haviana flip flops and slip-on Vans…My podiatrist recommended New Balance walking shoes. Yes, the bright white grandma shoes.
But even the old lady shoes didn’t comfort my weary feet, as my high arches still soared above the insoles. Through some research, I learned that many people with high arches have found unsurpassed comfort in the Chacos footbeds. No. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I tried on a pair at REI for shits & giggles and was in arch support heaven. I think I almost cried at this point, facing a major life decision. If I bought these shoes, I would cross the line into the Bio-nerd-sphere. I would no longer be able to associate with normal people. Soon, my closet would consist of nothing but zip-off pants and gusseted sun shirts.
Just as I was saved from this decision 5 years prior with the discovery of Keens, the water sandal god stepped in and gave me a vision of the Chaco Hipthong- another almost-cute option, once again postponing the inevitable move to the dark side of REI.
These Chacos have been on my feet for the last year and a half. They are more comfortable for my sad aching feet than my hiking boots, New Balances, toe socks with pom poms and 8 inch stripper heels COMBINED. I’m not sure if people notice my dorky footwear, but I’ve only received a handful of comments, and once had to threaten the bouncer at Tao with a lawsuit if he didn’t let me in with my casual footwear. “Next time I’ll bring a note from my doctor,” I snarked. He put his tail in between his legs and let me in.
As I have matured greatly over the last one day, I realize that the comfort these shoes provide is well worth the maybe judgements I get from cooler people. I am also sad to realize that people probably don’t judge me that much because they KNOW I’m a biologist, and they EXPECT me to be a dork. This is the sad truth.
I know the day will come when I purchase regular Chacos. Fearfully anticipating this, I cling dearly to their following release. Although I am not quite at the point of crossing over JUST yet, I feel like I cannot miss this opportunity. I can cross now, and sport semi-acceptable rockstar Chacos (can I diamond-stud them, PLEASE?!! ), or I can postpone the inevitable and get stuck with some heinous Native American print.