The Shoobie: Why People Wear Shoes to the Beach
Danskos on the coast, pumps sur la plage, Vans on the shore—why some of us won’t let sand touch our precious hooves.
Choosing footwear for your summer beach experience is infuriating and impossible, so Happy Memorial Day! The demands on a Beach Shoe are manifold. It needs incredible transitional power to move from sidewalk to train to boardwalk to sand to taco stand, while both withstanding salty wet sand and not damaging your salty-wet-sandy-foot-skin.
I texted Kelsey Goelz and Drew Hancock—natives of Westchester (the Los Angeles beach-adjacent neighborhood, not NYC’s most premium suburb)—to ask them what kind of shoes they wear to the beach, and they introduced me to a term I had never heard of before: “My shitty Vans like a shoeby [sic],” Hancock replied. Goelz added, “Rocket Power reference” and then sent the Wikipedia page for the word “Shoobie.”
Um, excuse??? In an undated clip from Rocket Power—the late-90s Nickelodeon cartoon that followed the coastal California exploits of four extreme sports enthusiasts, duh—we see Oswald “Otto” Rocket totally slotted (riding a gnarly wave) until a big pale dude in a red beret and an inner tube cuts him off and ruins his ride. The Rocket Power gang are beach locals, and the clueless outsider who doesn’t know surfing etiquette, much less what to wear to the beach, is a shoobie. I mean, my man is wearing a beret. To the beach. (His feet are mostly plunged in water, but you can catch a glance of some grotesque waterproof shoes as he flees to the beach.) “We’re being invaded!” says Regina "Reggie" Rocket. “By shoobies!” Otto yells.
Turns out the instinct (or even need) to wear shoes to the beach makes you patently uncool and incontrovertibly a shoobie. (It isn’t clear if the term comes from wearing shoes on the beach or because of the charming tale that Philadelphia beach daytrippers used to bring their lunches to the beach in shoes boxes, but the former has become the source that most people reference, pseudo-etymology or not.)
I had to know more about shoobie style, so I began polling beachtown residents nationwide. Since New Jersey seemed to be the source of the word, I checked in with Jersey Shore resident Kelsey Sollner, who wrote, “a shoobie is a (usually pasty) dork who wears shoes on the beach.” So what’s the opposite of a shoobie? A...townie? “A benny is a guidette, what I aspire to be,” Sollner said. When I asked her what shoes she wears to the beach, or at least, on the splintery boardwalk, she responded, “Jellies!!! Or barefoot.”
The uniform of the beach local versus the “flatlander” was described by Thomas Pynchon in his beach noir, Inherent Vice, and then brought to the screen by Mark Bridges, the costume designer for the 2014 P.T. Anderson movie. Instead of her beach bum baby tee and bikini bottoms, Shasta wears an orange dry-clean-only mini dress, straight long hair and yellow kitten heels. In an interview with The New York freaking Times, Bridges specifies that to make Shasta’s character look like she had exchanged her bikini for an inland city dweller look, “‘A hard shoe with a heel’ was a good starting point…’”
So, besides pale skin, shoes on the beach, and unfamiliarity with local customs, how do you identify a shoobie? Jack Sills, who surfs El Port and County Line, pointed me towards the term “kook” and the accompanying Instagram account Kook of the Day. Y’all!!! You can even get Kook merch. (There are, of course, no shoes.)
Anyways: Sills described the Kook traits that are clear to a surf regular: “wearing their wetsuit on backwards or in an inappropriate place, like a Starbucks. Putting their fins on the wave storm backwards. Having a convertible and having your surfboards stick out of the back rather than tied on top… By the way, you asking me this makes you one hundred percent a kook.” Thanks, Jack. Not even taking my shoes off can save me!
If you have come to terms with your status as a perpetual summertime poser—a flatlander, one of those damn summer people—as I have, then you are still left with the no-best-beach-shoe dilemma. For the love of god, there must be a way to tour stylishly. How does one balance the unkickable (sorry) need for aesthetically strong footwear with an attempt to not look like a complete fish out of water (I SAID SORRY) when you scoot down the shore from Fort Greene to Cape May for a weekend getaway?
Begin with the trendsetters, then add as many ice cubes as you need to water down to your taste. At the Cannes Film Festival—kickoff event to the dream grandes vacances in the S.O.F. (South of France)—face of Summer Fun Chloe Sevigny dared to wear pumps sur la plage. That is: heels on the beach, martini in hand, at the Grey Goose party at Nikki Beach, with the kind of panache only the ultimate Summer Person could pull off.
In December 2017, Mitra Jouhari, an actress and writer, took the Dansko trend that crashed through New York via all the Hot Genius People who used-to-be-a-waitresses, from Stephanie Danler to Katja Blichfeld to Alice Gregory, into a new territory. On a trip to Cancun, Jouhari coined the term “Beach Clog” and catalogued her white Danskos on the sand on Instagram. The Beach Clog was an enchanting idea––the waterproof and non-porous clog wouldn’t trap sand in its solid unibody construction.
Incredibly, writer Emma Spector also repped the Beach Clog. When pressed on their effectiveness, she replied, “Very sweaty! They fill up with sand! But they look good with my perennial black one piece and whatever schmatta I cover it up with. As a thicc girl I need a thicc beach shoe. I can’t fuck around with some gladiator sandals. It’s all about proportions.”
Olivia Taylor concurred with Spector’s proportions argument and noted, “The problem with the LA beaches are they are too thick, you have to walk really far before you get to the water, and they are filled with glass and trash so you really can’t take off your shoes before you get to your sitting spot.” For the delicately-hooved shoobie, braving the heavily trafficked and needle spiked beaches of Coney Island or Venice, this is crucial.
I love the boldness of a pump or Dansko on the sand. Jellies are a lovely option but give me blisters. I have begrudging admiration for those who participate in Chaco Nation, and total respect for Tyler the Creator vacationing in Lake Como in Tevas. I understand but am averse to the homely tech of a water shoe (the official shoe of the original cartoon shoobie). However, I can’t find a place for myself in any of these camps. And so I return, like the invaders of Rocket Power’s beach, to my shoobie uniform of “shitty Vans” and muddy Keds that will carry me all summer from Expo line to Peugeot pedal to the State Beach Liquor Mini Mart to my favorite darty at Ginger Rogers Beach and back home, deep in the LA Basin. By the end of the summer, they will smell like sweat and fish and micheladas and be left in some hotel room trashcan on Labor Day weekend. Life’s a beach, shoobie babies!