The romance and beauty of Baja and northern Mexico are once again showing up in summer collections. The patterns and traditional designs that originally found their way to popularity among the surfing set in the ’60s are being reformulated and turned around for the modern audience. I mean what better place to look for comfortable laid back beach wear then the Pacific coast of Mexico. One of the oldest and the most iconic footwear to ever come out of the rugged coast is of course, Huaraches (hu-RAH-cheez).
early rudimentary Huaraches
Huarache sandles date back to pre-columbian history and the early days of the P’urhépecha people in western mexico. The word Huarache is actually an English derivation of the original P’urhépecha word kwarachi meaning, simply, sandal. These early versions were made from scraps of leather woven together with a simple leather sole. Over the centuries tanning techniques improved and vegetable dyes began to be introduced but, it wasn’t until the 20th century that these distinctive sandals got their most memorable touch.
R tire tread on early-style Huaraches L beat up, worn in, Huaraches.
With the explosion in the automobile industry after World War I due to Henry Fords advances in the development of the production line and mass production another new product became readily available. Used tires became a cheap and simple way to acquire durable vulcanized synthetic rubber. The enterprising Mexican sandal makers saw an opportunity and started cutting rubber soles out of the tread of old discarded tires and sewing them to their leather woven Huaraches. This new breed of sandal was an amazing improvement from the soft leather soled version. Not only did they have solid soles that could last 40,000 miles but they also had tread which at the time was a pretty novel concept in general for shoes. It has been said that Huaraches with tire soles started showing up in Mexican markets around 1936 which historically makes sense although is impossible to confirm.
It wasn’t until the the late ’50s, when surfing really blew up in California, that the most hardcore of the southern California surfers started treking further south into Baja to find new, less crowded breaks to master. Soon they started bringing back some of the native style from down the coast. Comfortable, utilitarian clothes in bold colors and sun-bleached stripes quickly took hold across California. Along with the blankets, sweatshirts, shorts and hats they brought back these new, stronger, longer lasting sandals that the Mexicans swore by. And so, over night Huaraches made landfall in California. Huaraches were such an improvement from the cheap rubber flip-flops that many surfers had been wearing that the transition didn’t take long. In 1964, Surfing magazine ran an article called “Surf-ari to Baja,” a travel piece about how surfers, in search of prime breaks without the SoCal crowds, found a new paradise in the remote beaches of Baja California. After that, it wasn’t long before the rush to Baja began and the Baja surfer style became mainstream, spreading all the way up the chain.
Baja boom. Surfer with his Baja Beetle c. 1960s
Along with counter-culture, Huaraches faded into the background in the mid-70s but, were not forgotten by the baby boomers who loved them. Since they last forever many people continued to wear theirs for decades to come. Today, seaside-loving labels like Riviera Club, NSF and the Burkman Bros. are bringing back that throwback Baja style. I have been wearing my Huaraches for almost ten years now and they only get better with age. The greatest thing about them is that although Baja style is back very few people are making the Huaraches.
my beautifully worn Huaraches straight off my feet
This summer get out of those nasty flip flops and get a sandal that is both comfortable and stylish. The originals are sold online here or, if you live near the boarder, road trip south and get the real thing the way those original surfing pioneers did and get the full experience. There are few things better then Baja tacos and horchata on the beach. Vaya con dios my friends. Go out and enjoy the sun.