After a career as “Super Dave” (the guy who answered all your footwear questions at RoadRunner Sports) and a stint with Adidas in Germany, Dave Jewell returned to his hometown of San Diego to lead the footwear creative team at Zoot Sports, where he now resides as the man behind the 2011 run shoe line. Recently, Jewell gave us a tour of the company’s newest footwear line and latest wetsuit.
Zoot enters its fourth year in triathlon footwear production this year, but 2011 is certainly the year Jewell has put his fingerprint on the entire line. As a triathlete, he was glad to take his previous career experiences to Zoot, where the company’s edict was to be genuine to the multisport consumer.
“Twelve years at RoadRunner Sports taught me what runners and athletes were looking for,” Jewell said. “Two and a half years at Adidas taught me the world market, where I buried myself in development … learning all I could, from the factories in China to material selection. Now I come to Zoot with what I think is a lot of knowledge—start to finish—with a shoe.”
Jewell said that the big brands function off a base of track and field, where they innovate and then commercialize a running shoe. He said this model is fine, but that Zoot is going to use triathlon as their platform—choosing to innovate there, test there, and after they breed it, move it into their running line. “Why go Adidas to Zoot? No baggage. There’s no rules, I can do anything. If I’m out on my bike and someone says, why don’t you do “x” in a shoe? I say, ‘OK!’ Really, I kinda get to do whatever I want,” Jewell said.
Tri-specific footwear is Jewell’s bread and butter, with the line focused on four principles: easy-on, barefoot comfort, drainage, and biomechanics. Jewell calls their natural lightness a production by-product: “In general, we’re not going to have heavy two-piece midsoles,” he said.
All shoes in the tri line are asymmetrical (“because that’s what feet are,” Jewell says) and from a biomechanics standpoint, there is only 10mm of forefoot to rearfoot variance in the line. Zoot retains the carbon fiber sole that goes up the first metatarsal head, creating a similar leverage point as one on the bike. “If there’s nothing there, you’ll feel the ball of your foot, especially late in the run, and that carbon plate keeps it from collapsing in while creating a bit of spring as well,” Jewell said.
Onto the footwear itself: The newest centerpiece model is the Ovwa (think au revoir, or “goodbye” in French), a posted racer intended to be an Asics Gel Noosa-killer. The $120 shoe has Barefit technology (with a seamless interior), a 9mm forefoot/19mm rearfoot, and race-day fluid drainage, with a touch of posting. But despite that posting, the shoe is lighter than Zoot’s race-day shoe, the Race 1.0, at 8.6 ounces.
Several other shoes stay in the line, including the $110 UltraSpeed, which, with a 7mm forefoot (and 17mm rearfoot) is the thinnest shoe in the Zoot line. The $150 Race 3.0 also stays, but has a new 100 percent ZBound sole and an elastic upper, which Jewell says provides a bit more support, helpful over an Ironman marathon. It has a 9mm forefoot and a 19mm rearfoot.
The Ultra TT ($140) remains a variable Neutral racer/trainer with a 11mm forefoot and 21mm rearfoot, but still has race application, especially in the longer stuff. To wit, it’s still the shoe Samantha McGlone races in.
Also returning is the $140 Tempo, a stability version of TT with a bit of medial posting. It features a new pull-tab that won’t break, as past ones were prone to do. The upper is “posted” as well, with a tighter mesh to wrap the foot a bit tighter over the top.
As noted, Zoot developed its tri footwear line before getting into running shoes. Now they’ve got run-specific shoes, and are considering the category differently—athletes wanting something burlier for marathon training, or with more support or cushioning. Or a standard open-cell foam shoe liner, since runners don’t necessarily need a ported liner for fluid drainage).
Jewell said the heaviest shoe in the line is darned light at 10.9oz; one of those light heavies is the Ultra Kalani. The $140 shoe may be a weekly trainer, but at 10.5oz, this is a race shoe. Jewell said it underwent immense weight savings by using the mesh upper that the UltraSpeed has. Thick blown rubber keeps it quite cushy.
The $150 Ultra Kane is a stability version of the Ultra Kalani. It’s posted with Zbound and ZVA (Zoot’s brand of EVA), and carbon wraps a bit of the arch as well. The upper is supported by synthetic leather.
When creating the Ultra Kapilani, Jewell queried his testers. “I always asked, what’s your long run shoe? Asics, Saucony. What if we had a shoe that functioned like a Tempo, but a bit more under the foot? Our testers said ‘yeah!’”
Enter the Ultra Kapilani. Functionally, it’s exactly the same as Tempo, with the same midsole, posting and low (21mm to 11mm rearfoot/forefoot) profile. The difference was putting blown rubber in place of carbon rubber, which adds more compression dispersion. Add standard laces and you have a long-trainer.
A cleverly named Otec (short for Ocean Thermal Energy Conservancy, a location found in Kona’s Natural Energy Lab) comes into the Zoot line. The $120 runner is the same as the tri-version TT, with the same 21mm/11mm sole variance but with soft blown rubber instead of stiffer carbon rubber for a more plush ride in training. At 10.4 ounces, it’s the training compliment to the TT.
Zoot has a few price-point shoes in the line in the Energy neutral runner ($100) and the posted Advantage ($105), either of which may be ideal for the budding triathlete who does a few local sprints each year. It has all the top-end features like Barefit Technology, an asymmetrical lacing system and a fiberglass shank—quite a bit more offering than most run-specific offerings at that price.
The Prophet is the new top-end ($650) wetsuit in Zoot’s line, replacing the Zenith, and has sound principles behind its design.
“Luke (Bell) and Sam (McGlone) each said ‘I just want to get out of the water feeling fresh,’ so that was our focus,” Jewell said. The suit has tons of overhead reach stretch (using exceptionally thin 2mm rubber in the shoulders), and has 2mm Yamamoto rubber across the back and in the center of the chest for less breathing restriction. The Prophet has no seam under the arm. Further, the suit is ergonomically designed, with a pre-bent knee and pre-shaped calf
After a confluence design test in Denver and 3D modeling, Zoot concluded that catch panels do work. “They grab water and help propel you through water,” Jewell said, “but they will make you a certain percent more tired, because it makes for more work.”
So to make that forearm work easier, the catch panel isn’t a panel at all, but rather an EVA ridge. And it’s not on the front of the forearm; it’s on the backside of it. Why? Think of why a bike’s aero tube set is teardrop-shaped, and you’ll get the idea.
“It’s a confluence fluid dynamics feature we tested in a flume,” Jewell said. “As water comes around the forearm as it pulls back in the water, it tries to come off smooth, and it can’t—it eddies.”
Effectively, it cleans up water on the backside of the pulling arm. The suit is 5mm thick at that thickest point of the EVA ridge.
“Fighting the water burns energy, and we believe this will get you out of the water fresher,” Jewell said. “We’re using the best of the best neoprene to create a new design, and make swimming in a wetsuit a more pleasurable experience. It’s just 20 percent of the race, but it’s 40 percent of energy expenditure. We’re pretty excited about it.”
The footwear has been trickling into stores as we speak, with the wetsuit to hit the shops in short order as well. For more on the 2011 Zoot line, visit www.zootsports.com