On a sunny midday in May 2009, a package arrived with the mail. This was my first pair of barefoot shoes: a model called “Aqua” by a company called Terra Plana, which used “Vivo Barefoot technology”. Earlier, a well-known movement coach had recommended them to me; I read something about the benefits of barefoot running online; and now here they were. I remember the growing feeling of delight when I opened the package and started unwrapping the insides.
Everything about the experience breathed high quality. The cardboard box with illustrations on the inside. A small brochure about barefoot technology and its advantages. Each shoe was hidden in a cocoon made of a fine mesh that opened and closed with a drawstring. The entire feel of this packaging was different: nature-inspired, featuring beehive patterns, natural materials and earthy colors. It exuded sustainability, high-tech and cool. This was biomimicry at work.
(Looking back at it now, I'm thinking the experience was akin to unwrapping an Apple computer. The sense of touching a cool product starts way before you've begun putting it to use.)
On to the shoes. On the first (visual) impression, they looked like a pair of extremely cool-looking sneakers with a radical emphasis on comfort. Street-smart, cutting-edge but also comfy in a chunky kind of way. They felt soft and robust and flexible at the same time. The colors were wonderful: bright, saturated, and well-matched.
They had that elusive air of being a design icon. I remember thinking that they looked a bit like the VW Beetle but for footwear.
Intrigued, I studied them closer. It became clear that craftsmanship, science, and design thinking went into the creation of these shoes. They were designed unlike any shoe I have seen before. The way their different parts connected; their materials; the way they bent & stretched under pressure — all was special.
In short, they looked and felt like the “real deal”.
With all this said, at the time, I had no idea just how good they were.
I put them on and went for a walk. The feeling was unfamiliar; the mechanics of my gait changed. At first, I found myself jerking my legs up and down like an ostrich while taking a step; my muscles weren't firing properly and I was doing too much work. It took a couple hours for my locomotion apparatus to get adjusted to the thin sole. Once I eased into it, addiction began. The feeling was amazing!
I started wearing them everywhere.
That day in May 2009, they became my default urban shoe that I wore every day between mid-April to mid-October, every year that followed. I wore them in busy city streets and malls, during my increasingly long walks. I wore them in woods & city parks. I wore them in trains, cars, airports and planes. I wore them on stone, grass, concrete, asphalt, and sand.
I am physically active, but after these shoes came into my life walking became a workout in itself — I began doing more and more of it. I'd often eschew public transport just to move around the city on foot, for hours on end. This had an amazing effect on my base level of fitness and overall well-being.
Walking became meditative, therapeutic, corrective; something I had to do every day just to feel good. Far from just taking me from point A to point B, these shoes were radically improving one of my body's basic functions: locomotion.
Then, in the summer of 2013, I decided it was time for a new pair. Not because there was anything wrong with my wonderful pair of Aqua — on the contrary. I simply wanted to get my hands on a shiny new model called “The One”, which Vivo announced that year.
Also, I did't want to wear Aqua down, thinking I was going to retire them and wear on a special occasion. But then I changed my mind. I was going to see just how much more they can take. I was so amazed at their robustness and longevity that I wanted to see what their limit was.
So I started wearing them when training instead.
Since then and up to this day, I have been subjecting them to the following activities with a frequency of 1-3 times a week:
- Sprinting on gravel, park trails, and asphalt.
- Heavy deadlifts with loads exceeding bodyweight.
- A brief excursion into Olympic lifts (autumn 2013).
- Since the summer of 2014, parkour and freerunning, outdoors and well as indoors.
- General-purpose strength training in the gym, ranging from mild to heavy in intensity.
That's a lot of different loads, impacts, and torques. You'd never tell that by looking at the shoes though. They feel and perform just as on day one — no compromise in function whatsoever. (By the summer of 2013, the original shoelaces wore down, so I had to replace them. That's all maintenance they ever required, except for the occasional wet wipe.)
They look almost the same, too.
The point (in case you haven't guessed yet) is this:
These shoes are unreal. They are virtually indestructible.
Here's how they look today:
Look at these shoes. Everything about them is perfect. The chunky, padded walls with the extra rounded edges. The thick laces. The sole, thin enough to reconnect your body to the ground but also robust enough to offer maximal protection. The large, comfy toe box that allows the foot to spread & relax. The stitching which never broke in a single place. The elastic, stretchable parts inside the shoe. No odor — they breathe marvelously.
The colors, which are a joy to the eye.
They are extremely robust but also natural, organic, and lightweight. A feat of engineering and design and style. They are iconic — just as it occurred to me when I first held them in my hands.
Every time I put them on, it's like my foot is slipping in a comfy, sturdy pod that just envelops it perfectly — and then I forget about them. Because then, it becomes all about the walking and the moving...
They've become like an extension of my foot, a removable outer part.
So, you might ask, why this outpouring of endless enthusiasm? Well, I have a problem: I can't get them anymore. Vivo stopped making them around 2010. Aqua became Aqua Lite (which to me sounds almost like an insult to a great product), and then they dissolved into other (often excellent, but different) models that Vivo developed over time.
In other words, no Aqua for you!
That is not fair. Why ever mess with perfection??
One day this whole world will go down, but until that day I want to be able to buy and wear beautiful blue Vivo Barefoot Aqua sneakers (pictured above) — anytime. This love is forever.
Have you had a similar experience? Or maybe you've read so far, and are feeling curious and inspired to try them? Then let's tell Vivo to bring them back: