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Olukai Maliko Shoes

Are those camel toes on your feet? That was the first question that I got, while testing out the new Olukai Maliko barefoot style crossover shoe. Lots of companies have produced this so-called crossover shoe, a comfortable shoe that works well in the water or on land. The soles are separated near the toes to allow for maximum dexterity.


The best example of this is the extremely popular vibram five fingers shoe series, setting a precedent for a style of shoe is for barefoot running and walking, a popular movement focusing on the natural curve and resting position of the foot, namely in the toes.

As humanoid primates, we have been traveling on two feet for over 3.9 million years, adapting this style of locomotion for more efficient travel. The foot, oddly enough, contains more bones than any other part of the body, and we put all our weight on it. In the past few hundred years, there have been several adaptions to protect our locomotory super structures. Before, we mostly used moccasin style footwear, and stiff leather style shoes, generally speaking. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, such as wood soled Japanese sandals, and Victorian footwear, but for the most part, pliable shoe bottoms were the rule, not the exception. Boots, athletic shoes, and most other footwear have adapted stiff bottoms that don’t allow for the foot’s natural direction when hitting the ground. Finally companies have realized this and are working to make pliable footwear that doesn’t stress the foot’s natural resting position.


So how has Olukai adapted this to their style of footwear? With a slit toe style front, and over the toe protection, the shoe envelopes the feet to give just enough protection for the foot while still giving the dexterous feel of light moccasins. The top is covered with mesh to breathe easily, making it easily able to shed water inside the shoe, along with mesh drainage holes on the bottom of the brushed EVA outsole. A tightening clasp laces the sandal close to the foot, and a removable foot arch from the inside makes cleaning easy. The entire shoe is machine washable, a very important feature for some of the testing that this shoe went through.

The first task of the Maliko, was to be broken in. It was hard at the beginning, and it did start a blister or two, but after about the first week, the shoe started becoming supple. After the first week of normal around the house and town work, I brought the shoe to South Carolina as my water shoes. About a mile away from the coast, the Maliko worked well for a tropical style shoe. It was time to go clamming, and the shoes went with me on the bonefish style boat out to the estuary. As boat shoes, they proved to have a good amount of grip and shed water well during launch. Even the slick boat coating was no match for the grip of the shoes.


The first big test was the oyster strewn estuary. My father took me to a special spot, making sure now one would find his special spot. If you haven’t been around oysters during low tide, it can be similar to walking on razors, these little devils hide underneath the mud waiting like they were planning an assault on bare feet. It is downright impossible to do it without shoes, as the sharp shells of the oysters would lacerate the foot in a heartbeat. The Maliko provided enough protection to make sure that the oyster’s dastardly shells couldn’t penetrate the bottom, yet I could still feel clams underneath the flexible footbed. At home, I hosed the salt water off and hung the shoes up to dry. While they took a little while to dry, the nylon part didn’t have stiff sluggish feeling of stiff raspy footwear. The mesh on top does not do much to prevent small sand particles and debris from coming through, and if it is used in dusty terrain, your feet will be dirty after taking the shoe off.

As a canoe shoe, the Maliko works well as primary water footwear, allowing for a quick moving foot that does not bulk up the clutter that can go in a boat. After approximately 5 trips, it worked well to keep the toes from dinging rocks. With my Keens, it was common for pebbles to clutter up the bottom, and you couldn’t get them out without removing the shoe. The small rocks were not invasive as the tight wrap kept the rocks outside. For movement around town, the shoes do well; however, I’m still skeptical about the comfort. I wear a wide size, so the size 10 fit snug and took some time to get used to. For my foot, there was a bulge in the back inner heel, which aesthetically looked a little odd, though it didn’t hurt the foot. Ideally the back could be flatter too; the flat stitching sometimes flips over and needs to get re-positioned. The split that is supposed to dexterous is very stiff, almost to the fact that it is pointless to have a split at all, as the big toe can barely be flexed inside it, and weeds get stuck in the nook.


That aside, the shoes are extremely durable. This became evident when I was noodling in a trout pond. During the course of the day, one of the shoes ended up getting lost, and copious amounts of searching turned up nothing to find the roaming footwear. We thought one of the dogs might have been the culprit as I took them off near the pond to dry. For 3 weeks, I went without one of the shoes, thinking “how can I ever finish the review”. My father-in-law found it at edge of the pond, encrusted with mud and debris. A quick run in the washer, and I was surprised to see that they felt good as new. Even bathed in the sun, the nylon didn’t degrade. I was expecting a harsh feel and some of the glue to unpeel, but not a problem. Now that was a test!


So, are the Maliko sandals worth it? Absolutely, if you are buying them for the water or as an around town shoe. My wide hobbit feet finally made the shoes adjust, but I probably wouldn’t put too many miles in these shoes without moleskin nearby. If you are looking for some super lemur shoes to climb rope with your toes, look else where, as these shoes would probably be fine without the separation. In a manual car, these babies make shifting no problem at all, to the point where I think they could work as racing shoes. These durable water shoes are super supple, and will last years to come.

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