Ventus Sailing Shoes by Sperry Top-Sider

You can thank the US Sailing Team for the sensible location of the drainage points on these new kicks. "Gear Up" from our October 29, 2009, /SW eNewsletter/

The use of hydrophobic materials helps Sperry's Ventus shoe stay lightweight when wet.

The use of hydrophobic materials helps Sperry's Ventus shoe stay lightweight when wet.Courtesy Sperry Top-sider

At the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Md., Sperry Top-Sider unveiled its latest performance sailing shoe, Ventus, which takes its name from the Latin word for "wind"-in the nominative singular case, I might add.

The Ventus features a lightweight, flexible outsole and a grippy tread that incorporates Sperry's signature wave-siping. The use of hydrophobic materials throughout prevents the shoes from absorbing water, which keeps them light when wet and helps them dry out faster. To better understand the thought process that went into the creation of the Ventus, I got in touch with the shoe's designer, Kevin Crowley.

"Lightweight, hydrophobic materials combined with minimal outsole thickness and sticky rubber produce a highly flexible/agile shoe ideal for stability on dynamic (heeling) surfaces," says Crowley. "The shoes will work on any sailboat but were tuned for standing on a dynamic (moving) fiberglass surface. They are designed to tenaciously adhere to this surface wet or dry and, when wetted out, to dry quickly."

Sperry is always touting that its shoes are "created with the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics." I was curious what that really means, so I asked Crowley about the input he received from the Olympic sailors. "Many of their requests were included in the design brief, i.e., traction, hydrophobic materials," he says, "But it is their feedback on product and samples that really adds value to the process. Their input is weighed against saleability/cost and is almost invariably represented in retail product. Among the callouts they requested on the Ventus was the outsole design and the specific location of the drainage ports at the toe. While you want the water to exit the shoe, you also don't want it to wick up through the base, a typical problem of drains placed through the base of the forefoot or heel."

I've been wearing the Figawi 2, the predecessor to the Ventus, for the past few seasons of racing. I wondered what improvements Sperry has incorporated into its newer model. "The Figawi 2 was the jumping off point for me," says Crowely. "I needed to improve upon it or go home. Much of the the F2 was designed around protection, hence the use of sheet rubber around the upper and a thicker outsole. I wanted to provide protection without the added weight, as well as get the foot closer to the deck for added agility/flexibility. [With the Ventus,] I used a molded rubber toe cap and synthetic counter to place the protection in the most abraded/abused areas. In addition to reducing the midsole thickness, I used a ultra-light shock-absorbing PU midsole."

I picked up a pair of the Ventus shoes in Annapolis, and having had a few weeks to test-drive them, I can say they're definitely a lot lighter than the Figawi 2s. They'll be great for summer sailing, and, thanks to the Dri-Lex antimicrobial lining, I might even venture to wear them without socks. Crowely wasn't making any promises about swamp foot, however. "If the wearer shuns the accepted adoption of socks, I would say keep them as clean as possible and increase their rotation (don't wear them every day)."