The new shoes from Olukai bring together two hot trends in the sports world: minimalist footwear and stand-up paddleboarding.
The Maliko is a split-toed design — the big toe gets its own sleeve, separating it from the other four piggies and giving your foot more flexibility than a traditional shoe. Think of it as a gateway for people who don’t want to commit to the FiveFingers cult. But like Vibram’s twinkle-toes, the Maliko bears all the hallmarks of a barefoot-inspired shoe: a zero heel-to-toe drop, low weight, and an extremely flexible sole.
And yes, this is also a water shoe, or an “aqua adventure” shoe, which is a fancy way of saying its powers are best experienced when windsurfing, paddleboarding, bounding across wet sand and rocks, or any other flavor of beach-combing shenanigans. (All of Olukai’s products are inspired by the Hawaiian lifestyle, and this is the company’s first foray into minimal footwear.)
The upper is made up of breathable, abrasion-resistant mesh (you know, for scrambling over sharp coral) and its slim outsole wraps up around the foot and toebox for a bit of added protection. Drainage ports in the arch help the shoe dry quickly if the waves creep up on you, and the insole is removable. The quick-release lace system lets you kick your shoes and shake out any sand you accumulate — an inevitability given the low cuff.
The split-toe design frees up your big toe to help you keep your balance on whatever slab-like, ocean-going vessel you’re using to get rad. During a few hours I spent stand-up paddleboarding while wearing the Olukais, the extra flexibility of the liberated big toe did indeed help me stay upright, while the slightly suction-cuppy tread held fast to the board. I experienced no slipping whatsoever, and the shoes dried off after about 10 minutes of walking around on the shore. They’re a bit snug with the insole attached, but they felt great without the insole, and they provided great traction and a good amount of protection (for a barefoot shoe) when navigating the wet rocks during an impromptu cliff-jumping session.