Seamless rubber boot offers updated features to "celebrate the athlete in fishermen," says Grundens USA president Mike Jackson. Can Grundens cut into XtraTufs' cornered market for fishing footwear?
This originally aired in our recap of Pacific Marine Expo on the Nov. 25 Bristol Bay and Beyond.
When it comes to footwear favored by Alaska’s fishermen, and a lot of other Alaskans too, XtraTuf has long had the market cornered. But a few years ago parent company Honeywell transferred the boots’ manufacturing to China, and loyal customers were less than satisfied when XtraTufs ripped apart after just one season. KDLG’s Dave Bendinger has more on a new deck boot that made its debut at the recent Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle.
Audio Transcript: XtraTuf did improve their product, as we reported a few years ago. But the boot chatter at this year's Expo had mostly to do with a new entry into the market, developed and designed by this guy:
"Mike Jackson, president, Grundens USA."
Yes, that Grundens, the one so many Alaskan fishermen trust for the rain gear they live in during the season. Jackson started Grundens USA in 1991, and prior to that he fished Alaska’s waters, purse seining and gillnetting in Southeast, longlining in the Gulf of Alaska, and crab fishing in the Bering Sea. He knows the importance of the gear fishermen wear, and says he spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make a better boot.
"It came from all those years standing on deck and being uncomfortable wallowing around in my own perspiration. And I couldn’t help but think there wasn’t a way to celebrate the athlete in fishermen," he says. "Any guy running up the stack, or any guy piling the web, any guy pulling up a gill net in Bristol Bay ... those are athletic endeavors. You got people on basketball courts that have footwear that allows them to perform at their best, and what I set out to do is develop something to allow fishermen to perform at their best."
Grunden’s new Deck Boss boot is grey with orange trim above the sole. The striking contrast to the brown XtraTuf grabbed a lot of eyes at Expo.
Jackson offered some of the basic criteria he had in mind when he set about designing the boot.
"We have to start with the non-slip. Non-slip on a wet metal or wooden surface is a real critical aspect of a boot for a fisherman. Secondly it has to be incredibly comfortable. It has to have a fold down feature so that when you’re not working, you want to be able to roll the top down. Your foot becomes a tool so you have to be able to kick, you have to be able to move stuff around with your foot, so we had to harden up the toe a bit without having to put a steel toe in because steel toes tend to get really cold," he said.
One main contrast with its intended competitor, beyond appearance, is that Grundens' boot is all one piece of rubber, constructed using "injection molding." That avoids the glued seams that can pull apart and defeat the waterproofing. Injection molding also allowed Jackson to play around with the design of other new features.
"Like reliefs that allow it to flex a little better, to build up the area in the heel to provide a little bit more support, and to actually give it a little bit of styling. One of the features that this has that’s a result of this process too is a groove in the boot, we’ll call it a boot band. Everybody knows what the rubber bands are, to gather your pants together. So we were able to engineer that relief into the shaft of the boot so this boot band has a place to live all the time."
Something Jackson is particularly proud of is a unique insole that keeps the wearer’s foot slightly above the bottom of the boot, and thus above water or sweat that collects in rubber boots. He calls it a bilge. There’s also a cavity in the heel that allows for more than an inch of foam.
"Which renders the boot incredibly comfortable," he says. "So when you have the opportunity to just kick back into your heel, it’s like a mattress, it’s this sense of relief. What we’ve been witnessing here at the show, time after time, when people try on these boots is there’s this slow spreading smile across their face of somewhat disbelief, they say 'oh my God are you kidding? Is this for real?'"
Grundens USA is building its new Deck Boss boots in the Pacific Northwest, and they hope to roll them out next spring ahead of the summer fishing season. Jackson thinks they’ll be priced competitively, and believes fishermen will trust the company name and give the boot a chance.
"We have every confidence that this boot will perform every bit as good as our rain gear does," he says.
Across the Expo hall, XtraTufs had a busy stream of traffic as consumers checked out their latest line up, which includes a lot of stylish new waterproof rubber footwear practical for more than just fishing.
Word spread quick that XtraTuf was preparing to launch something new of its own, and that the company was partnering with Salmon Sisters.
"So in February of 2017, we’re launching three boots with them," said Bo Thai, an associate product manager for parent company Honeywell. "They designed, exclusively, two patterns for us on the inside of the boots. As many Alaskans know, they roll XtraTufs down. So we enlisted them to design two designs for us and it’s been really well received in the community."
Rumor on the street is that there is a new XtraTuf fishing boot coming out next year, can you say anything about that?
"At this point no, my lips are sealed. But it’s expected in the next half year or so, and I will say it will be huge," said Thai.