Rubber souls

A knock-down, drag-out sneaker battle
By CAMILLE DODERO  |  August 9, 2006

BURNING RUBBER: Brian “Chef” Spar shows off his kicks.
Somewhere deep in the two-acre Connecticut Expo Center, Dipset hip-hop phenom Juelz Santana is on stage catcalling a shorty from his hit, “There It Go (The Whistle Song).” Despite a couple of violated car alarms angrily wailing nearby, I can still hear Santana’s trademark “Aye! Aye! Aye!” as about 20 people painstakingly box up unmatched sneakers, each worth at least half a month’s rent. Among the valuable single shoes is a Nike high-top Dunk that its owner, Peter Fahey — the 24-year-old founder of the traveling shoe exhibition Sneaker Pimps — estimates is worth $5000. It’s one of 50 pairs designed for the 50th-birthday party of graffiti legend Futura.

This is the tail end of last month’s Funkmaster Flex Custom Car & Bike Show, which has spun off both a Spike TV series (Ride With Funkmaster Flex) and an ESPN2 show (All Muscle With Funkmaster Flex). As the marquee-name big-dog DJ of New York City’s Hot 97, whom the New York Times anointed the “evangelist of hip-hop car culture,” Flex has hosted tricked-out-vehicle exhibitions for years. But this time Flex is also sponsoring the International Sneaker Battle (ISB), a nascent kicks-collecting competition conceived by 22-year-old Hot 97 sound engineer Mike Daurio (a/k/a Michael the Executive), and inviting along the independently produced roving shoe-art installation, Sneaker Pimps.

Sneaker events are sort of like street proms — everybody plans their outfits days in advance. I hitch a ride here with two ISB judges: Lori Lobenstine, founder of; and Jeff Cavalho, the Arlington-based co-host of the sneaker podcast Weeklydrop. (See “Life, Love, and Sneakers,” News and Features, February 17.) When we first get to Hartford, Cavalho and Lobenstine both change from “beaters,” shoes they don’t mind dirtying, into spotless unworn kicks. Cavalho’s Weeklydrop co-conspirator (and third ISB judge), Rob Heppler, has even loaned one of his male friends a pair of Nike Lu Pele Dunks so that the kid won’t look stupid. Malcolm Pascotti, a teenage paying customer from Philly, shows up wearing a pair of size-13 Nike Dunk “P-Rod Mexican Blankets,” a limited-edition style designed for superstar skater Paul Rodriguez. It’s only the second time he’s worn them; last time he busted them out for an SAT-prep course.

Given the ISB’s name, you’d think the competition would be heated and fierce, its onstage contenders so nervous they could puke — like Eight Mile with shoes instead of freestyles and the crowd pelting losers with Miss Piggy–headed Adidas. But that’s not the case in Hartford, where on the farthest side of the Expo Center across from the main stage — on a temporary platform that will support a beauty contest, a dance contest, and one-song cameos by Juelz Santana, lady lyricist Remy Ma, and up-and-coming rapper Papoose — eight sneaker-battle rivals stand behind their meticulously arranged footwear like ship captains manning their helms. They are waiting for a handful of judges who will rate sneaker collections on a scale of one to 10 and declare winners in categories such as Best Display, Best Custom Pair, and Best Jordan Pair. Since there are only eight competitors, the total prize money distributed among the winners will be $1500. (At the premiere ISB last month in Edison, New Jersey, about 60 contestants vied for $8500.)

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Related: The street scene, The Big Hurt: More bad news in brief, Linwood bounce, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Entertainment, Hip-Hop and Rap, Jeff Cavalho,  More more >
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