August 2021

Getting off on the Right Feet

By brad kava

I spent Superbowl Sunday at the emergency room with my 5-year-old son, after he slipped and ran headfirst into a bench at Anna Jean Cummings Park. Four hours and seven stitches later, I didn’t really care about the game.

But I did wonder about his shoes. Why didn’t they grip the ground better? Looking them over, they had flat soles with no tread like I have on my more expensive hiking and running shoes.

I realized we are cheating our kids. Why don’t we buy them the best shoes, like the ones we buy for older kids and adults? I soon found that only one store in all of Santa Cruz fits and sells shoes for kids (the Running Store, which has shoes down to a size 1) and the others have to buy online, in cheaper mass market stores like Target or Ross or drive over the hill for a serious fitting.

My research took me to Santa Cruz podiatrist Dr. Mark Brenis, who said many people overlook kids’ feet because they grow so fast and it can be really expensive to keep buying shoes for them.

“If you spend a lot of money, you are going to buy another pair in six months,” says Brenis. “That’s the downside, the cost.”

Fleet Feet in Aptos measures kids’ feet but doesn’t sell them shoes if they are under a size 8 boys or 6 girls, which are sizes for middle school students.
“We’ve had trouble getting kids’ shoes in, especially during Covid,” says owner Carole Mongeau.

Dr. Brenis has some important tips for those shopping for new shoes to send their kids to school in.


  1. Never leave the store and say, I’ll break them in and they’ll feel better. They need to be fine when you walk out of the store.
  2. For toddlers just learning to walk get them shoes with more flex so they can grab the ground and get their balance. As they get older, you want a much more rigid shoe bottom.
  3. Occasionally one foot is bigger than the other. Always buy for the bigger foot. If need be, you can use two socks in the smaller one.
  4. When they turn 4 or 5 make sure the back of the shoe is firm. They call that part the “heel counter.” Take your thumb on a good athletic shoe and push on the counter. It shouldn’t move. It should be stiff. If you buy Vans, the whole heel counter moves. They are terrible for kids.
  5. When you bend a shoe by the ball of the foot, a good shoe will bend 45 degrees and not more. With a lousy shoe, he says, you can touch the front to the back and they will get no support.
  6.  Brands he likes include Stride Rite, New Balance, Merrill and Strictly Robeez, but many running shoes are fine, if they give enough support in the sole and heel.
  7. Better shoes have a pattern on the bottom and kids are less likely to slip and skid. Would you have tires on your car without treads?
  8. Don’t give kids hand-me-down shoes. Make sure they are firm and strong and give support.
  9. If you have to buy online, buy three sizes of the same shoes and make sure you get the best fit. If you buy a size 3, but the big toe is hitting the end of the shoe, get a 4. Then you have to mail the others back. What a waste of time and effort.

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