Media Coverage

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

'Barefooters' take to the road

'Barefooters' take to the road
TALKER: Journalist takes the streets as the first barefoot journalist
***NOTE Wolfmaan did not write this article***

I'm naked on the sidewalk.

Embarrassment creeps over me as my sweaty socks come off and I stand on one of the busiest downtown streets baring my virgin souls.

I may have just become -- for a brief stroll -- Canada's first roving, barefoot journalist.

There's a movement afoot, according to blogs, social networking groups and dedicated sites, of people who shun shoes in favour of feeling the concrete under their toes.

They are "barefooters." The rest of us are simply "shoddies."

Pinning down an exact number of urban barefooters is as difficult as agreeing on the tally of Communist sympathizers in 1950s America. It seems to carry the same social stigma. But on Facebook alone, you'll get more than 2,400 hits when you search for "barefoot."

A few months ago, Al Gauthier launched,dedicated to all things barefoot. From his home in New Westminster, B. C., he even podcasts the latest news on the lifestyle -- and every month, the number of visitors to the site doubles.

"Eventually, I think it will be considered normal to be barefoot in everyday life, in the same way it is now considered normal to be barefoot on the beach," Gauthier believes.

When retired Windsor, Ont., auto worker Bryan MacDonald shows up each Sunday at his Baptist church to play the organ -- all his toes exposed -- no one seems to notice.

"The congregation really has no problem with it," says the 64-year-old barefooter, who spends 99% of the time foot-loose.

He shops barefoot, drives barefoot and only puts on flip-flops now and then to appease his wife. Come winter, only occasionally will he drag out his old factory work boots.

Even as you're reading this, Wolf Starchild -- a 32-year-old "son of a hippie" -- is trying to barefoot hike the 850 km-long Bruce Trail, in southern and central Ontario.

The bottoms of his feet are as resilient as shoe leather.

"People need to lose their prejudice against barefooters," he complains. "If people were more educated and realized it doesn't make you a freak -- it makes you stronger and tougher -- there may be more acceptance."

There are pockets of devotees in every province, and an entire breed of athlete and marathoners who choose to discard artificial souls.

They are foot soldiers in a quiet war raging for 1,000 years -- between the shod and the unshod.

For most of us, walking comes naturally. We even do it while chewing gum.

But growing evidence suggests we may be messing with perfection.

A 2007 study at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, found, before we put on shoes, our feet were in better shape, and that cultures which do without footwear are healthier than our own.

But I've always been a big supporter of keeping my 10 little piggies wrapped up tight while going to market -- or anywhere else.

So my guide this morning is 39- year-old Toronto advertising creative director, Mauricio Morales. But you can just call him Barefoot Moe. About 90 per cent of the time he's naked below the ankles.

"I'm a very touchy, feely kind of person, so I like the feel of pavement under my feet," he says, as we saunter downtown -- a few people nearby looking at the shoes in my hands like I was carrying dead kittens around.

Moe grew up in El Salvador, and longed to just kick off his shoes.

"I even had to wear flip-flops in the shower," he recalls.

"It was almost like a longing to free my feet openly."

I catch a few sour gazes launched at us by passersby, but my attention is really focused on tracking the occasional discarded ketchup pack and bit of dog crap.

Feet clean up pretty easily, Moe points out.

I feel like I'm on vacation -- the bottoms of my feet slapping pavement with soft happy sounds.

We pass by the homeless wearing shoes. Even a baby in a stroller with little leather sandals.

But Moe sees hope for those who shod not.

He points to new lines of sneakers with toes, designed to mimic being barefoot without stripping bare.

"People will start to look at shoes like we look at gloves for our hands or hats for our heads," he hopes.

We finish our bare bottom walkabout, and Moe praises what a natural I am at walking.

But 10 minutes after he leaves, I am frantically washing my feet in an office washroom sink -- my black-leather shoes waiting impatiently within reach.

Even after a little bit of freedom, the inhibited habits of your average shoddie are hard to kick after 1,000 years.

- - -

Shoe facts

Remember the toed-socks your grandmother gave you for a present when you were nine years old? Who knew she was ahead of a trend.

Major shoe manufacturers -- including Nike -- are producing light-weight "toed" footwear which mimic running in bare feet.

And the new generation of sneakers, which fit like a glove, are an alternative to taking it all off.

Running barefoot is gaining traction because, according to some experts, traditional shoes don't allow your feet to gain the proper muscle to support your frame.

But those who run over gravel or in a local city alleys, may choose barefoot footwear which offers up the sensation of running with almost nothing on.

Vibram pitches their FiveFingers footwear this way: "The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 muscles and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments.

"Like the rest of the body, to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised."

The company also point out, they're "a good choice for vegans."

Original article can be found here