Sneaker Heads

It’s called a shoe habit, and some local guys — following a global trend — have it bad, even waiting in line overnight to get a unique athletic shoe for their collections

Erik Donle and part of his collection of Nike shoes

It’s a game of shoes, and the person with the best collection wins. Twenty cream-of-the-crop sneakerheads from around the world will gather in Waikiki to show off their bigger-than-Imelda shoe closets at the upcoming Sole Collector Magazine and Niketown sneaker competition May 21 at Niketown Honolulu. The grand prize: an exclusive one-of-a-kind shoe by Nike.

What makes the best collection?

Experts say quantity is always impressive, with some collectors claiming to have more than 500 pairs of shoes. But it’s the shoes themselves that count the most. Presentation also counts.

The event is expected to draw hundreds of sneaker all-stars, players and fans, whether to compete, spectate or purchase limited exclusive footwear, unavailable anywhere else in the world, to be released that night.

While shopping is typically a woman’s hobby, it’s the men who dominate today’s sneaker scene — with some going as far as camping overnight in front of stores to get a certain pair of shoes before they’re sold out. And even with an average price tag of $100, many of these shoes arrive in limited quantities and are gone within hours of the store’s opening.

“I probably have about 300 pairs of shoes right now,” admits Sonny Guerra, a 1992 graduate of Moanalua High School who now lives on the Big Island. “And about 200 of them are dead stock. I’m looking at my closet and I have 66 pairs of shoes, all in the boxes. And then next to my closet I have about 18 pairs stacked to the ceiling, and then about 240 are in storage.”

From as little as a dozen to a few hundred, sole collectors pick and choose their shoes based on a variety of things — looks, style, rarity and popularity. They find out which stores are carrying what shoes and when they’ll be released through men’s fashion magazines such as Slam, Complexand Sole Collector, as well as websites like, and

In February, a riot broke out in front of a New York City store over the limited edition Nike Pigeon Dunk shoe. According to the New York Post, the fight started after customers rushed the doors, trying to skip the line that snaked outside which included dozens of people who had camped out for two or three days in freezing temperatures.

“The most out of my way I went for a pair of shoes was probably the Jordan XI releasing in cool grey,” says Guerra. “It was about three years ago, and I

called my boys at Footlocker on Oahu. At the time I was teaching, so I took the day off. My work knew I had a shoe habit. And so I flew into Oahu on the first flight, and then I caught a taxi to Pearlridge.

“I got there at about 7 a.m. and I sat in front of the store until they opened at 10 a.m. I was the first one in line and I got my two pairs. By the time they opened the doors the line was about 30 deep, and they only had, I think, 10 pairs come in because it was a second shipment. So, a lot of those people waited in line for nothing.”

The upcoming local event has already created a buzz within the global sneaker community, with people from as far away as Australia expressing their interest in attending through several different Internet message boards.

According to shoe fanatics, the in-demand shoes are the Nike Air Max ’95,Air Jordans, Dunk, Air Force Ones, and the Nike SB (skateboarders) line. Retro seems to be the “in” thing, and the harder to find, the better the shoe.

Walter Gojo with a few of his shoes

“My fix is the Air Max ’95; I probably have about 50 to 55 of them and in different colors,” states Guerra,who now works as a first-year apprentice electrician. “I always buy two pairs of the ’95. One to wear and one to keep dead stock. My other habit is Jordans, especially in Carolina blue. And recently I started buying two of all the Jordans, and then I just pick up little things here and there like the Nike Shox. But the Air Max ’95, I don’t care what color they are, I have to have it. It’s an addiction.

“One time I sat down and I did the calculation just by going retail on what’s on the shoes, and that’s about $45,000 in shoes! And I’m not one of those guys who can just go out and buy whatever they want — and there are guys like that who can go out and buy their collection. I built my collection. I’m just a regular dude with a regular job, but I do whatever it takes to get those shoes. I save my money, I take home lunch, whatever it takes.”

Guerra says he has a list of “holy grails” — shoes that he hopes to acquire that will help to finalize his collection. He keeps the list, which includes both colors of the original Jordan XIII low and the Jordan XIV low, in his bag at all times, and is constantly keeping an eye out for them.

Sonny Guerra, a Moanalua High graduate, has more
than 300 pairs of shoes in his collection

“I’ve always seen shoes kind of as a status symbol,” says Guerra. “Playing sports and playing basketball, the rich kids always had the new Jordans, and we could never afford Jordans. Then in 1989, the Jordan IV came out in the military blue colorway, and they were $100 and my mom bought them for me. I loved them. I remember I even slept with them on.

“Ever since then I’ve just been addicted to shoes, and when I finally starting making my own money, that was my drug of choice, I guess. Other people choose to spend their money on tobacco or to go out and drink. But for me, there’s nothing like

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