Hoka One One will be supporting three-time Ironman world champion Mirinda Carfrae of Australia as she chases another Kona crown.
I thought I had a good idea of what Hoka One One was up to when the fringe ultra-running brand began to dip its toes in the triathlon market seven years ago. I’d seen it before. A running brand with some form of new technology enters the triathlon market with aplomb, gains a little traction and buzz, and then boom: Said brand makes the leap over to the massive marathon market and the millions of athletes that go with it. It’s a strategy that worked—to an extent—for Newton, and one that did not for K-Swiss.
Except that’s not exactly Hoka’s grand plan. Sure, they’ve made massive in-roads into the running market. And yes, Tom Brady was pictured wearing a pair of Hokas just a few weeks before the Super Bowl. They’ve officially arrived—big time—but that doesn’t mean they’re abandoning the sport that catapulted them to the feet of perhaps the most famous athlete on the planet. Instead, Hoka has reaffirmed its commitment to tri by signing one of the sport’s most decorated athletes still competing at the Ironman distance, Mirinda Carfrae.
“In my experience, the companies that are fully invested in the triathlon market are also fully invested in me as an athlete,” Carfrae says.
Carfrae is on a mission this year, after taking time off to give birth to daughter Isabelle on Aug. 22, 2017, to return to the top of the Kona podium for a fourth time. If she succeeds, she’ll join Chrissie Wellington, Natascha Badmann, and Paula Newby-Fraser as the only women to win four or more times. Carfrae turns 37 next month, and while her gazelle-like gait always looks seemingly effortless, she’s put some serious miles in over the past 20 years (she’s started at Kona every year since 2009, except last year). After all those years of pounding pavement, she decided a little more cushioning could help her achieve her quest to top another Kona podium.
“In the past I’ve tended toward a more minimalist shoe and wasn’t sure how I’d feel in Hokas, but with my husband’s insistence, I figured it couldn’t hurt to give them a whirl,” she says. “It’s a softer and more comfortable ride. I expected them to be heavy, but looks can be deceiving. I also love that I don’t lose my feel for the ground, which is one of the main things I look for in a shoe.”
While it only took Hoka seven years to ascend top dog in the tri market (they had far and away the most shoes in Kona last year), the brand that began in France and is now owned by California-based Deckers won’t be abandoning the sport that’s been vital to their overall success. While it’s great to see Tom Brady wearing their shoes during a massage, the true measure of Hoka’s unique technology is seeing them on podiums underneath athletes who crush running, like Carfrae, Heather Jackson, and Ben Kanute.
“Running a marathon off the bike is never the most pleasant thing in the world. It can be down right ugly,” Carfrae says. These days, she’s all about the comfort that her new sponsor’s cushy shoes provide—and their dedication to the sport she loves. “That’s what makes a successful partnership. Beyond my success, I know that Hoka is also invested in the performance of all triathletes who run in their shoes.”