Which is more technologically advanced: a light switch or a pair of shoes with BOA’s proprietary performance fit system? We all know what a light switch does. At one point, it was revolutionary. Now it’s an afterthought. Conversely, how much “technology” could a pair of golf shoes contain?
Some companies would have you believe that the right pair of shoes can help you hit the ball further and shoot lower scores. So what in the name of Bill Bowerman is going on here?
BOA Technology believes it has an answer. More importantly, its crack team of Ph.D-equipped researchers is charged with creating a repository of information that assesses the impact of various closure systems on a range of athletic movements. In 2018, BOA constructed a performance laboratory at its Denver, Colo., headquarters. The directive was simple: gather evidence that the academic community would accept which supported a clear and definitive performance benefit on footwear that leveraged BOA’s unique performance fit system.
Easier said than done.
WHAT IS BOA?
Quick recap. While the brand name might not conjure up a clear response, many golfers recognize shoes with that “twisty, dial thingy” instead of traditional laces. The short version is that BOA believes its system can offer athletes a better-fitting shoe. And if a shoe fits better, it will lead to enhanced performance.
Those are the generalities. How well a shoe fits involves several criteria. The same is true for performance. And though terms like “comfort” introduce an element of subjectivity, most of this stuff can be measured. It stands to reason that if it can be measured, the data can be assessed, studied and ultimately passed along to the consumer.
BOA is already the dominant player in multiple product categories and markets. But the golf industry is often slow to adopt cutting-edge materials or technologies. Some of that is likely due to the game’s reputation as a traditional pursuit. Other factors include time, cost and perceived benefit.
That said, progress is still undefeated. It’s why we can tell Alexa to turn off the lights instead of flipping the switch.
BACK IN THE BOA PERFORMANCE FIT LAB
BOA’s Performance Fit Lab is a state-of-the-art facility charged with “advancing human performance by conducting independent scientific studies that measure the biomechanical impact of fit.” Translation: If the technology works, BOA is adamant that it be able to prove its efficacy. Moreover, the bar set by the academic community as what qualifies as evidence is quite a bit higher than the annual performance claims typically trotted out by equipment manufacturers. Often brands go with whatever the legal department can comfortably support. BOA’s team is subject to peer review from an industry full of Ph.D holders.
Inside the BOA Performance Fit Lab, teams evaluate three key measures of performance: agility and speed, power and precision, and endurance and health. Golf fits under the second area of study: power and precision.
Using a complex system of force plates, proprietary software and Trackman launch monitors, researchers can calculate how athletes generate power and translate it into the golf swing. In its most basic form, that’s the purpose of a golf swing: to create maximal power and transfer it to the ball.
In the process of determining what, if any, quantifiable benefit exists, the team ran numerous studies, chiefly for academic purposes. The most practical evaluative test involves one golfer and the same pair of shoes with different lacing systems. What researchers determined is that the BOA Fit System does provide a clear and statistically significant performance benefit for golfers. More on this in a bit.
Think of the lab as having two arms. One to push forward and increase the academic body of knowledge germane to neuromechanics and biomechanics. And the other, more rudimentary application is to aid product design and R&D teams. Think of this as equal parts exploratory and evaluative. This isn’t to suggest that supporting the development of the next BOA-enabled golf shoe isn’t important. It’s just a bit like driving a Ferrari to check the mailbox.
BOA’s HQ campus includes an in-house prototyping facility. It looks like a cross between a massive JoAnn Fabrics and a NASA laboratory. What this means is that BOA can, from scratch, design, create and test multiple variations of a single design in a compressed time frame. Practically, this allows BOA to work with vendors (e.g., FootJoy, adidas) to bring products to market more efficiently.
During my visit to BOA, I had the opportunity to take a run at the Performance Fit Lab and see what, if anything, it could tell me about my kinematic sequence. After fixing me up with several adhesive straps, bands and devices, I laced up (and twisted on) a couple pairs of shoes to see what story the data might tell.
It’s a minute sample size, upon which no one would make any grand conclusions. That said, anecdotally, I didn’t see any major differences in swing speed, ball speed or the typical performance metrics most golfers would first notice. Funny thing—that’s also been the primary conclusion from the research team.
To date, the salient findings suggest the BOA Fit system is beneficial for golfers but not strictly from a distance perspective. Going a bit deeper, the research concludes that golf shoes with the BOA Fit System don’t drastically increase a golfer’s peak swing speed (and theoretically ball speed and distance). But what it does do is allow golfers to produce this level of performance more consistently and for a longer duration. Put simply: if your maximum driver swing speed is 100 mph, BOA isn’t going to unilaterally increase that number to 105. However, wearing a shoe with the proper closure system can allow a golfer to generate maximum power more consistently and over a greater percentage of swings.
Anecdotally, manufacturers such as FootJoy and Squairz cite independent tests showing that improved balance and stability lead to greater vertical power and energy transfer during the swing. While not directly related to the BOA Fit System, there’s a growing body of evidence dedicated to assessing the performance benefits of footwear.
Additionally, BOA’s research staff created a 3D rendering of my feet which it added to a proprietary database. Of no likely interest to anyone, I can now tell you exactly the length, width, shape, and volume of each of my feet.
The thinking is that eventually, BOA’s big data can serve multiple purposes. Immense data sets create layers of dots to connect which then create more dots and eventually a blue ocean of information. What that leads to is anyone’s guess.
But for now, the two most likely initial applications center around supporting manufacturers’ design strategies and creating tools to aid consumers in finding the optimal fit.
If you have a narrow foot with a high arch, try these … or based on the total foot volume, here are the top three spikeless models … that sort of thing.
What one person sees as technology another might accept as the status quo. For a certain group, the light switch represented a revolutionary leap forward. Today, it’s an afterthought.
Smartphones are damned near required for life in modern society and internet access might as well be a public utility. So what is “technology,” anyway?
I get that a pair of classic wing-tip golf shoes with laces isn’t going to give way to dials and steel-infused nylon laces overnight. And though golf is a game steeped in tradition, sometimes to its own detriment, performance remains undefeated. Eventually, the better product wins out. Solid-core golf balls and graphite shafts serve as examples that changed the entire equipment landscape. I’m not suggesting BOA will have the same sweeping impact on footwear. But golfers who are willing to accept the thesis that a pair of shoes can help them shoot lower scores will likely find that to be the case.
And therein lies both the justification for and limitations of a technology like BOA. Sports like cycling, running and snowboarding don’t have the same stigma about footwear as golf.
If there is technology in your driver, why can’t there be equivalent technology in your shoes?