19-year-old man uses Soap Shoes to glide around the Mount Vernon campus
Cornell College student Derek Brooks of Port Byron, IL,"soaps" along a railing on campus. Special athletic shoes witha plastic insert underneath allow him to glide along the surface.
Special to The Gazette
MOUNT VERNON -
Around the Cornell College campus, Derek Brooks is known as the "soap guy," but not because he's a clean freak
Instead, when this computer science major is walking to class, chances are he's soaping along the way.
Brooks wears Soap Shoes which look like regular running shoes until you flip them over.
In the middle of the sole is a plastic insert that allows Brooks to "grind" or slide along a handrail, bench or ledge, like in-line skaters or skateboarders might do.
On a sunny afternoon on the Mount Vernon Campus, Brooks, 19, hops up on one of his favorite handrails behind Dows dorm. After a few tries he seems to glid along the rail.
The beauty of soaping, Brooks maintains, is that it doesn't cause property damage. Again, unlike in-line skates or skateboards, Soap shoes use plastic, not destructive metal, for grinding.
As for protective gear, some soapers wear pads; Brooks has been injury-free without.
Brooks, of Port Byron, IL, took up soaping at a New Year's Eve Party two years ago. One of his friends had a pair of Soap Shoes. Brooks gave them a spin.
"It was weird," he remembers. "I had never done any aggressive sports. I just loved it. The first time I did it, I actually fell. It was tough. Now it's pretty much natural."
'It was weird. I had never done any aggressive sports. I just loved it. The first time I did it, I actually fell. It was tough. Now it's pretty much natural.'Derek Brooks, the 'soap guy'
Brooks wasn't soaping much when he went off to Cornell. His first class as a freshman was a basic computer class. When an assignment required a topic for a Web site, he chose soaping.
He planned to designed "a little soap Web site," but has created the world's top soap site, www.brooksfsw.com
The British Broadcasting Corp. interviewed him by phone earlier this year.
He posted the MP3 version of the interview on his site. "That was huge," he says of the interview."
"I couldn't believe it. It was neat to get the word out to Europe. Soap's not real big in Europe right now."
Brooks' Web site gets about 750 hits a day.
He updates the site at least twice daily.
Fellow soapers regularly send pictures of their favorite tricks, which Brooks posts.
Visitors to the site ask questions and offer comments and advice.
Brooks has hooked up with Soap Shoes out of Manhatten Beach, CA, which provided him with about 30 pairs of shoes in various sizes and some free practice rails.
He's given demonstrations, including at Cornell's annual Summer Slam and at Tug Fest in the Quad Cities last summer.
He gives away prizes including Soap Shoes, T-shirts, and stickers.
Soaping started in 1997, invented by an in-line skater from California.
"It's still taking off," Brooks says. "It's something we don't want to become a sport. We want it to be more of an activity. We want this to be something to do while you're out."
Soap Shoes cost $70 to $130, available at limited outlets in Eastern Iowa, including Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville.
His roommate doesn't soap, but owns three pairs of the shoes.
"I want soap to get a lot bigger than it is," Brooks says. "I've grown to love it so much. I want other people to experience it. It's a lot of fun."