Shoe tossing

Shoe tossing in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain (2013).

Shoe tossing, the act of using shoes as projectiles or improvised weapons, is part of a number of folk sports and practices. Today, shoe tossing refers to throwing a pair of shoes whose laces are tied together onto raised wires such as telephone wires and power lines, as well as trees, or fences. Urban legend tells that hanging shoes denote the location of a gang murder. In urban areas, hanging shoes can signal that a drug dealer is nearby or that drugs can be purchased in that area.

For the most part, shoe tossing is purely recreational, often done as a prank. Dangling shoes may also symbolize local culture or traditions, including insults.

Dangling shoes[edit]

Because of the Shoefiti the Norderstraße (Northern Street) in Flensburg, Germany, was named by Travel + Leisure as one of the "World's Strangest Streets."

Shoe dangling, or shoe flinging, is the practice of throwing shoes whose shoelaces have been tied together so that they hang from overhead wires such as power lines or telephone cables. Once the laces are tied, the pair is thrown at the wires as a sort of bolas.

Shoe flinging occurs throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, in rural and in urban areas. Usually, the shoes are sneakers; other times, they are leather shoes and boots.[1] Many cultural variations exist; differences abound between socioeconomic areas and age groups.

In a longstanding tradition, a Boy Scout throws his boots over the Philmont entrance sign at Base Camp.


Several theories have been put forth to explain the phenomenon. One posits that it's a form of bullying: a bully steals a pair of shoes and tosses them where they are unlikely to be retrieved.[1] Another views shoe tossing as a practical joke played on drunks, who wake up to find their shoes missing. More ominously, [2] a 2003 newsletter from former Los Angeles, California mayor James Hahn cited fears of many L.A. residents that "these shoes indicate sites at which drugs are sold or worse yet, gang turf," and that city and utility employees had launched a program to remove the shoes.[3] A 2015 study of shoe-tossing data in Chicago found that the rumor and relationship between dangling shoes and drug dealing was correlational, not causal.[4]

In some cultures, shoes are flung as part of a rite of passage, for example, to commemorate the end of a school year, or a forthcoming marriage. Some theories suggest the custom originated with members of the military, who are said to have thrown military boots, often painted orange or some other conspicuous color, at overhead wires as a part of a rite of passage after completing basic training or when leaving the service.[2] In the 1997 film Wag the Dog, shoe tossing is an allegedly spontaneous tribute to Sgt. William Schumann, played by Woody Harrelson, who has purportedly been shot down behind enemy lines in Albania.

Others simply say that shoe flinging is a way to get rid of shoes that are no longer wanted, are uncomfortable, or do not fit.[5][verification needed] It may also be another manifestation of the human instinct to leave their mark on, and decorate, their surroundings.[2]

In some cultures, shoes belonging to someone who has recently died are tied together and tossed onto power lines or tree branches to signify their passing. Legend has it that when the dead person's spirit returns, it will walk that high above the ground, that much closer to heaven.[5][verification needed] Another superstition holds that tossing shoes over power lines outside a house helps keep the property safe from ghosts. In yet another legend, hanging shoes signify that someone is leaving the neighborhood for bigger and better things.[6][7]

Shoe tree[edit]

The Shoe Tree in Morley Field, San Diego, California.[8]

A shoe tree, not to be confused with the shoe-preservation device of the same name, is a tree (or, occasionally, a powerline pole or other wooden object) that has been festooned with old shoes.[9] Shoe trees are generally located alongside major local thoroughfares, and they may have a theme (such as high-heeled shoes). At least 76 such shoe trees have been documented in the United States[10].

Competitive boot throwing[edit]

Boot throwing in Finland

Boot throwing, or wellie wanging, has been a competitive sport in New Zealand and Britain for many years. Wellington boots are heavy rubber boots worn by most farm workers and many other outdoor workers. A competition to see who can throw a boot, or "wellie," the farthest is a feature of many agricultural-field-day competitions in rural communities. The town of Taihape in the central North Island is closely identified with this sport; the town claims to be the "Gumboot Throwing Capital of the World." It holds an annual competition (Gumboot Day) in the main street; the winner takes home the Golden Gumboot trophy.[11] See also Wellie wanging in Yorkshire, England.

Since 2003, the sport has been practiced competitively in Eastern Europe. The 2004 World Championship was won by Germany, which then hosted the 2005 Competition at Döbeln. Teams were also expected from Australia and Russia. Boot throwing has been a popular sport in Finland since 1976, when the inaugural Finnish Championships took place.

The Scottish Championships were held in Oban in July 2009, where shoe-throwing pioneers RD Miller & David Gaffney created an impromptu event on the waterfront. This inspired such shoe-throwing legends as Phil Reid (who always favored lighter trainers) to pick up the baton -- or the sneaker in this case -- and take it to a wider audience. A watered-down version of the competition is still held every July around Oban.


In many Arab cultures, throwing a shoe at someone is considered extremely insulting. It is also considered rude to display the sole of one's foot to someone. In 2008, Iraqi cameraman Muntadar al-Zaidi was arrested and incarcerated for throwing two shoes at United States President George W. Bush while the president was visiting Baghdad. President Bush ducked and was not struck by the shoes.[12] Shoe throwing as an insult is not limited to the Arab world; other notable incidents have involved other celebrities and world leaders, including Steve McCarthy, David Beckham, Harry Styles, Lily Allen, Hillary Clinton, and Wen Jiabao.[13]

Flipper tossing[edit]

A pair of flippers hangs from a wire at 4th Ave. and E. 10th St, New York City.

"Flippering" has occurred in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol, where a pair of flippers can be seen on Jamaica Street.[citation needed] Flippers have also been spotted hanging from a wire in New York City's East Village neighborhood (pictured).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Shoes on a Wire: Untangling an Urban Myth". WBEZ. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
  2. ^ a b c Adams Cecil (August 2, 1996). Why do you see pairs of shoes hanging by the laces from power lines? The Straight Dope.
  3. ^ TeamWork LA (c. 2003). "East Los Angeles NSC Combats Problem of Overhead Shoes on Wires" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2003-10-07. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
  4. ^ "Shoes on a Wire: Untangling an Urban Myth". WBEZ. Retrieved 2018-10-24.
  5. ^ a b Wordscribe41. "Shoefiti: Unique Urban Street Art". Hubpages.
  6. ^ Whitley, Peggy, Becky Bradley, Bettye Sutton, and Sue Goodwin. "1990-1999." American Cultural History. Lone Star College-Kingwood Library. Last modified February 2011. popculture/decade90.html.
  7. ^ Alarcão, Jorge de (1988). Roman Portugal. Volume I: Introduction (p. 93). Warminster: Aris and Phillips
  8. ^ The Shoe Tree in Frisbee Playground, Morley Field, San Diego fell (allegedly on January 7, 2008, confirmed the following day), after becoming besotted by heavy rains.
  9. ^ Shoe Trees. Roadside America.
  10. ^ Roadside America. Search results for "shoe tree."
  11. ^ "Gumboot capital of the world," Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  12. ^ Asser, Martin (December 15, 2008). "Bush shoe-ing worst Arab insult". BBC News. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  13. ^ "Top 5 famous shoe throwing incidents". Metro.

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