Pursuit Split Toe Boot

Designed in conjunction with the US Sailing Team’s Athlete Hans Henken


How the Partnership Came to Life

Impressed by the quality and warmth of his kit worn during his tenure sailing for SailGP, Hans Henken now currently of the US Sailing Team, reached out to Gill to potentially extend the partnership. With an impressive background in aerospace engineering and an eye for gaps in sailing marketplace, he proposed to us a new footwear concept. This inspired the creation of the Pursuit Split Toe Boot as an addition to our newly revamped neoprene footwear line.

As the sailing industry continues to innovate, like the introduction of two new classes: Formula Kite and iQFOiL in the Summer 2024 Games. It is more important than ever for us as a brand to continue to evolve and adapt our product range. We aim to meet the needs of not only top tier athletes but to provide the opportunity to the masses to wear the best on the water gear. Read on to learn more about how this collaborative innovation came to life.

Who is Hans Henken?

“Hans has spent the majority of his career competing on the U.S. Sailing Team in the 49er class with his goal of competing at the Olympics. From 2011 to 2015, he was a member and captain of the Stanford University Sailing Team and in his senior year was named Stanford Conference Male Athlete of the Year during the Cardinal’s most successful season. While competing with the Cardinal, he earned a master’s and bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, an invaluable resource to complement his sailing pedigree.

Hans is currently campaigning for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France alongside teammate Ian Barrows. The pairing is currently ranked 3rd in the world following their 2nd place finish at the 2022 Princesa Sofia World Sailing World Cup and solid performances on the world stage for the 2022 season.

Hans has also recently competed for season three of the global SailGP series for US SailGP Team as the starting flight controller and continues to provide his sailing experience and engineering background on the supercharged F50.” (US Sailing, n.d.)

Sailing Achievements:

2022 Skiff World Championships – 49er – 11th

2022 Hyeres French Olympic Sailing Week – 49er – 11th

2022 Princesa Sofia World Sailing World Cup – 49er – 2nd

2022 Mallorca Sailing Center Regatta – 49er – 4th

2022 Miami U.S. Open – 49er – 1st

2021 World Championships – 49er – 4th

2021 Asian Championships – 49er – 5th

2021 North American Championships – 49er – 1st


A Q&A with Hans



1.Why did you want to design a new boot with Gill?

I was looking to design a great boot that our team could use for years to come and have confidence that it would perform well and hold up over a longer period of time as compared to many other boots on the market.

2.Can you tell us about your design vision?

I was looking to help create a boot that was seamless in design with minimal straps that served as an extension of the foot while still supporting the ankle and arch. It also needed to provide the right amount of breathability and grip.

3.What key features were you missing in other similar equipment?

The biggest key features that I was missing in my previous equipment was a completely seamless design that would last a longer period of time during the competition season. Many products in the market currently only fit the bill in one area but not both.

4.What changes needed to be made to the Gill boots that were currently available?

The biggest step towards the iteration process was incorporating materials to really build a boot that was more of an extension of the foot. This requires high-end materials and a better foot mold design to accurately fit different athletes’ feet without losing sight of durability and performance.

5.Why is it important to design new gear?

As athletes we are always looking to iterate on all areas in our game to find that edge in competition and the type of gear that we use is no different.

6.What classes/types of sailing could benefit from wearing the new shoe?

The purpose of my thoughts and feedback to the Gill boot design team were primarily pointed towards trapeze style boats.

7.What conditions do you plan on wearing them in?

I am hoping to be wearing a Gill boot in all conditions, as my footwear is more about the performance that overlaps all conditions.

How the Gill Design Team Approached the Collaboration


1. Can you describe the design process for this shoe, what steps were involved?

As always, we start by identifying areas/products in that are either missing from or could be improved from within our existing range. From there, we begin the research phase. This could include competitor products, materials or new components. Then we produce initial design concepts. The designs will then be presented internally and pre-lined before 100% design sign-off.

After the design is agreed upon, we will start the sampling / testing process. We worked through areas such as fit and construction alongside a rigorous testing program for the materials (this is often started way before the design is created) – it is during this stage samples can be sent to users for feedback.

2. How long does it take to go from item inspiration to being able to sell it in market?

This process can take more than a year, for example we are well under way with sampling for the S1.24 season which will be launched late 2023.

3. What types of testing do we do on footwear in particular?

Testing will be determined by type of product and end use, but it will generally include flex and slip testing

4. What was it like working with Hans?

Hans has always been great to work with, he is always enthusiastic about providing insight and feedback as well as testing proto samples. He was involved early in the process. During a round table Hans highlighted the need for a lighter weight boot than we currently had in the range.

He provided feedback from his own experiences, showing examples of footwear he has worn previously. He also spoke to other sailors to get their thoughts and preferred footwear choices.

Hans was provided with prototype boots but unfortunately due to the size of the sample last, they were too big for him to wear. He was able to provide insight into the design and material and fitted the sample on other members of the USST during a training camp.

Later we were able to provide Hans shoes in his own size from the size set samples, for continual assessment.

5. Have you done this type of design process before with other athletes?

Feedback is very important to us as a brand, throughout the design process and beyond. Another recent example was the development of the Verso Jacket and Trouser, when worked closely with Team ROST.

However, this isn’t limited to professional athletes, we also engage with the end users through focus groups and questionnaires.

6. How does this boot differ to our new S.1.23 range?

Aside from the Split toe, the new shoe has a wider toe box and thinner sole.

The wider toe box and split allow the toes to spread more naturally and provide a more stable footing coupled with the sole the features combined to provide a shoe with a more barefoot feel.

7. What types of sailing/watersports do you see this item being successful in?

For us, the need originated from the feedback of dinghy/one design sailors (49er and Nacra 17 as an example). However, we feel the shoe has broad appeal whether the wearer is on a SUP, Kayak or dinghy. The shoe works well in outdoor water sports for those who want a more flexible barefoot feel.

Interested in Trying a Pair?

US Sailing. (n.d) 49er Hans Henken. US Sailing. https://www.ussailing.org/athletes/hans-henken/