View Larry Johansen's website.

It is fitting that the most memorable appearance on the silver screen of the simple brown rubber boot was in the romantic comedy “The Proposal.” Ryan Reynolds eventually got the girl, but who doesn’t remember Sandra Bullock as she famously wore a pair of XTRATUFs and a bathrobe while rescuing the family dog from a bald eagle.

I actually was reminded of this fact – and learned many new ones – in Larry Johansen’s book. I might never have known, for instance, that there is a pinup calendar of women wearing little but the all-purpose boot, or that Mrs. Alaska requested – and received – a pair of XTRATUF pumps to complement her evening wear.

At his booth at the Sitka Artisan’s Market, author Larry Johansen is convinced that XTRATUFs are more about relationships than style.

 “One of the things we try to reach is the real story about people. I noticed there were a lot of books about inanimate objects – glaciers – things that are pretty but don’t really describe the people of Alaska. When people travel they’re interested in learning about culture and about why people live the way they do. And it came to me, How do I tell that story? And the one ubiquitous, unifying footwear that’s innocent, but defines people in a way that words cannot is the XTRATUF boot.”

Johansen worked for Cruise West for twenty-five years until the sudden shutdown of that company earlier this fall. He did interpretive training for guides, and photography was just a hobby. But XTRATUFs proved to be such a great icebreaker, that a book—and possibly a new career — was launched.

“Photography is hard when you’re photographing people. They’re kind of looking at you like, What are you up to? And I’d say, Can I take a picture? Of me? No, of your boots. Well, okay then, no problem! It was disarming, and opened the doors to the stories of their lives. And really the genesis of the book was from the stories of the people I photographed.”

During the latter stages of production of the book this summer Johansen learned – as we all did – that production of the XTRATUF was being moved overseas to China. Although Johansen has no formal relationship with the company except for permission to use their trademark, he says they were interested in reaction to the XTRATUF story. He warned them not to change a thing.

“I frankly told them a lot of people were upset, and I pointed to the old Coke when they changed their recipe, many years ago. It was kind of a disaster. I said, You realize how important these boots are to people? It would really be sad if the book was a history book: the story of the boot that was.”
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