33,000 Nike basketball shoes drifting toward Alaska shores

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Enough soggy Nike basketball shoes to outfit every high school team in Alaska are drifting through the Pacific Ocean toward the state after spilling from a container ship off Northern California.

There’s just one hitch.

“Nike forgot to tie the laces, so you have to find mates,” said Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer in Washington state who tracks flotsam. “The effort’s worth it because these Nikes have only been adrift a few months. All 33,000 are wearable.”

A beachcomber told Ebbesmeyer about the shoe spill after finding two new Nikes washed up on the Olympic Peninsula on Jan. 9 and 16. Unfortunately, they were sizes 101/2 and 81/2. Both were lefts.

A little research by Ebbesmeyer confirmed that a ship lost cargo Dec. 15 during a storm, including three 40-foot containers carrying an estimated 5,500 pairs of shoes each.

“Nikes will be soon in your neck of the sea,” Ebbesmeyer said in an e-mail to the Anchorage Daily News last week.

Over the past decade, Ebbesmeyer has tracked 29,000 duckies, turtles and other bathtub toys; 3 million tiny Legos; 34,000 hockey gloves; and 50,000 Nike cross-trainers that went overboard in the Pacific in 1999.

He and government oceanographer Jim Ingraham have published their results in academic journals as well as Ebbesmeyer’s newsletter Beachcombers’ Alert.

This time, Ebbesmeyer took the serial numbers off the shoes to trace the shipment. Nike told him the shoes were being shipped from Los Angeles to Tacoma.

After the two shoes washed ashore on the Olympic Peninsula in January, Ebbesmeyer calculated that they had moved more than 450 miles in a month — up to 18 miles a day. At that pace, he calculated the Nikes could bob and weave an additional 1,600 miles by the time the current eases in mid-April, sprinkling basketball shoes along the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian coasts.

Lee Weinstein, a spokesman for Beaverton, Ore.- based Nike, said beachcombers who find soggy shoes can mail them to Nike for recycling.

Nike has used recycled rubber sneakers to repave basketball courts and playgrounds, including all the outdoor basketball courts in Portland’s parks, he said.