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Remembering “The Rubber King”

Charles David Cole III, founder of Five Ten, died this past weekend. He was 63.

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After teaching himself how to climb at iconic formations in California, Charles David Cole III went on to create more than 1,000 first ascents, some dangerous and solo, on big walls in Yosemite Valley.

Cole founded Five Ten in 1985, which was named after the grade in the Yosemite Decimal System. The following year, he invented Stealth Rubber, which climbers requested in sheets and the popularity of which earned him the nickname “The Rubber King.”

On Saturday, he died at the age of 63.

Cole sold Five Ten to adidas for $25 million in 2011, and left the brand a few years later. But his legacy lives on.

In a SNEWS interview with Cole from that time, he said it took 27 years to find the perfect partner to pass on his legacy.

“For many, many years, I designed, tested and developed every one of Five Ten’s shoes,” Cole told us. “And I was the head of our creative/advertising/marketing team. I’ve never given up on these tasks, but as the company grew, I’ve had to spend more time with logistics, and less time with the creative. It’s exciting to get back to the jobs I love the most. My new title is founder/president—but the reality is that in addition to working on new Stealth formulas, I’ll be spearheading shoe design and advertising/branding, as well as leading the company into a very exciting future. The $25 million dollar deal is cash, and there is potentially a larger sum based on certain performance measures. I have a three-year contract, and (afterward) I plan on … Occupying Yosemite.”

Friends of Cole remember him best for approaching life with an extraordinary focus, jotting down new ad ideas in a sketch pad, bursting out into song, being equally rebellious and safe, and having a whimsical sense of humor that drove the brand’s marketing success, according to his friend and outdoor industry veteran Nancy Prichard Bouchard.

While other brands worried about an aging demographic, Cole said, Five Ten since its beginning resonated with lifelong athletes and young athletes alike who need shoes, kneepads, and other equipment to pursue adventures safely.

Along with designing shoes, his other passions were climbing, B.A.S.E. jumping, parkour, downhill mountain-bike racing, and spending time with his kids were his passions. After leaving Five Ten, Cole explored a lifelong interest in gravity and physics, played tennis and chess, and enjoying retired life at his ranch deep in Dinosaur National Park on the Yampa River.

Rest in peace, Charles.