Color: Grey with Neon Green
New Balance's marketing pitch: Takes the science of soft to a new level with smooth, consistent cushioning.
Surfaces tested on: Road, ambient temperature of 22° C/71° F
Upper: Single piece mesh, high density printing details and no-sew overlays
Midsole: Single density compression molded EVA foam blend. 4 mm heel to toe drop
Outsole: Soft blown rubber, harder rubber used in heel crash pad.
Weight: 283 gms/ 9.9 Oz for a half pair of US11/UK 10.5/EUR 45/CM 29
Widths available: D-standard (reviewed), 2E-wide and 4E- extra wide
New Balance carved out its own take on the category of cushioned, low heel drop running shoes just last year, and boy, things are evolving fast. The original Fresh Foam 980 was a wholesome shoe which got a lot of things right, yet a little disappointing in context of the whole ‘science of soft’ marketing campaign.
But one of a brand’s biggest strengths is quickly learning from minor setbacks, and in that light, the East coast based brand comes across as a shining standard bearer.
The very excellent Fresh Foam Zante made its debut at the New York marathon, and continues to win praise from many quarters, including from yours truly.
The midsole foam felt soft but not mushy, and delivered a smooth and responsive ride served up in a lightweight package. And capable of wearing multiple hats, be it that of a cushioned daily trainer or a tempo companion.
Given our positive experience with the new iteration of Fresh Foam, we were eager to try the second version of the Fresh Foam 980, or in present day parlance, the Fresh Foam Boracay.
We really don’t want you to scroll to the end of our review to know what we think of the new 980, so we’ll bring up the lowdown upfront.
The 2015 Fresh Foam Boracay is the shoe which the original 2014 980 should have been. The Boracay’s ride behavior is better aligned with the much tom-tommed ‘Science of soft’ punchline, at a far more relatable level than the 980 V1.
The 4 mm heel drop trainer works nicely when paired with the Zante; the latter being a more tempo focused lightweight trainer, while the Boracay is suitable as a comfortable shoe meant to chew up intergalactic mileage.
What we like about the Zante and Boracay is that these shoes aren’t trying to take the fight to any other brand. The Fresh Foam line is not about extreme softness and pillowy plush; it is about striking a fine balance between cushioning and efficiency of ride. Go a bit firm, and you end up with the 980 v1. Pump in too much softness, and you might well be running on a midsole made of syrup, which will surely cramp your pace.
The art is to master the delicate balance, and the 2015 Boracay shows great promise within that framework. The ‘science of soft’ might be misinterpreted by some Fresh Foam first-timers, so it is important to understand the equilibrium which the Fresh Foam assortment tries to bring to the party.
Most would have noticed that New Balance is now calling its shoes by names rather than numbers, and the Zante and Boracay are the earliest adopters of that change. Behind the scenes, however, they are still known by the numbers, as the tongue labels for both the models seem to suggest.
In numeric terms, the Boracay is 980 V2, and the Zante is 1980M. But as far as consumer facing nomenclature is concerned, the numbers are given a go-around, and in their place comes names inspired by the idyllic islands of Greece (Zante) and Philippines (Boracay).
The Boracay is the rightful heir to the spot which the 980 vacates, and while it shares a similar silhouette, the changes which runs through are pretty significant. There are no exact carryover parts from the 980, and that signals New Balance’s serious effort to inject complete freshness into the newest version.
New Balance has a new design take on the upper, which cuts out the use of no-sew synthetic leather panels and embraces high density printing in lieu. The result is a more fluid looking design, with stitch-less lines seamlessly mapping the surface.
There’s a combination of two printed layers; the first being tonal grey lines, with a second metallic layer which fills in for visual detailing and structural support.
On the reviewed colorway of Grey and Neon, the snaking upper layers were all chromed up in glossy silver. No part of that is truly reflective, by the way. Just manages to pull a daytime shiny effect, that’s all.
That makes the Boracay completely non-reflective in low light visibility. Not a step-down from the 980 in any way, but would have been nice to see a few slivers of shine-at-night’s here and there.
The eyelet panel is layered over with the fused material. The individual eyelets are separated by grooves, and overall the entire lacing becomes narrower than the outgoing 980. The laces are flat but differ from last year by becoming slightly elastic.
This bodes well for cinching, but ultimately converts into a longer portion of leftover length. One can go around that minor issue by tying larger loops or using double lacing techniques.
Utilizing the last row of lacing will also help shorten length, and don’t worry about running out of tongue flap. The elastic gusset in the front allows the tongue to go slightly longer – more on that below.
The tongue construction is standard type with no sleeving, and its position changes between the time you first lace the shoe to when you take it off after a 5 miler.
The tongue loop stops excessive sideways shifting in nick of time, yet you can’t seem to escape a small degree of tongue slide.
A couple of noticeable updates on the tongue would be the upholstery of the top flap, which is smoother than before, and the addition of an elastic which joins the forefoot with rest of the tongue. This is new on the Fresh Foam, but is an old New Balance design trick, used in many shoes including the 1260, 860 and the 1080. It is supposed to result in a better fit over the foot, though in this specific case, it runs slightly counter intuitive. We’ll cover that in our fit discussion.
The mesh has been updated, a close surface textured type with the minute amounts of squish in it. For some reason, New Balance says that the upper uses a 2-way stretch mesh, but we found that it isn’t really so. The mesh is no more or less elastic than the original 980’s, which was pretty flat and static.
The interior has no lining, which makes the upper mesh fairly breathable, capable of letting air in and out. Upper layer of the tongue is made of the same new mesh, with the reverse lining being the perforated fabric seen on the 980 v1.
The collar area is lusher than before, with softer dressing wrapping the foam beneath. Similar to the lining textile used on the Zante, but not identical. But unlike the Zante’s semi-collapsible heel, the Boracay uses a full sized internal counter for structural rigidity. Same as the 980 v1, then.
If you take into account the fact that the midsole and outsole hasn’t changed, the Boracay should be lighter, correct? Yes, but the weight change is small, and the Boracay only sheds a microscopical amount of flab. Speak of it in precise terms, and that’s 6 grams or 0.2 Oz lighter than the synthetic leather clothed Fresh Foam 980. Not much, and certainly not noticeable. But sub-10 oz for a size US 11 is respectable for a proper running shoe with all the bells and whistles, so there’s no complaining here.
Fit is not very different from the New Balance 980. But very perceptive ladies and gents will feel four subtle changes, and that realization will come quickly if the previous 980 has been with you for a better part of the last few months.
The first change will be felt right around the tip, where the Boracay provides more medial toe-box room. It has more to do with design update on the outsole than the upper, really.
The outsole lip – the foremost part which overlays and glues over the toe box – is wider than the 980, and that helps broaden up the area. It is also worth noting that the Boracay does not really have an external toe bumper, a duty previously performed by a synthetic overlay on the 980.
Inside, the Boracay does have a toe-puff, but assuming that its thickness is slightly lower than 980’s synthetic bumper, that could be another reason why the medial toe box feels more spacious. As far as toe box height is concerned both shoes are tied equally, and sizing fits true.
Secondly, medial forefoot over the small toe feels freer, as the upper is literally unburdened of bulky overlays. The high density printing is less restrictive than the 980’s synthetic, and one will feel minor change in fit around that area. Third, with the powers-that-be at New Balance deciding to tinker with the eye stay area, the level of lacing pressure subsides a notch or two.
The eyelet panel on the 980 v1 was pretty thin, which allowed the laces to stretch over in a fashion which was near flush with the tongue. The Boracay’s panel is designed differently, and not only is it thicker, but also brings opposing eyelet holes closer. So the lacing sits relatively elevated than the 980, and either sides of the panel come closer. By now, you’d have figured out that all of this brings down lacing pressure, and that’s exactly what happens.
And lastly, the upper heel is molded with lesser outwards splay (see comparative top view picture) than last year, influencing the quality of collar fit around the foot. Comes across as little more snugger when it comes to holding the foot in place.
All said and done, the Boracay has a comfortable upper fit, and more relaxed than the Zante. The midfoot is nowhere close to the Zante, which came with a super snug mid and forefoot fit, not to mention a lower profile toe-box. The Boracay upper is very comfortable in D width, snug but not unduly so, and there’s a consistency of lockdown which many will appreciate. It won’t win any medals when it comes to plushness, but hey, this isn’t the shoe to expect that from. The upper mesh feels smooth inside, and there’s reasonable amount of foam padding pocketed inside the tongue and collar walls.
If there’s anything to be improved, that’ll be the tongue. A couple of areas, one which concerns the dimensions, and another which is about the construction. The tongue of the 980 and Boracay is narrow across and that presents a problem.
When you pull the tongue towards you when getting inside the shoe, the edges tend to curl over. So you have to reach in with your index finger and straighten the pesky edges out.
The same edges feel scratchy when the Boracay is worn minus socks, and makes the inner fit fairly uncomfortable. Would have been far better if New Balance had used a softer material, or used a different construction technique to close the seams out.
At first glance , the sole design doesn’t seem like it’s gone through much change. But like many things, it is what one doesn’t see which makes the new Fresh Foam Boracay different from its past self.
Most people who’ve worn the first generation 980 might guess what the change focuses on. Everyone seemed to unanimously agree that the 980 ran firmer than what it should have, given the ‘Science of soft’ spin. So that’s what this shoe’s evolution amounts to – an increased level of softness right from the insole to the entire bulk of the midsole.
The 980 felt layered in its ride. Which meant that its plush insole did a great job at delivering instant cushioning underfoot, but that did not necessarily percolate down to the fancifully sculptured midsole.
Footstrikes on the 980 felt going through distinct densities of foam; soft at first, then a thicker layer of firmness.
That isn’t the case in the new Boracay. The midsole is softer than the 980, and so is the Ortholite insole. At first, we weren’t sure about the insole part. But when comparing our pairs of the 980 and Boracay, the new sockliner was softer, and marginally thinner too. Maybe slimmer by around 2 mm. Now both the softness and thickness could be manufacturing consistency, but based on what we found, we have to give New Balance the benefit of doubt.
Softer and thinner is good, because it gives greater and faster access to the actual midsole during the gait cycle. The feedback is clearer and more honest, for a lack of a better word. Somewhat similar to the Zante, where a thin footbed allowed us to feel the cushioned midsole for what it really was.
When we say that the midsole softness is increased, this doesn’t mean that the Boracay now becomes a Hoka Clifton rival. There’s a tinge of firmness in the whole affair, as if the foam compression is controlled and measured. This is what we meant when we said that Boracay tiptoes the line between too soft and too firm quite well.
Visually, the midsole maintains a familiar feel, with hexagonally shaped projections (medial heel) and shallow cavities (lateral side and medial forefoot) stamped into its sidewalls.
When viewed from the side, the Boracay also looks slightly lower profile, as the rim of the midsole is lowered down a little. Can’t say whether that has affected stack heights, as we don’t have a way of accurately measuring thickness, short of destroying the shoe.
Outsole stays the same fundamentally with a full ground contact blown rubber sheet, save for a couple of changes. The outsole lug design has been given a refresh, the shapes going from regular hexagons to elongated hexagons.
The forefoot has larger rubber lugs instead of smaller nobs of the 980. The traction is great from the softer rubber, which was true for the 980 too. If anything, the Boracay forefoot feels slightly tougher to bend, as you have to go through bigger lugs in place of spaced out hexagons.
The outsole waist in the center is now broader, increasing the contact patch under the midfoot. The 980 had a sharp inwards scoop on the medial side, which is now (relatively) filled out in the Boracay. These are small changes, and very hard to tell during usage. Heel area uses a harder type of rubber in the crash pad – what seems like a molded groove from afar is actually not so. The crash pad and rest of the outsole are two different components, allowing the heel edge to splay out on footstrike.
We initially were under the impression (based on the Zante) that the durability might be an issue, but a few months have passed since the Zante review, and the Zante’s similar outsole hasn’t seen much wear despite being one of solereview’s pick for frequent wear. We have reasons to believe that a softer midsole helps that, and also the fact that these outsoles don’t have aggressive ‘come-and-get-me’ lugs sticking out, a la Ultra Boost.
And how does the Boracay ride? Just great – the way the shoe glides down the asphalt is impressive. The beauty of a single density midsole design is that the transitions come consistent throughout heel to forefoot, and the other way around. There’s a certain linearity of compression which feels non-distracting, and that is the hallmark of a great shoe. Building cadence also comes naturally on the Boracay, and that’s another brownie point for the shoe.
The rear and front of the shoe does not feel like two distinct halves somehow managing to make it work. The Boracay design brings uniformity to the ride, and somehow everything feels like parts of a well oiled machine. A lot of credit also goes to the outsole design, which goes back to the basics by being a plain old sheet of rubber with uninterrupted contact patch. No ridges, plastic shanks or oceans to cross over, just hexagonally shaped minions doing your bidding.
Cushioned this shoe might be, but it doesn’t score great on responsiveness. The Zante did better on that front, but there’s no taking away the fact that the Boracay has a quality of cushioning which feels well rounded and polished for the most part. And that is why we said earlier that these two shoes make for a great pairing – similar in some ways and different in others.
If you are considering a lightweight daily trainer, the Boracay should be on your list. It’s got a 4 mm drop, so that’s the only thing some 10 mm regulars need to watch out for. As far as everything else is concerned, the sun shines bright on the white sand beaches of Boracay.
(Disclaimer: For this review, Solereview.com bought the shoe at full US retail price.)
Looking to upgrade your old Fresh Foam 980 to the latest version, but not sure how the 2015 model compares? We can help here. The following infographic is a ready-reckoner for what changes you might expect in the new model vs. old. To make this more fun, we’ve put in a system of percentage match, which calculates a weighted average for a set of attributes.
A higher or lower match percentage is neither good or bad. The % number just tells you how similar or distanced the new shoe is from the previous version. Total match % is a result of weighted averages.