It can be tricky for a beginning skater to stay balanced in a skating boot on a very thin blade. The boot may feel more like some type of torture device rather than a honed piece of equipment. Skating boots and blades are the main pieces of equipment used for skating and the most important. The old saying that “you are only good as your equipment” is very true. It’s much better to skate to your equipment’s capabilities than trying to outskate your skates!
It won’t take you long to realize that it is vital to invest in a good boot and blade. Rental equipment is often not the best to learn in, and really doesn’t support your foot properly. It is common for beginning skaters to get discouraged simply because a pair of rental skating boots don’t fit right. Skaters leave the ice thinking that they can’t learn this sport, when really it may have just been faulty equipment.
When I first started skating, I didn’t entirely understand this concept. Buying my first pair of boots was quite the learning experience. After looking at all of the options in the skate shop and trying on several, I decided on a used pair of Harlicks with blades. They were in good condition, less expensive than a brand new pair and fit my foot really well. What a difference compared to the rental skates!
I learned a few other things that day: I had no idea that boots and blades are actually separate pieces of equipment. While a few manufacturers put them together, most do not. Another thing- there are so many options!-While it was a bit overwhelming, the skate shop employees were very helpful and informed. There are maybe 10 boot manufacturers that most skaters tend to use, such as Riedell, Jackson, Risport, GAM, Klingbeil, and Edea.
Some resources I would recommend that will help you research some of the brands are:
• kinziescloset where they have good information about skating boots
• usfigureskating where they have a skating boot comparison chart
The important thing to remember when selecting a boot is to focus on a few key areas of the boot– the toe box, the heel and the ankle. The toe box is the area where all your toes sit. Your toes should be able to move up and down. Your toes should not feel cramped or feel like they are pushing against the end of the boot. Your heel should fit snuggly into the back of the boot and should not slip around. And, there’s the ankle, which should feel secure but able to bend in the boot when needed. Overall, the boot needs to feel comfortable. If you feel it pinching in any way, try again.
The two most common brands that beginning skaters start in are the Riedell and Jackson boot. The Riedell brand offers a neat feature where once the boots are fitted to a skater, they are actually taken off and placed in an oven that looks like a microwave. This warms the lining so that it can mold to the foot. I always thought this was such a cool concept! Jackson may do this now too, but both are great starter boots. And, they both have a series of boots that come with blades.
Once you select a boot that feels good on your foot, there are four basic things to consider as to the proper thickness or strength of the boot: 1) your height and weight, 2) how often you skate, 3) your skating level and 4) your foot width. Your height and weight– as an adult skater, depending on your height and weight, you may put more leverage on a boot and will need something a little stronger. Also, since adults don’t grow out of their skates, you want to select a strength level that lasts a little longer than the average skate. So, be sure to ask the person fitting your skates for appropriate strength based upon these factors.
How often you skate– if, as a beginner, you only skate during your lesson and one other time during the week, then your boots will last longer and you won’t need to consider the strength of the boot as much. If you skate more frequently, then they will wear faster, and you may need a boot with a little more strength to it. When I first returned to skating as an adult, I skated 3-4 times a week! As you can imagine, this broke down my skates quickly, and I needed a new pair of skates within the year. So, moving up one strength level can help with this.
Your skating level-if you are just learning, it is unlikely that you are already jumping and spinning, which puts a lot of extra pressure on the boots. As you progress and perform more challenging moves, the stronger your boots will need to be to support the activity. As an example, toward the end of my competition years, I would purchase boots with a dual bond, which is double the leather to support my jumps and spins. While I only performed double jumps and double combinations, there are skaters doing triple jumps who need an even stronger boot.
Your foot width-this is a factor just like when trying on regular everyday shoes. Every pair fits your foot differently. As an example, I started with a used pair of Harlick skates that fit the width of my foot perfectly. Then, when I bought my first pair of new skates, I was talked in to buying a pair of S.P. Terris, which tend to fit wider feet. Those boots just about ruined my feet. S.P. Terris are not bad boots, they were just bad for my feet. I immediately went back to Harlicks and my feet were much happier! (As a side note, you may want to consider asking about used skates at the skate shop. While they may not present them to you as an option, they all have them!)
Once you progress in your skating, you can (and probably should) move up to a custom boot. What’s great about custom boots is that the skate shop actually traces your foot, takes your foot measurements and sends your personal specs to the boot manufacturer. You can order different types of lining, padding and channeling that make the boots more comfortable. When they come back, they fit you almost perfectly-like a glove. The reason I say almost is that sometimes the boots need a bit of tweaking, but mostly they fit well on the first try. Custom boots reduce the break-in period and feel amazing! While the cost of a custom boot is more, if you are spending a lot of hours in your boots the cost is well worth it!
For all you creative souls out there, another bonus in purchasing custom boots is that you can order them in all different colors and patterns! I took full advantage of this option. Over the course of my skating career, I had tan boots, aqua blue, purple and blue marbled, gold, silver and now I have a beautiful bronze pair with a rose pattern imprinted in the leather. I had so much fun in selecting the colors!
Now let’s talk about the other important piece of skating equipment- the blades. There are less manufacturers of blades than boots. A few of the main blade manufacturers are Wilson, Paramount, MK, Ultima and Eclipse.
Skate blades are often made of carbon steel and coated with high-quality chrome. Lightweight aluminum and stainless steel blades are becoming more common also. Blades are about 3/16 inch thick and may have a variation on how they taper. They come in either a 7 or 8 foot radius. Radius refers to the curvature of the blade. A radius of an 8 foot blade is less curved, or flatter, and will give you more speed. A smaller radius of 7 feet will make you more agile and allow for quicker response and turns. A beginning skater often begins with a 7 foot radius and then moves up to the 8 foot radius. Although, personally, I always preferred the 7 foot radius and never made the switch. Each skater has their own preference.
The radius also plays into the rocker. The rocker is the part of the blade right in back of the toe pick. It’s where spins are performed on the blade and it also helps with take-offs on jumps. I liked a more prominent rocker myself so that was another reason I preferred the 7 foot radius blade.
Last but not least, there’s the dreaded toe pick. Those are the teeth of the blade. Anyone who has seen the movie, “The Cutting Edge” remembers how toe picks can cause some awful falls! As a beginner skater, you may be a bit more hesitant about having a hefty toe pick at first but whatever the size of the toe pick, you simply get use to it. The purpose of toe picks are for take-offs and landings of jumps and they are used in a variety of ways on spins and flying spins too. I skated the first 20 years of my career on mild toe picks but then I discovered the “Phantom” blade by MK. If you have ever seen the toe pick on that blade, it’s frightening-at first. However, after I got used to it, I must say that blade made a huge difference in my skating career. My jumps really began to fly and the rocker is wonderful on these blades too so my spins improved as well. It Great blade!
For beginners, the MK blade called the Cornation Ace blade is good. It can take you through the intermediate level. There are equivalent non-MK, less expensive blades that are good, too. But once you can afford it, look at some of the nicer blades- you’ll be glad you did! Pattern 99’s are a favorite of the older skaters who have been around for a while and there are many newer blades too that are just wonderful! And, don’t overlook Phantom blades as an intermediate to advanced blade too.
There is gobs more that I could tell you about boots and blades, but I have intentionally kept it simple. What it all basically boils down to is to select a boot that is comfortable on your foot, a quality blade that is above your current level to skate up to and all in a price range you can afford.