Recreational Ice Figure Skating/Equipment/Boots
Often beginners end up with so much advice that it may feel as it is a life-and-death decision. However, within broad limits, as a beginner it does not matter what boots you have provided that they are comfortable and fit well. They should be snug in the heels and support the ankles to prevent them from caving in. Most important of all though, is that they help you to feel confident. That will help you more than anything else. Provided you are not in pain and are well supported and comfortable, practice and effort will make a far bigger difference than the exact type or brand of boot.
Selecting new boots
Intermediate and advanced boots and blades are sold separately and mounted by the skate shop. Beginner boots may be sold in pre-assembled sets, but avoid those that have the blades riveted to or molded into a plastic sole. For adults, the boots should fit snugly on your feet such that the tips of your toes just brush or can stretch to reach the toe of the boot. Good quality beginner boots are moderately stiff to provide adequate support, and the more advanced boots get progressively stiffer.
The advantage of stiff boots is that they may last many years and provide good support. Their disadvantage is that they have a long and perhaps painful break-in period and they are more expensive. If you buy boots too advanced for your level, you may find them virtually impossible to break in. Lighter boots on the other hand are more comfortable and break in faster. They also wear out faster.
Before choosing boots, here is a checklist of some questions to ask yourself. The boots you buy will depend entirely upon the answers:
- How much do you enjoy skating? Do you feel that in time you will be skating daily or is it something you just want to do once a week or so?
- How long do you envision yourself skating? Do you think you have found a sport that will keep you happily exercising for the next 20 years?
- What are your future expectations?. Many skaters who initially cannot imagine ever doing a three-turn progress farther than they ever imagined. Ask yourself what your dreams are.
If you feel that you could easily end up skating every day, you will probably want to skate for the next 20 years, and in your fantasies you are landing double jumps, then the cost of your boots will in all likelihood be the least expense you have to worry about over the next three years. And a good boot will probably last that long.
Whatever make of skating boots you buy, it is most important that the boots fit properly (your foot should be held firmly by the boot) and show first class workmanship. When trying on boots, wear the same socks/tights that you will skate in. Thick socks are not a good idea as they will allow the foot to move in the skate. The construction of the boot tongue is also important, since a relatively stiff padded tongue will stay in place and keeps the pressure of individual laces injuring your feet. Some tongues have a padded lambs wool lining, but tongues of higher level skates are generally padded with a foam rubber. The foam rubber should be about 3/8 - 1/2 inches thick and fairly stiff with small pores.
It is difficult to relate the size of the boot to your shoe size as this varies from one manufacturer to another. Ask to be measured by a competent vendor. They should have you sit and put a little pressure on the measuring board. Try on the boots before having the blade mounted, and do not hesitate to try others if you are not entirely satisfied with the fit.
Custom fitted boots are usually not necessary for starting skaters unless your feet and ankles are shaped unusually or have been injured, you require extra support for your weight or are skating very frequently.
Breaking in new boots
Wearing brand new boots for the first time can be painful. Here are some tips to help relieve the pain and shorten the process:
- Wear thin socks. Basically, you want the socks to slide against the leather. Thin polyester socks are good in this respect. Skate for short periods at first paying attention to the way your feet feel and stop if there is chafing or irritation. Never ignore discomfort because it can turn into blisters and infection.
- If the top rim of your boots rubs your legs, buy some cloth medical tape and moleskin to protect the irritated areas. Silicon gel ankle sleeves or pads (e.g., Bungapads) are excellent to prevent blisters, lace-bite and protect chafed skin. If the finish of the rim feels rough, it is possible to smooth it by sanding it carefully.
- You can get boots "punched out" or stretched where they are hurting your feet, customizing them to some degree (this leaves marks on the leather which almost disappear in time). Some skate shops can do this.
- Do not lace the boots right to the top at first.
- To make the boots fit the contours of your ankle bones, find a wooden dowel (e.g. broom handle) about the diameter of the projections of your ankle joints and cut two lengths equal to the width across each ankle. Using tape and a marker, mark the location of your ankle bones on each boot (on top of the tape). Then, when not wearing the boots, insert the dowels, lining them up with the marks, and lace the boots up tightly. Similarly, a shoe tree or other solid object placed in the toe will help to relieve pressure on the toes.
- If the boots feel very uncomfortable, you can try to accelerate the break-in process by wetting the leather: For example, putting on wet tights or socks and wearing the boots while not skating, or taking a couple of damp hot hand towels put them in the boots for a few minutes, then remove the towels and wear the boots for a while. However, be aware that wearing the boots while not skating can lead to an incorrect break-in pattern (since you apply most pressure on different points when you are skating than when walking or sitting in the boots).
Boots are expensive and deserve all the care you give them. Be sure to dry the entire sole of your boot off immediately after leaving the ice and do not store them in a closed bag. When not in use, always remove them from the skate bag and leave the skates in the open so that the air can thoroughly dry them, otherwise the leather will start to decay. Scratches and nicks in the boots should be attended to before water penetrates the leather.
Waterproofing should be applied to the entire sole before the blades are mounted, and reapplied periodically. If leather gets wet and cannot dry out, it will start to rot and then will not hold the blade screws. A variety of types of waterproofing are available at skate shops. Here are a few ideas:
- A sole enamel can be used. It comes in black and neutral. Depending on the amount of skating you do, it may need to be reapplied monthly. It will build up and occasionally must be sanded or scraped off, then reapplied.
- A variety of bee wax or similar wax-like products are popular. They are applied then melted in with a hair dryer. Wax must be reapplied more frequently than enamel but is very easy to use. There is no sanding or buildup. After repeated use, the soles may develop a grayish cast.
- Another suggestion is polyurethane varnish thinned down so it soaks into the fresh leather. Applied in many thin coats, it is said to require very little follow-up maintenance.
- Shoe polish is a very effective water proofer but must be used very regularly.
- On white uppers, black streaks can be easily removed with a solvent made for this purpose. Use a buff type liquid polish on white boots. For black boots, use a black liquid or canned shoe polish.
Re-plugging the screw holes
You should periodically check the screws which hold the blades on, especially when the skates are new and make sure they are tight. If a screw is stripped or will not stay tight, water is probably getting inside the screw hole and the leather of the sole itself causing the holes to expand and soften. What you should do is bring your skates to a reputable skate shop and have them take the blades off, sand off the top layer of enamel, re-plug the holes, and re-coat the soles before putting the blades back on. They will put screws in new holes wherever possible. If the soles are really rotted out, then your only option other than replacement is to send them back to the manufacturer to get new soles or buy new boots.
Repeated removal of the screws is undesirable. The threads in the holes will strip after a few remove/mount cycles. Then you will have to use different holes, and if they are all stripped, you need to repair the holes. Although it is best to leave this kind of maintenance to the sharpener, you can plug the hole yourself in an emergency: Take a piece of leather lace and cram it into the hole together with lots of leather or hide glue. If you do not have any leather laces, slice off a little piece of a wooden matchstick, put the matchstick into the hole, and replace the screw.
If the the screw is really rusted or seems rounded off, get a new one. You might have to drill or poke a starter hole for the new screw. In this case it is better to let your skate shop can do the dirty job for you.
Selecting used boots
- The boot must support you, otherwise you will be expending most of your energy just holding your ankles straight. Grasp the boot by the top of the ankle and hold it sideways (parallel to the floor). If it droops, it will not provide you the ankle support you need, so do not buy it.
- Look at the condition of the boot - it should be leather and not some kind of plastic or pseudo leather with a cloth lining. There should be no cracks or tears in the leather, though some creases are fine.
- Your best bet is to check any rinks in your area; see if the skate shop, rink office or pros/instructors have any used boots for sale. If there is a bulletin board or skate club, check any advertisements or advertise that you are looking for size-N skates.
When to replace your boots
There are some relatively objective signs that a boot has worn out or is being used beyond it's limitations and others that are purely subjective or require reference to a coach. Certainly, a skate is finished if the leather in the boot has started to wear out, if there are fissures in the inner lining, rips or tears in the outer boot or a cracked or crumbling sole that does not hold screws.
Judging when a boot no longer offers adequate support is more difficult. If the top flops over of its own accord, it is obvious, but more subtle signs are when the normal creases which afford forward flexibility begin to look like accordion pleats that go all the way around the skate; this a sign that the boot is free to flex sideways at the ankle.
Some more subjective signs are the feeling that you need to tighten the laces more to make things work, even though they are still tight, or the feeling that your foot is free to slide around in the skate, or your heel lifts even when the laces are tight. You might also feel that you are having trouble keeping your ankles erect or holding clean edges on tight edges, turns, spins or jump landings.
On the final front, your coach/instructor may make observations that your boots are not doing their job or suggest that it is time to upgrade. This may be based on close observation or rule-of-thumb. Asking your instructor is always a good idea, while talking with other skaters can either be helpful or lead to a lot of confusion.
Keep in mind that boot requirements are highly relative. Given the model of boot that you have and the amount of wear you have put on them, they may be entirely adequate for what you are doing, or they may be an obstacle to further progress. A recommendation on buying new skates might differ depending on whether you are skating recreationally and just interested in picking up some jumps, or planning to go to multi-rotational jumps as quickly as possible to get into serious competition. Also, the recommendation for a petite woman would be different from that for or a mid-sized or larger man.
Getting your skates laced properly will enhance your balance and control and make your skates more comfortable.
- First, loosen the laces completely and position your foot when lacing; do not just step in the skate and lace it up, but set your heel firmly in the rear when tightening the eyelet area up.
- Second, you do not have to lace all areas equally tightly. Put in overhand twists (like the first step of tying the bow) at strategic places to keep the laces from "evening out". Remove the slack through the first 3 or 4 holes but do not tighten too much or you will stop blood circulation to your feet.
- Tie a twist (optional), then lace tightly for the rest of the holes to hold your ankle firm. At the top of the holes tie a double twist, and cross-lace the hooks (that is, lace them so they are crossed at the hooks). For the last two hooks, lace fairly loosely so you can bend your ankle.
- When breaking in new skates, you can leave the top hooks unlaced and skip the top hole to make them more comfortable and start a crease in the leather at the ankle.
Preventing lace bite
Lace bite arises from pressure of the laces over the extensor hallucis tendon, which runs from the front of the lower leg to the base of the big toe. Lace bite can result in the appearance of cysts and bumps and, in the long term, the development of tendinitis. Silicon sleeves or pads applied over the tendon are very effective to prevent or alleviate the problem. If you start experiencing this problem as the boots age, you can also get the boot tongue rebuilt by the boot manufacturer.
Skates for children
Every parent has had the experience with buying shoes or other clothing for a growing child and having them no longer fit after only a few weeks due to a growth spurt. Unfortunately, feet grow erratically, and the growth is not always accompanied by an increase in height. You must avoid buying children's skates too loose, they will interfere with the skating and may actually be dangerous because of lack of support. They may also repeatedly raise blisters. On the other hand, if they become too small and have your skater continue to skate in them, either the child will quit, or the skating will suffer, or the feet will suffer, perhaps permanently.
To check the fit of the skates your child has now, ask her or him to put their skates on loose and push their foot right to the front of the boot. If you can put an index finger between his heel and the back of the boot, he has enough room to grow. When he skates, check to see if his skates are perfectly upright.
The only way to lessen the economic impact of keeping children's feet in skates that fit is to buy used skates on consignment, or at skate swaps, and to sell your outgrown skates as well. Used children's skates are very available and usually in far better shape than used adult skates. Get the children's coach to help you select them.
You can buy gender neutral brown boots if you plan to have the skates passed on from girl to boy or vice-versa.
New designs for figure skating boots
Despite a more rigid construction to withstand repeated jumping and a gradual introduction of new materials to make the boot lighter, the figure skating boot design has not changed radically for over a century. Several causes are mentioned:
- Leather gradually molds to the foot and the combination of suppleness and rigidity helps acquire the fine control of the skate required for complex footwork
- Traditional figure skating boots conform to the sport aesthetics. Imagine how a pretty sequined dress with go with metal buckled shiny x-treme plastic boot...
- When asked for advice about equipment, coaches and experienced skaters tend to suggest established "tried and tested". Few are willing to try anything new that does not provide an obvious and immediate advantage.
A recent development that is enjoying certain popularity is a boot with a hinge at the ankle, allowing a larger motion range that the traditional boot. The design allows skaters to point their toes further down during a jump and absorb a greater part of the impact with the toe-pick, decreasing the load by an estimated 20-30% on the knees, hips and lower back.
Although hinged boots have been developed for freestylers, ice dancers mention that they create a more attractive line than the traditional boot when the free foot is pointed; note that because the ankle piece has a rubber edge that has to stretch as the foot is pointed, it requires strong calves to achieve maximum extension.
It has been suggested that the ankle hinge might require a technique readjustment on the part of the skater, because the increased motion range at the angle may affect weight shifting to different parts of the blade during footwork. On the other hand, an adaptation period is usually the norm when changing to new skates.