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The Ice Skating Boot and Blade – Where Do I Start?
It can be difficult for a beginner skater to stay balanced in a skating shoe on a very thin blade. The boot can be more like a type of torture device rather than a sharp 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 as good as your equipment” is very true. It is much better to skate to the capabilities of your equipment than to try to skate your skates!
It will not take you long to understand that it is vital to invest in a good boot and blade. Rental equipment is often not the best to learn, and it really does not support your foot properly. It’s common for beginner skaters to get discouraged just because a pair of rental skating boots don’t fit. Skaters leave the ice thinking they can’t learn this sport, when in reality it may just be faulty equipment.
When I first started skating, I didn’t fully understand this concept. Buying my first pair of boots was a learning experience. After looking at all the options in the skate store and trying many, I decided on a pair of Harlicks used 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 rental skates!
I learned a few other things that day: I had no idea that boots and blades were actually separate pieces of equipment. While a few manufacturers put them together, most do not. Another thing – there are so many options!-While I was a little overwhelmed, the employees at the skate shop were very helpful and knowledgeable. There are maybe 10 boot manufacturers that most skaters tend to use, such as Riedell, Jackson, Risport, GAM, Klingbeil and Edea.
Some resources I recommend that will help you research some of the brands are:
• kinziescloset where they have good information on skating boots
• usfigureskating where they have a comparison chart of skating boots
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 of your toes fit. 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 be snuggly in the back of the boot and should not slip around. And, there is the ankle, which should feel safe, but able to bend in the boot when necessary. In general, the boot should feel comfortable. If you feel pinched in any way, try again.
The two most common brands that beginner skaters start with 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 resembles a microwave. This warms the lining so it can mold to the foot. I always thought this was such a cool concept! Jackson can still do this now, but both are great starting boots. And, both have a series of boots that come with blades.
Once you select a shoe that feels good on your foot, there are four basic things to consider regarding the proper thickness or strength of the boot: 1) your height and weight, 2) the frequency of skating, 3) your skating level and 4) the width of your foot. Your height and weight – as an adult skater, depending on your height and weight, you can put more leverage on a boot and need something a little stronger. Also, since adults don’t outgrow 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 who fits your skates for the appropriate strength based on these factors.
How many times you skate– if, as a beginner, you only skate during your lesson and one more time during the week, then your boots will last longer and you won’t have to consider the strength of the boot. If you skate more frequently, then they wear faster, and you may need a boot with a little more strength. When I first returned to skating as an adult, I skated 3-4 times a week! As you can imagine, this broke my skates quickly, and I needed a new pair of skates within the year. So, moving up a level of strength can help with this.
Your level of skating-if you have just learned, 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 movements, the stronger your boots need to be to support the activity. For example, towards the end of my competitive years, I bought boots with a dual binding, which is double the leather to support my jumps and spins. While I only do double jumps and double combinations, there are skaters who do triple jumps that require an even stronger boot.
The width of the foot – this is a factor like when trying on everyday shoes. Each pair fits your foot differently. For example, I started with a pair of Harlick skates that fit my foot width perfectly. So when I bought my first pair of new skates, I talked myself into buying a pair of SP Terris, which tend to fit wider feet. Those boots almost ruined my feet. SP 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 might want to consider asking about used skates at the skate shop. While they may not present it to you as an option, they all do!)
Once you’ve progressed in your skating, you can (and probably should) move on 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 break-in period and feel amazing! While the cost of a custom boot is more, if you spend many hours in your boots, the cost is worth it!
For all you creative souls out there, another bonus in buying custom boots is that you can order them in all different colors and patterns! I took full advantage of this option. In the course of my skating career, I have had boots tan, aqua blue, purple and blue marbled, gold, silver and now I have a beautiful pair of bronze with a rose pattern impressed in the leather. I had so much fun selecting the colors!
Now let’s talk about the other important piece of skating equipment – the blades. There are fewer blade manufacturers than boots. A few of the leading 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 also becoming more common. The blades are about 3/16 inch thick and may have some variation depending on how they are sharpened. They come in a 7 or 8 foot radius. Radius refers to the curvature of the blade. An 8 foot blade radius 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 faster response and turns. A beginner skater often starts with a 7-foot radius and then moves up to an 8-foot radius. Although, personally, I always preferred the 7 foot radius and never made the change. Every skater has his preference.
The radius also plays in the rocker. The rocker is the part of the blade just behind the toe pick. It is where the spins are performed on the blade and it also helps with the cuts on the jumps. I liked a more prominent rocker, so that was another reason I preferred the 7-foot radius blade.
Last but not least, there is the dreaded toe pick. These are the teeth of the blade. Anyone who has seen the movie, “The Cutting Edge” remembers that toe picks can cause some terrible falls! As a beginner skater, you may be a little more hesitant to have a strong toe pick at the beginning, but whatever the size of the toe pick, you just have to use it. The purpose of the toe picks are for takeoffs and landings of jumps and are used in a variety of ways in spins and flying spins as well. I skated the first 20 years of my career on small skates, but then I discovered MK’s “Phantom” blade. If you’ve ever seen the tip on that blade, it’s scary before. However, after getting used to it, I must say that the blade made a big difference in my skating career. My jumps have really started to fly and the rocker is amazing on these blades too, so my spins have improved as well. It’s a great blade!
For beginners, MK blade called Cornation Ace blade is good. It can be taken through the intermediate level. There are non-MK equivalents, less expensive blades that are also good. But once you can afford it, take a look at some of the best blades – you’ll be glad you did! The Pattern 99’s are a favorite of older skaters that have been around for a while and there are also some newer blades that are just amazing! And, don’t overlook Phantom blades as an intermediate to advanced blade.
There’s gobs more I could tell you about boots and blades, but I’ve intentionally kept it simple. What is basically based is to select a shoe that is comfortable on your foot, a quality blade that is above your current level to skate and all in a price range that you can afford.
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