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The Ice Skating Boot and Blade – Where Do I Start?
It can be difficult for a beginning skater to stay balanced in a skating boot on a very thin blade. The boot can feel more like some kind of torture device rather than a 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 better to skate to the capacity of your equipment than to try to skate!
It won’t take long to realize that it’s important to invest in a boot with good blades. Rental equipment is often not the best to learn in, and really doesn’t support your feet well. It’s common for beginning skaters to get discouraged simply because a pair of rental skate boots don’t fit well. Skaters leave the ice thinking they can’t learn this sport, when really 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 at the skate shop and trying several, I decided on a pair of used Harlicks with blades. They were in good condition, less expensive than a brand new pair and fit my feet very well. What a difference compared to rental skates!
I learned a few more things that day: I had no idea that boots and blades are actually separate pieces of equipment. While some manufacturers include them, most do not. Another thing – there are 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, including 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 great information on skating boots
• usfigureskating where they have a figure skating boot comparison chart
The important thing to remember when choosing 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 snugly in the back of the boot and should not slide around. And, there is the ankle, which should feel secure but can be folded into the boot when necessary. In general, the boot needs to feel comfortable. If you feel it pinch in any way, try again.
The two most common brands of beginning skaters are Riedell and Jackson boots. The Riedell brand offers a neat feature where once the boots are fitted to a skater, they are actually removed and placed in a microwave-like oven. This heats the lining so that it can mold to the foot. I always thought this was such a cool concept! Jackson can do that too now, but both are great starter boots. And, they both have a set of boots that come with blades.
Once you choose a boot that feels good on your feet, there are four basic things to consider for the proper thickness or strength of the boot: 1) your height and weight, 2) how often you skate, 3) your skating level and 4) the width of your feet. Your height and weight– as an adult skater, depending on your height and weight, you can put more leverage on a boot and you will need something a little stronger. Also, since adults don’t grow out of their skates, you want to choose a strength level that lasts a little longer than the average skate. So make sure you ask your skate fitter for the proper strength based on these factors.
How often do 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 often, then they will wear faster, and you may need a boot that has a little more strength in it. When I first got back into skating as an adult, I skated 3-4 times a week! As you can imagine, this ruined my skates quickly, and I needed a new pair of skates within the year. So moving up a strength level can help with that.
Your skating level-if you’re just learning, it’s unlikely that you already jump and turn, which puts a lot of extra pressure on the boots. As you progress and perform more challenging movements, the stronger your boots will need to support the activity. As an example, at the end of my competition years, I would buy boots with a double bond, which is double the leather to support my jumps and turns. While I only do double jumps and double combinations, there are triple jump skaters who need an even stronger boot.
The width of your feet – this is a factor just like when you try on regular shoes every day. Each pair fits your feet differently. As an example, I started with a pair of used Harlick skates that fit the width of my feet perfectly. Then when I bought my first pair of new skates, I talked into buying a pair of SP Terris, which tends to fit wider feet. These boots just ruined my feet. The SP Terris are not bad boots, they were just bad for my feet. I immediately went back to Harlicks and my feet were 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 characteristics to the boot manufacturer. You can order different types of lining, padding and piping 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 adjustment, but mostly they fit well on the first try. Custom boots shorten the park period and feel amazing! While the price of a custom boot is more, if you spend many hours in your boot the price is well worth it!
For all you creative souls out there, another bonus of buying custom boots is that you can order them in all different colors and patterns! I took full advantage of this option. During my skating career, I have had tan boots, aqua blue, purple and marbled blue, gold, silver and now I have a beautiful bronze pair with a pink pattern printed in the leather. I had so much fun choosing the colors!
Now let’s talk about another important piece of skating equipment – the blades. There are fewer blade manufacturers than boots. Some 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 also becoming more common. The blades are about 3/16 inch thick and may have some variation in how they taper. 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 faster response and turning. A beginning skater often starts with a 7-foot radius and moves up to an 8-foot radius. Although, personally, I still prefer the 7 foot radius and never made the change. Every skater has their own preferences.
The radius also plays in the rocker. The rocker is part of the blade right at the back of the toe pick. It is where the turns are made on the blade and also helps with take off on jumps. I liked a larger rocker myself so that was another reason why I preferred the 7 foot radius blade.
Last but not least, there is the dreaded toe spike. These are the teeth of the blade. Anyone who has seen the movie, “The Cutting Edge” remembers how toe spikes can cause some terrible falls! As a beginner skater, you may be a bit more hesitant about having a heavy toe pick at first but regardless of the size of the toe pick, you simply get used to it. The purpose of the toe spikes is for take off and landing in jumps and they are used in a variety of ways on turns and turns flying as well. I skated the first 20 years of my career on moderate toe peaks but then I discovered the blade “Phantom” by MK. If you have ever seen the toe picked on this blade, it is scary-at first. However, after I got used to it, I have to say that blades made a big difference in my skating career. My jump really started to fly and the rocker is wonderful on these blades as well so my spins have improved as well. It’s big blade!
For starters, the MK blade called the Cornation Ace blade is good. It can take you through intermediate levels. There are non-MK equivalents, less expensive blades that are also good. But once you can afford it, look at some of the most beautiful 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 many newer blades as well that are just awesome! And, don’t overlook the Phantom blade as an intermediate and advanced blade either.
There is more than I could tell you about boots and blades, but I have intentionally kept it simple. What it all basically boils down to is choosing a boot that is comfortable on your feet, a quality blade that is higher than your current level of skating up to and all within a price range you can afford.
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