School of Skate
Every skate company does things a little differently and it can be quite a challenge to sort through all the specifics. How do you know what’s right for you? Trial-and-error is far too time-consuming and expensive, so let’s try to get this right from the beginning!
What boot is best?
The best boot is the one that fits your particular foot shape correctly. Proper fit means your toes are touching the front of the boot when you’re standing straight up, and when you bend your knees into skater stance, your foot shifts back ever so slightly to fill the heel cup. Your toes shouldn’t be scrunched or pinched, and your heel shouldn’t lift when you step. You don’t want too much extra space in the toe box, but you don’t want pressure either. The width should be comfortable but supported. A properly fitted boot should fit more like a sock than a shoe – it’s an extension of your leg, not a platform you’re slapping under yourself. There are plenty of safe options at every price point.
Materials: Just about all of the high-end stuff is going to be good quality leather. If you can’t do leather, there are also options made with microfiber, proprietary leather substitutions, vinyl, and PVC. Every brand offers package skates meant to be purchased without any bells and whistles. These are perfectly acceptable to start with. The reason I usually recommend the more affordable synthetics to begin with is that you don’t know what you like yet. You’ll quickly figure out what you like/hate about your first skates which will help inform your decision when we tailor the proper boot if and when you choose the upgrade. So consider the boots you’re currently in and think about things like: Are you getting any pains in your shin or the arches of your feet? You’re gripping your toes to hang on around the corners. Catching your ankles rolling on a sticky floor? Unresponsive plates. We wanna make sure we’re getting the boot that fits your foot perfectly.
I do *not* recommend choosing a boot based ONLY on price. You need to choose what fits your specific foot shape best – within your comfortable budget. Different brands build boots on their own proprietary shapes. Just because one person swears by something doesn’t mean it’ll fit you!
On to proper fit:
How would you describe the shape of your foot? Square toes? Tall toes? Wide feet (shaped like a rectangle)? Narrow toes (feet shaped like an A)? Once we know the shape of your foot, we can narrow down the “last” that will best fit your foot. The “last” is the specific foot shape they use (that cobbler’s upside-down wooden foot thingy?) to build boots.
For instance, if your feet are flat and wide, my suggestion would be that we start with the Riedell 595 or Sure Grip Boardwalk. These are boot lasts designed for a foot that’s wider at the ball of your foot. If you have a narrower foot, the Riedell 495 or Moxi Lolly will fit you better. If you have “taller” toes, something with a bigger toe box like the Riedell 265, the Blue Streak, a Luigino boot, or a Jackson Vista will be best. We should also measure the ball of your foot to get a specific measurement there as well. So we need to take into account: your toe box shape, the ball of your foot, the overall slope of your foot, your heel cup, and ankle rise.
The best thing you can do for yourself is have a boot that fits your foot perfectly and the best way to figure that out is to try them all on! I usually say that people will Cinderella their way into the right boot. I can’t stress enough that the best thing you can do for your feet and for your skating is to have a boot that fits you perfectly. Some things to think about:
– Is your foot wider around your toes or narrower?
– Do you prefer more ankle support?
– Do you need additional arch support?
– Do you want to be able to pick a million different colors?
– Do you want to heat-mold the whole boot?
What about plates?
For plates, it’s a little easier to sort through all the possibilities because you can first determine what you’re comfortable spending. You can spend $100 on a plate, or you can drop $1000.
Factors to consider in a plate: weight, durability, price, manufacturing process, components, user-friendliness (probably more).
There are pluses and minuses to every component from price to quality to strength – you get to pick a maximum of two of those. If you want cheap and decent quality, it won’t last. If you want quality and strong, it’ll be expensive. And so on. Any plate can break, including the strong stuff. Every item has weak stress points in it as a manufacturing artifact. I can tell you with a pretty high degree of certainty where your particular plate will break, if and when that day comes.
Let’s talk materials!
Upsides: lighter, low-maintenance, cheap. Good is relative and there is NOTHING wrong with starting with something affordable and reasonable until you know what you like. Then you’ll have more experience to inform your future choices.
Downsides: nylon flexes (even if you can’t see it with the naked eye) and that means that eventually, the plate will crack. The molded aluminum trucks they use actually make it heavier than some metal plates. Really. It also means that the material of the plate itself is absorbing some of the forces of your movements, which means the full power of your stride isn’t transferring all the way down to the floor. They use cheaper components like the washer/nut instead of the more secure toe stop screw.
Fiberglass-reinforced nylon: now we’re getting somewhere with affordable meeting durable, which is why I like the Reactor Fuse and Bont Prodigy (and bonus, both of those also use toe stop screws!).
Recommended: beginner skates, smaller people, and with a few rare exceptions, parks/etc. Nylon plates I recommend: Sunlites, Lasers, Reactor Fuse, Bont Prodigy, Bont Ignite.
Upsides: Stronger than nylon, inexpensive.
Downsides: these things are tanks. They can be quite heavy.
Recommended: when someone doesn’t want nylon but doesn’t wanna drop serious cash.
Upsides: ranges from light to lightest plate ever created. Strong and durable.
Downsides: pricey. Every plate has stress points on it and can break which is that much more disappointing when you threw serious money at it.
Recommended: pick a budget you’re comfortable with and find a good plate that can last you decades with care.
Upsides: incredibly strong.
Downsides: lighter than molded aluminum but heavier than extruded.
Recommended: same as extruded aluminum.
Skaters who have a history of breaking all their plates frequently ask me why I can’t beg the plate manufacturers to make titanium plates. Great thought, because titanium is super strong, right? Yes. But it’s also incredibly flexible. So if you had a skate plate made of it, you’d get the tensile strength of aircraft aluminum but just about the flex of nylon which completely defeats the purpose and price point. Steel is another old school material. Super strong, but super heavy.
Truck Agility and Kingpin Angles
Not sure if we’re talking about vehicles, cartels, or roller skates anymore? Head on over to Anatomy 101 to study up on parts and pieces.
Truck agility refers to the angle of the kingpin. You can find kingpins at 5-, 10-, 12-, 16-, 20-, 33-degree angles (and more!) – these angles are measured from the vertical. The different angles have distinct feels and lend themselves to a wide variety of skating styles.
As the kingpin angle gets steeper (lower degrees), it takes a stronger force to tilt it and turn the wheels. Lower degree plates feel more stable, less responsive, better for speed where you’re just blasting straight forward. If that’s your goal, you don’t want subtle movements to drastically shift your weight and balance.
Higher degree plates (technically 33-degrees but referred to as 45’s) take less force to tilt. The plate has more leverage for agile, lateral movements. These feel more responsive, more squirrelly, more “turn-y.”
Which is “better” is purely skater preference and there are plenty of incredible skaters who do all things on all plates. Of course, there are million more variables to add into all this, from plate length, to the mount position, the wheelbase, and more. But that’s a lesson for another day.