19 May 2005 04:12:41
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Recreational Figure Skating FAQ - Boots

Archive-name: sports/skating/ice/rec-skate/boots
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Last-modified: Sep 4 2004
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4. Boots

Within broad limits, as a beginner it doesn't matter what boots you have
provided that they are comfortable and fit well. They should be snug in the
heels and support the ankles firmly because the commonest type of injury in
the early stages of skating (apart from bruised knees) comes from ankles
caving in. Most important of all though, is that they help you to feel
*confident*. That will help you more than anything else, and I often worry
that many beginners end up with so much advice about boots that they feel it
is a life-and-death decision. Good boots will help your skating, bad boots
may hinder it - but only by a very small amount. Provided you aren't in pain
and are well supported and comfortable, practice and effort will make a far
bigger difference

4.1 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 *too much*
skate, 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:
1. 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?
2. 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?
3. What are your future expectations. Many skaters who initially can't
imagine ever doing a three-turn progress farther than they ever
imagined! What you need to ask is "What are my FANTASIES!" Also, what
about ice dance and synchronized skating? Do you have any dreams in
those areas?

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 deepest darkest
heart of hearts you'd love to skate like Torvill and Dean and maybe land a
double Salchow, 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 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'' 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 don't hesitate
to try others if you're not satisfied with the fit.

Custom fitted boots are usually not necessary unless your foot/ankle is
shaped unusually or has been injured, you require extra support for your
weight or are doing advanced jumps.

4.2 Breaking in your boots:

Wear thin socks. Basically, you want the socks to slide against the leather.
Thin polyester socks are good in this respect. Lace and unlace your new
boots three or four times before skating. 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. Bandages or round foam makeup pads
can be made into pads to fit over your ankles.

It has been suggested that if there is excess glue at the top rim of the
skate, this can be carefully sanded to smooth it out. It has also been
suggested that before putting on socks, covering the areas of the foot at
pressure points with Vaseline or the equivalent prevents blisters and
general soreness until the boot is broken in.

You can get boots "punched out" (stretched) where they're 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 or look for a store
specializing in orthopedic shoes.

Don't lace them right to the top at first. See about lacing.

To make the boots fit the contours of your ankle bones, find a wooden dowel
(eg. 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) -- it turns out that the inner and outer ankle bones are not
directly across from each other. 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.

*Warning: The following recommendations for breaking in your boots are not
accepted by all - some say that they may shorten lifespan of your boots or
result in an inappropriate break-in pattern.* Put on skating tights or socks
after putting them in water as hot as you can stand and then put on your
skates and just sit, no walking, until the tights dry. Or, take a couple of
damp hand towels (not dripping wet), put them in a microwave and get them
hot, put them in the boots for a few minutes, then remove the towels and
wear the boots for a while.

4.3 Maintenance

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 don't
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.

4.3.1 Waterproofing

Waterproofing should be applied to the entire sole before the blades are
mounted, and reapplied periodically. If leather gets wet and can't dry out,
it starts to rot and then will not hold the blade's 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 bees wax or similar wax-like products such as SnowSeal 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.
* It has been mentioned that Harlick and Risport apply a waterproofing to
new skates at the factory which is very durable.
* 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.

4.3.2. 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 won't stay tight, water is probably getting inside the screw
hole and the leather of the sole itself causing the hole(s) 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.

Repeated removal of the screws is undesirable. The threads in the holes will
strip after a few remove/mount cycles. Then you'll have to use different
holes, and if they're all stripped, you'll 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
don't 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.

4.4 Selecting used boots

The boot must support you, otherwise you will be expending most of your
energy just holding your ankles straight. See about worn out skates. 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.
Don't 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.

4.5 Lacing

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 - don't 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 don't 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 don't tighten too much or you'll stop your circulation. 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.

4.6 Children's skates

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 -- and
not due to shrinkage, but due to a growth spurt. Unfortunately, feet grow
erratically, and the growth is not always accompanied by an increase in
height.

If you buy 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. If you buy them too small, or have your skater
continue to skate in them for some time after they have become too small,
either the skater will quit (because it hurts so much), or the skating will
suffer, OR the feet will suffer - perhaps permanently.

To check the fit of the skates your child has now, ask him to put his skates
on loose and put his 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 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, (and yours, too, if you go that route) so that you
don't get stung.

You can buy gender neutral brown boots if you plan to have the skates passed
on from girl to boy etc.

4.7 New technology for figure skating boots?

Despite a more rigid construction to withstand repeated jumping and there is
a gradual introduction of new materials to make the boot lighter (for
example, heel plastic inserts available in some models), the figure skating
boot design has not changed radically for over a century. Several causes
have been 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...Nope!
* 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.

Recently, a hinged boot has become commercially available. As the name
implies, this boot is hinged 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. 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.
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