23 Jul 2003 06:05:26
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Recreational Figure Skating FAQ - Boots

Archive-name: sports/skating/ice/rec-skate/boots
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Last-modified: 15 July 2003
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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

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

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 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.

1. 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

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Shoe polish is a very effective water proofer but must be used very

5. It has been mentioned that Harlick applies 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.

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

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

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.