How To Start Roller Skating Without Breaking Anything

At first, I was surprised to find I’m not the only person who has been roller skating in quarantine. My daughter found an old pair of toy plastic skates that still fit her (just barely) and dug out the skates I used to play derby in, years ago. We put on some Disney tunes and skated around the garage.

Then I realised other people were doing the same thing: Taylor Lorenz, who tracks young people’s social media trends, noted that roller skates are now a hot trend on TikTok:

Skating is actually a pretty great activity these days. There are a lot of fun dance moves you can do in a small space, and even if you dream of cruising around a rink or skate park, the first step is getting comfortable on wheels at home.

So if you want to dig out your old roller skates, or get into skating for the first time, here’s what you’ll need to know.

Get some skates

There are two types of quad roller skates you’ll see around. The ones with heeled boots that lace up the ankles are made for doing figure skating moves like jumps and spins, and they work well for casual skating as well. These are your classic retro-style roller skates.

The other type is a low-cut skate that looks more like a sneaker. These give you zero ankle support, but more flexibility. They’re great for the fancy footwork of jam skating, and this is also the style preferred among roller derby players.

(I also hear there is something out there called a “roller” “blade”? No idea about those.)

Either type is fine to start with, and I’m not gonna judge you if you pick your skates based on what looks the cutest. Just a word of warning: While it’s often a good idea to buy the cheapest option first and upgrade when you wear it out or surpass its abilities, with skates you want to make sure you don’t go too cheap. Anything below $120 or so is suspect. Some skates are too flimsy or don’t have proper equipment. For example, if the area connecting the wheels is just a smooth piece of plastic, like on these kids’ skates, those aren’t “real” roller skates. Look for something with a stack of metal and rubber between each pair of wheels, like so; these are the trucks, and they’re what let you steer. You want to be able to adjust those.

Another thing to watch out for: nylon (soft plastic) plates tend to flex too much for people who weigh over 200 pounds or so. Kids and lightweight folks will find these work just fine, but everyone else should look for aluminium or fibreglass plates instead.

Some budget friendly beginner brands:

Don’t get hurt

Until you fully develop your instincts for falling safely, it’s smart to wear safety gear while you practice. You will fall on your knees, so get kneepads. The skater kind with hard caps are best, but if you want to live a little dangerously, I like thin dancers’ kneepads like these. If you fall with these on, it will still hurt, but the pad kinda takes the edge off.

Get a helmet to protect your head, and consider elbow pads and wrist guards. Clear a safe area whenever you practice: sharp and delicate things should be out of reach, and never try to go down stairs or navigate tricky terrain unless you’re very sure of your skills.

Know some basic skate maintenance

There’s a couple things you’ll need to do with your skates to keep them rolling smoothly. First, be able to tighten or loosen the nuts on your wheels. Often, skates will come with the nuts too tight. Make sure they’re loose enough that when you hold the skate up and flick the wheel, it spins freely.

A basic skate tool (like this one) will include a socket for the wheel nuts and a socket for the nuts on your trucks. Looser trucks will steer more sharply, but they’ll feel more wobbly. You’ll need to adjust your trucks to match your skill level and suit the type of skating you want to do.

If you mainly skate on hard indoor floors, you’ll want hard wheels (with a durometer rating in the 90s, such as 90A). If you skate outdoors, softer wheels will give you a smoother roll over rough pavement; the durometer rating for those will usually be in the 80’s. Many skaters have a set of outdoor wheels and a set of indoor wheels, and swap them out accordingly.

Your toe stops are another thing to check. Some dance moves work best with no toe stops, so you might want to take yours out and replace them with little nubs called jam plugs. On the flip side, if you skate outside a lot, you may find yourself using your toe stops so much you wear them down. Toe stops can be replaced, and some types allow you to adjust the height, which usually requires an allen wrench.

Get comfortable on your skates

The first step in learning (or relearning) to skate is simply training your body in how to move when you have wheels under you. The fastest way to accomplish this is to just wear your skates at home, whether your house contains good places to skate or not.

Even if all your floors are carpeted, you’ll get the sense of where to place your weight on your foot as you walk around. Perhaps you’ll find yourself popping up onto your toe stops to get up from a chair. And when you wear your skates in a small space, like in your kitchen while you’re washing dishes, you’ll discover all kinds of ways to pivot and manoeuvre on your wheels while you’re standing still. All these skills will serve you well when you move out to the rink or the dance floor or the street.

Learn some moves

Now we get to the fun part! What are you going to do on your skates? If you plan to head outdoors, remember your helmet and kneepads and start with smooth, flat areas.

If you want to learn dance moves indoors, you can just put on some music and start moving around, or pick a TikTok dance to copy. For a more structured approach, I like the lessons that have been popping up on Instagram live. The LA Roller Girls have an online lesson almost every day; they’re free, but if you appreciate them, you can support the effort by sending the instructor a Venmo or Paypal donation. Miss’ile, another rollerdance team, does lessons mainly on Zoom (pay what you can, and they’ll send you a link to join). Dance Skate also offers classes, and their feed is a collection of flashy roller skate moves of all styles, so it’s great for inspiration as well as instruction. Rollerfit, out of Australia, has a bunch of beginner lessons in their IGTV, and the account @rollerskate.together keeps track of everything and posts daily schedules in their Stories with all the online classes and events from other roller skating accounts.

Whatever you choose, stay safe, know your skates and don’t be afraid to get creative. Support your instructors with a donation anytime you can, and post your moves to social media to encourage others. Happy skating!


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