Learn the Lingo: The Skate Edition
Updated: Dec 30, 2019
The actual skate is the most important part of skating. I mean, duh. Without the skates, nothing else would matter. So let's take a minute to get to know the most important sport equipment a skater has. We will talk about identifying them and the upkeep of skates that nobody tells you about (welcome to the insider's circle!).
First, check out this amazing graphic that helps explain, and then we'll talk more about each term below.
You know what your left and your right are. So left skate, right skate shouldn't be too hard. The skate itself is what we call the whole unit: blades, boot, laces, hooks, whatever else you want to list. That's the skate. The main parts of the skate are (1) the boot and (2) the blade.
1. The Boot
The boot of a figure skate is actually a boot (imagine that). Much like the ones Victorian women used to wear. The mother of the white skate was Sonja Henie, who (fun fact) is also responsible for bringing short skirts into the sport. This is still why traditionally, men wear black skates, while women wear white ones.
How to Care for the Boot: most boots are made of leather. Water on a rag can help with some minor things, for others, you might want to bring in a magic eraser. This blog has some great tips for removing those nasty little scuff marks and making your skates look new. Make sure they remain polished and protected too- untreated leather or leather that has a protective surface that has worn down is susceptible to damage.
2. The Blade
The blades of the skate are arguably the most important part. Before ice skates were a thing (which is still pretty recent), people would attach the blades themselves to their normal street shoes, no matter what kind of shoes they were. I can't imagine that the ankle support would've been great, but hey. It worked. Blades are so tricky because there are so many little things going on with them that can make or break a skater. For example: edges.
Edges are a necessary part of everything in skating- every jump, every spin, all footwork, even just push-and-glide stroking. It all involves our edges. It becomes so instinctual that it goes right along with the "left and right" directional indications to those who have been skating a while. I teach my students about edges in a way that I've never seen it taught before. To demonstrate edges with my students, I tell them to put their feet apart, and knees together. That little knock-knee position is a good way for them to feel the inside edges. Then with feet together, knees apart, we can feel the outside edges.
This especially comes in handy when I'm teaching T-stops, and tell my students to remember when we first talked about edges, and how, in order to get on their outside edge, they need their knees to be farther apart than their feet are. Of course this isn't always the case- there are exceptions to every rule- but this one does the job when theyre first learning about the "left and right of figure skating". The inside edge is on the inside of your foot, or inside of your leg. The outside edge is, you guessed it, on the outside of the foot or outside of the leg.
Another part of the blade is the rocker. Just as the name implies, the rocker gives skaters the capability to rock back and forth on their blade. Rather than being completely flat, the rocker is what allows skaters to shift their weight from their toe to the heel or vice-versa. Part of the rocker, right under the ball of the foot, is what some will refer to as the "sweet spot", as the diagram at the top of this article does. It's the perfect place for a skater's weight to be located while theyre spinning.
Toe picks also vary with skating levels. Younger skaters or lower-level skaters will usually be working with more rounded, less aggressive toe picks, whereas the higher level the skates get, the more squared and jagged the toe picks will be. This is why putting a beginner in a pair of legitimate skates often results in a "toe-pick" moment. If you haven't seen The Cutting Edge, check out the video to see what I'm referring to.
On lower level skates, the blades will often come with the boot, only requiring to be screwed in properly (if at all). Once you get past the axel level of skates (check out some of my other posts to get familiar with that term- hint: it's a jump), the blades and boots start to come separately. This could possibly be so that the skate companies are about to make more money, but more than likely, it's because skaters determine their own strengths and style by the time they've mastered the axel for the most part. The blade makes the skate- so it only makes sense that it would be customized to the skaters. These days, blades come not only in different formats, but in different colors, too. It's a pretty fun recent development.
How to Care for the Blades
You need a few things to keep your blades up to standard.
The first one, which you'll need every day, is a cotton skate towel. This should be used after every single session to wipe water off of the blade in an attempt to minimize rust. Needless to say we don't want rust.
You'll also want a pair of soakers. That's the name given to soft fabric guards that you leave on your blades any time you won't be walking on them. For example, when your skates are sitting in your skate bag or a locker or something.
You'll also be needing some blade guards. These are the blade-shaped hard plastic covers that protect the blades when you've got stuff to do with the skates still on. Pro tip: write your name on both of them in Sharpie so you don't lose them. It's easy to do, but without blade guards you can't walk anywhere except for the ice or proper rubber flooring.
Have a professional sharpen your blades every 1-3 months (depending on use).
Sharpen your skates (blades) depending on how often and how many hours you put in on a sharpening. When it comes to sharpening the blades, our edges are the main concern: how dramatic do we want the edges to be? Do we want them digging into the ice? Or do we want them to be subtle? The chart to the right explains what the increments look like (ignore the fact that it's a hockey skate- they sharpen with the same increments). Those are the most common options, and which one you go with is completely personal preference. Most beginning skaters will not want something crazy sharp, as it will be easier to catch.
It's a fairly simple piece of sporting equipment- unlike soccer or football there aren't a ton of things we need to be able to practice. But what skating lacks in equipment, it makes up for in complicated technicalities of the sport. The skate is the perfect example: something so simple yet so complex.