October 08, 2014

Skate Boot Fitting

Once upon a time, I went on a bus adventure in West Australia with a friend. I learned many things on that trip; re-apply sunscreen, wallabies kick American Frat boys pretty hard in self defence, and while flip flops are great for the beach, they are probably the worst choice of shoe for climbing boulders and hiking up treacherous sandy cliffs. (Note: when Australians say "go for a walk" they mean scrambling up treacherous cliffs in 38 degree heat). The moral of this totally random story is, PICK THE RIGHT SHOES.

Skate Boots are NOT Everyday Shoes
Wear whatever you want while walking down the street (Except Crocs. I mean it.) You need your skate boots to support your feet and translate every push, movement and shift in balance to your plates so that you are in control.

When you skate, there is constant communication between your body and your brain. If you have badly fitting boots, the conversation might look like this:

Brain: Let's get in derby stance
Feet: ow ow ow ow
Brain: Let's transition to backwards
Feet: I am not on solid ground! We are going to fall!
Brain: Here comes a Jammer, let's get in position
Feet: I'm falling asleep here. Who cares about a Jammer?

Trying On Boots
Your shoe size is not your skate size. And just like everything else that is made by a factory, sizing is arbitrary. Ask anyone who has ever shopped for pants.
Also, how warm is it? If you've been walking around for hours on a summer day your foot will be swollen, while if you just woke up and went out the door in the dead of winter, your foot will be smaller. The difference is tiny, but it is a difference.
When you try on a pair of boots, first push your foot as far forward into the boot as you can while it is unlaced. If there is mass amount of space at the heel, drop a size. Then, push your heel right back in to the boot and lace up. Look at the lacing pattern. If the laces seem to be bulging, you may need a wider boot. If the laces are nearly pulling right together, you may need a narrower boot. Stand and check for any pressure points or movement inside the boot. Remember, you're not going for a walk, you're going to be squatting, lunging, leaning, pushing. Let the boots warm up to the temperature of your feet, as that will soften the leather and give a more accurate feeling of how they will fit.

Boots Too Big

This is the most common of fit problems for two reasons; buying skates in your shoe size without trying them on, or trying them on and buying them because they are nice and comfy. Your skates should not feel like your bunny slippers.
High performance footwear needs to be snug so that it can both respond to and stand up to what you going to do. Ask any skier, snowboarder or rock climber.
Here's how to tell if your boots are too big:

  1. Heel slipping inside your boots
  2. Lurching forward when using toe stops
  3. Feet falling asleep half way through practice. Usually this means you are lacing them too tight because your brain is trying to solve the problem of instability inside your boots
  4. Monkey Foot: this is another example of your brain trying to solve the problem, in this case by using your toes and all the muscles in your feet to hang on, as if you could grip the plates through your boot by sheer force of will. This results in wicked cramps across the ball or arch of the foot.

Boots Too Small

There is a difference between boots being tight and boots being too small. If you are used to wearing nothing but flip flops and bunny slippers, shoes that securely hold every part of your foot are going to feel restrictive.
Your boots are too small when:

  1. Your toes are curling up inside the boot
  2. You find yourself lifting up your feet or pushing in to your heels when at rest to ease pressure
  3. You have bruised toenails or lose your toenails from regular skating (Note: this is not from superman falls that result in kicking the cement with the top of your big toe. Not that I've ever done that. *cough*)

Boots That Are Just Right

  1. Your longest toe just brushes then end of the boot without pressing it
  2. When the laces are tightened, they seem to follow the natural shape of the boot
  3. Every part of your foot feel supported and held
  4. No uncomfortable points of contact at the ankle or any other bony parts of the foot.

About Breaking In Boots

Almost all leather boots will have a break-in period, unless they have super high tech heat molding capabilities or you are just incredibly lucky to have a perfect fit. Breaking in will soften and wear the boot to your own unique shape and can take anywhere from a week to over a month depending on how often you skate. It will not make the boot a different size if it didn't fit to start with. It is normal to have some discomfort during this process, but you shouldn't be feeling like you're achieving martyrdom.

Remember kids, skating will not give you pretty feet, but you can keep them happy.