I still believe that rentals are the best bet for beginners, due to the cost of skates, but she makes a good point. Especially in this era of budget cuts, for good and bad reasons rental skates can be terrible. The good reason is that we're getting a lot more people coming to public skating, because it's a cheap thing to do. The bad reason is that rinks are trying to cut expenses and reducing skate maintenance and replacement is one of the places this is happening. It's short-sighted of course-- if people can't skate because your inventory is so bad, they won't be back to spend more money-- but one can understand why it's happening.
But you can have a good experience, and learn to skate, in rentals. Here's what you need to know:
- Don't wear extra socks. Thick socks do not make skates that are too big fit you, and you don't need them to keep your feet warm in an indoor rink. An indoor rink just isn't that cold. This impulse is cultural memory left over from frozen ponds two centuries back. And you have to remember that with skates, it's not just the boot that has to be the correct size. The blade does too. A blade that is too long (because it's on a too-big boot) will have an incorrectly balanced rocker for your foot length and will be very hard to control.
- Rental skates are like restaurant wine-- you can send them back if they aren't any good. Look for a straight shaft-- look down into the boot through the ankle shaft from above. If it's bent over or twisted (a consequence of idiots, um, neophytes not tying the laces tight enough) don't wear it. Get a boot that's straight. Doesn't have to be new, or stiff, but it should be straight.
- Blades are called that for a reason. They should be sharp. Run your finger over the bottom of the blade. You should feel two distinct edges and no nicks. Look at the blade. You should be able to see shiny metal on the sides, and then a duller, matte edge near the bottom. This is the "grinding edge" and if it's gone, you can't sharpen them properly. The back of the blade should not come to a point, but should have a boxy appearance. If it comes to a point it's probably been sharpened by someone used to sharpening hockey blades, or just by someone ignorant.
- There should be no rust or discoloration.
- If your child complains they are uncomfortable, find out what that means. First check that you've put them on properly (including on the correct feet-- you'd be amazed at how many people mix up right and left skates). When putting on a skate loosen the laces ALL THE WAY (yes, that is me shouting). A skate that fits will slide right onto your foot-- you don't need to force it. If you've got a skate that's the same size as the street shoe and you have to force it on, it's not the wrong size; you probably haven't loosened it enough (look at the picture of my skates in the sidebar. That's how loose the laces should be). Ask the child if her/his toes are curled or flat when standing in the skates. If they are curled, skate might be to small. Ask the child if it hurts like an owie like it needs a bandaid, or if it's just tight. A child will be honest. Explain that a skate needs to hug your foot and won't feel soft like shoes. Kids totally get this.
- Lace them properly-- tight through the foot, comfortably tight in the shaft. You should not be able to get more, or less, than two finger joints to slip in between your ankle and the shaft when the skates are tied. If you can't get your finger in at all they're too tight. If you can slip your whole finger, or more than one finger in, they're too loose.
- Trust the pro. Especially a pro rated through the Professional Skaters Association has been required to learn about skates and blades; it's part of the rating exam. If the pro thinks the skates are all right, give them a try. One of the tricky things about bad rental skates is that rink staff are not technically allowed to complain public about the skates, or to say that they are bad. This is for both public relations and liability reasons. If the pro thinks the skates are no good they will probably dance around the issue a little bit, rather than coming out and saying "oh rental skates are crap" (at least they shouldn't). So you may need to read between the lines a little.
Next post-- when to buy skates.