Jan 2, 2013

Cake or death?

Just said that to get your attention. If you don't know what I'm talking about (caution, language).

The choice today is take a beginning class or buy your own skates?

I think this is pretty much as easy as cake or death, where your own skates=cake and rental skates=death.

Most people who can't skate in beginner class would be just fine if they had skates that hadn't been ruined because budget cuts at public rinks, and profit margins at private ones, means that no one ever replaces their rental skates anymore. They just grind the blades into dust.

You can tell a bad blade-- it will be narrow at the back end, instead of square. The bottom edge, which should have a curved hollow and two clear edges, will be flat. The "profile" (the side view, essentially) will be wavy.

Then there's the "we're out of 9s, here's a 10" problem. Badly fitted skates don't just mean loose, or tight. It means the blade is the wrong length for your foot, making it harder to balance properly.

So where were we? Oh, yes, cake or death.

The problem is that beginning skating class costs about the same as decent recreational skates. So people think "well, we'll see if she likes to skate, then we'll get skates." Problem is, she's not going to like skating if the crap rentals are preventing her from standing up.

I believe it is in the PSA Manual that says that coaches shouldn't tell students that the rental skates are no good, because it reflects badly on the rink, and sets up possible liability. I have also been told by at least one rink that telling people their rental skates are no good is grounds for dismissal. Really. So your coach may or may not tell you if the skates are part of the problem.

I say, spend the money on a pair of skates and go skating together once a week for 6 months. THEN take lessons.


23 comments:

  1. I think that's great advice! And just for the fun, our relatives are wondering why my 8-year old pre-pre DD does not want to go skating on rentals on our christmas holiday abroad... they think, if she can skate then it's on any skates and found it stuck up that she refused to skating and wanted to do something else... I was simply amused!!

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  2. This is what I did: I bought a cheap pair of recreational skates and skated on outdoor rinks for three months. I got my balance and was able to do very basic stroking. Then, tired of crashing into the barriers every time I wanted to stop, I booked some lessons. Best money I ever spent.
    My point is, if you can't even stand up on the ice, then there's no point in spending big bucks on lessons. I was in group lessons at the start of 2012, and the people in level one were just clinging onto the barriers looking terrified. You could see that this was the first time they'd ever stepped onto the ice.

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    1. Plus, you can't imagine the depths of creativity required to teach people who cannot move more than 3 or 4 feet, especially adults, because at least with the kids you can put them in a circle a play hokey-pokey.

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    2. Ha! I was one of those. I'd never stepped on the ice until my first lesson, and of course I was in rentals.

      I did buy my own skates about a month later, though. Buying skates for adult men is a challenge though, as you never get to try them on first.

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  3. For those who hem and haw over this issue, "Cake or Death" says it all. It's not just a question of being able to skate, it's literally a matter of safety. I like to think of the quality of boot and blade on my feet like I think of the quality of tire I put on my car. Safety first. Performance, comfort, and money saved over the long- term are icing on the cake.

    I am lucky to live in Northern CA close to several skating boot companies, so had the opportunity to speak to the person making my boots and to get personally fitted by him. What I got was boots that fit like gloves and that make things easier and safer on the ice. And most importantly, I got the best service from a company that clearly values integrity above all else. I have owned my boots for three years now, and not once have I been charged for minor repairs (punch-outs, new laces, replacement lace hooks). In fact, they were not happy with the original pair that was made for my order, and instead of just re-doing the part of the boot that wasn't up to their snuff, they made me a completely new pair. You can't get that with rentals! The company is SP-Teri, a tiny family business now bringing in the third generation of master boot makers. Whether you are Michelle Kwan (yes, they made her boots) or little old me, you will get the same quality and the same service. Namely, you will get Cake.

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    1. I could tell before I got there that you were talking about SP-Teri. GREAT boot and great company (those crazy pink skates up there in the side bar are SP-Teri's!)

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    2. Glad to hear you think so, too! The clincher for me was this-- the first time I was there I overheard Mr. Spiteri telling a parent that no, she did not have to get new boots for her daughter just yet, because he had myriad ways to stretch her current pair without sacrificing their structural integrity, and that he understood the consideration of cost and didn't want the parent to plunk down big money until it was absolutely necessary. He could've easily made a sale but chose to put the needs of the customer over the desire to make a profit!

      This is the kind of company that will have my business forever, or at least until aging body parts finally give out.

      Lest I forget, thank you for taking the time to reply! I follow your blog regularly and enjoy it immensely, and am glad somebody out there loves the Ice Halo as much as I do. Just yesterday I saw a man fall backwards on the ice. He missed hitting the back of his head by millimeters and he was clearly shaken. He was skating for no more than five minutes when he went down. He did not return to the ice after that. All I could think of was how glad I was to have head protection just in case.

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  4. I disagree.

    Perhaps it is just cultural. The place where I grew up (and did 1 level of LTS as a kid) no one owned skates. Not until freestyle. On public ice you wouldn't see a single person with their own skates. Since most people who skated would go twice a year, if feet were growing it made no sense. The bulk of LTS were kids who went through maybe Basic 4, so they could safely skate publics.

    Now at my Iowa rink it is more common to see rec skaters have their own skates, but not very many still. However, to say "skate once a week for 6 months in your own skates, than take lessons" seems ridiculous to me. First- it is so much easier to teach the kids who don't skate yet. The ones who have skated quite a bit have taught themselves terrible habits, but ones that get them to 'move' so they think they are right, and the instructor is wrong.

    The second reason I think it is crazy is even the dedicated LTSers (the ones who have come back for three or four years, but are not freestyle) don't even skate once a week for 6 months! They come to LTS for 8 or 16 weeks a year and we see them again the next year. In the meantime, I bet they skate fewer than 10 times in the year.

    It makes no sense to buy skates for growing feet. Maybe my experience with rentals isn't as bad as at your rink. I always used them as a kid. I was obsessed with ice skating so my parents bought me a pair when I was 12, but well after I did my only skating class: Basic 1 (at age 7, I think). I skated in them approximately 6 times before I was 18. They were the skates I dug out of my closet when I was 23 though, and they took me through Basic 7.

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    1. This would be great if rental skates were properly maintained, and maybe where you are the rinks put safety and enjoyment ahead of the bottom line. But around here, the understanding of the importance of decent skates is completely absent-- not just that they don't do it, or can't afford it, but the don't see the need.

      As far as bad habits, you're simply not going to teach yourself habits so bad in 6 months of beginning skating that they can never be over come; further the idea that classes prevent bad habits from forming is ludicrous.

      As far as the economics, in Chicago it costs at least $8 and as much as $14 to skate on public with rental skates. Classes are $90 to $145 for ten weeks, plus $20 for skate rental. Buying a pair of skates for $75 to $120 thus comes down as a savings, or dead even, if you skate on public ice at least 10 times a year. Buying a pair of skates, which will probably last at least 18 months (even with growth), is therefore just as cost effective as taking a class, hating it and never stepping into a rink again.

      The "growing feet" myth is one of my top ten eye rollers. Pre-growth spurt, say up to the age of 11, kids don't grow so fast that they're buying skates more than once every 18 months. I've seen kids spend 2 comfortable years in the same pair of skates.

      I learning to skate in rentals. At the time, rinks were maintaining their equipment. This is not the case anymore. Skip the beginner class and buy skates.

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  5. I was lucky enough that the first time I skated I was with a friend who brought his own skates (Jackson Premieres with parabolic blades) and he browbeat the rental skate guy to get me the best boots in my size. He sent 3 pair back before he found a pair that he was satisfied with. After skating once, I bought my own skates and skated a few times before LTS started up.

    PS I'm more of a Cake or Lobster girl myself.

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  6. My little brother just started going to skate with me. Our second time out he said, "These skates are broken. I think if I were to skate more then I would want my own pair so I could get used to them instead of having a different feeling skate each time."

    Guess what I got him for Christmas? (I also made him a pair of soakers for his skates with a matching skate towel.)

    I pretty much did exactly what you suggested, Xan. I was using rentals when I took my first class but quickly realized that I was spending more time fighting the skates than learning. It also didn't do anything for my confidence because I couldn't trust my equipment and constantly felt like I was going to fall over. So I bought a pair of beginner skates and have been sliding around on those just getting comfortable with the ice. I'll probably start taking classes again in a few months when I have the time.

    Also, where I am, skate rental is about four dollars. My own pair paid for itself pretty quickly at that rate.

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  7. I thought rental skates are fine until my kid moves up to Free Style. The group lesson fees covers rental skates, and I didn't want to spend extra. Wrong.

    My kid awfully complained about ill-fitting rental skates. Finally, she refused to wear them and I gave in. I went to the pro shop and bought her a first pair of figure skates (Riedell 21RS). It worked like a miracle!

    This was a good lesson for me, and I already put aside money for next purchase. With or without growing feet, I assume figure skates won't last long more than a year. No?

    In any case, I do recommend parents like me to buy a new pair of figure skates for their kids once they decided to continue skating. It's a good investment after all.

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    1. If you take good care of them, skates can last longer than a year. My daughter has been skating in her current pair for a year and a half already. She is skating an average of 10 hours a week, doing lots of single jumps.

      Maria, mom of 2 skaters: pre-pre and Basic 7

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    2. Thank you, Maria, for your kind advice.
      I will ensure optimum freshness of my kid's figure skates :)

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    3. Do NOT try to learn jumps or spins in rental skates. This is bad for so many reasons-- you'll have a different pair every time, with a different feel. They won't fit properly, they don't have the kind of ankle support required, the blades are almost guaranteed to be terrible. Plus if you're skating enough, and well enough, to qualify for free style classes, find a decent pair and buy them. There are lots of options even if finances are an issue-- used skate stores like Play it Again Sports (take someone knowledgeable with you), the used skate section at skate shops, skate swaps, coaches will often have closets-full of skates that they lend to students (I do this) who can't afford skates.

      I'm surprised the rink encouraged, or even allowed this.

      As far as how long FS last, it depends on use. If you're just doing classes, shows, and lessons and your feet have stopped growing, you'll get 2-3 years out of skates. Gentler use, longer life--I've had my skates for 10 years, which is fairly typical for adults. When my daughter was competing, she went through 2-3 pairs every 18-months or so. The blades can last longer than the skates-- just move them to the new boot.

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  8. The Same AnonymousJanuary 2, 2013 at 11:44 PM

    Since I'm lazy I'll just copy this anecdote I posted on your previous post:

    "I saw someone with public skates that looked either waaaay too loose, extremely blunt, or both. The poor girl literally could not stay on her feet, which was really sad, as she was actually skating (and falling every few steps) quite boldly through the middle anyway, but then unsurprisingly became discouraged and went back to the barrier, probably thinking she was a terrible, embarassing skater and would never come back again.

    So I think that rinks need to take notice of safety too and maintain those public skates! I felt too nervous to give this woman advice to get new skates, but I really think that the ice monitor should have said something. The situation was dangerous AND discouraging for the skater."

    I agree with Xan -- not only is it dangerous, but a person who thinks, "Oh, I'm a terrible skater, this is embarassing and look, the next day I've woken up with two dozen bruises" is not going to become a regular customer.

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    1. The condition of rental skates at some facilities is a scandal and an insult, not to mention a lawsuit waiting to happen.

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  9. Luckily we are spared rental skates in this part of the Great White North. The only place I can think of is next to the slab of ice in front of the City Hall which is a reflecting pool most of the time - and only tourists skate there during the day!
    Pretty much everyone seems to own a pair of skates or can borrow a pair. There is a pretty efficient system amongst mums to hand-down and trade skates. It works great, as long as you don't mind blades sharpened hockey-style. It makes skating a really accessible, cheap winter activity. Maybe you just need to ban rental skates - and have weather below freezing constantly for 3 or 4 months every year :-)

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  10. As a new adult skater, I fully intended to wear rentals through my first LTS course, then buy once I knew I was sticking with it. The first day on the ice the rentals hurt my feet so badly I just couldn't deal with them and decided I had to get skates that didn't kill my feet or I'd never learn anything. It was probably the best thing to happen to me, and it made my skating improve so quickly in the early days. I shared that with the other adults in LTS who seemed frustrated with their skates, who all stuck with their rentals and dropped out by week 4. Haven't seen them back since.

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  11. The longest my daughter had in skates was 18 months and that was pushing it. I wish one year she could wear them for 2 years....

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  12. This is one of those (many!) places I did stuff completely wrong. I told my child I would buy her skates if she still wanted to do it after one session of classes. I have no idea how she kept her enthusiasm but she staggered about on those skates. Then I got her her own skates and she kept those for about 6 months before she had a foot growth spurt and needed a second pair. Shes now been skating about a year and is still on pair #2, may they last long.

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    1. Naturally individual skaters will differ-- one may hit a growth spurt unexpectedly, another might have issues like yours. When I started teaching I always recommended using rentals for one session, or even all the way up to freestyle, but the rinks stopped upholding their end of the bargain--namely rental skates in good condition.

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    2. In retrospect I'm just amazed a session on the rental skates didn't kill her enthusiasm. Though, honestly, I'm not sure her enthusiasm can be killed as she is currently angry with me that I won't let her skate tomorrow because she has a fever today.

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