WHERE TO GO TO BUY OR RENT SKATES
Sadly, there are few excellent Skate Shops left in the Washington DC area. You may have no choice but to go to a large sporting goods, chain store or warehouse but you my not not find the sales help you need. Many people buy skates online. It's a good idea to try on a pair or 2 at a store, even if they don't have the exact skate you want, to figure out your size and your comfort with each brand. If you buy skates online look for a site that offers free shipping and returns.
Alpine Ski shop - Sterling, VA www.alpineskishop.com (Limited Selection)
Some ski shops sell Inline Skates. Check the yellow pages for stores in your area. Call first.
If you know exactly what you want, exact size etc.you can buy skates online or at a large sporting goods store. Click here to view some skating equipment I might recommend to my students.
If you are considering renting equipment for your first lesson, rent from SkateU. Your skates and safety gear will be delivered to you at your lesson. You can also rent equipment from some skate shops. All safety equipment is usually included in the cost of the rental. This includes all the following: Helmet, Elbow Pads, Knee Pads and Wrist Guards. Yes, you need it all. If you have your own bike helmet, you can use it. Rental periods range from 1 hour to several days. You have to pick up and return the skates to the skate shop.
BUYING NEW SKATES
4 Wheel, Recreation or Fitness Skates
Here are some things you may want to consider before purchasing inline skates.
You get what you pay for. Plan to spend between $100-150 just for the skates. You could spend a lot more. If you're a beginner, you probably don't need to. Cheap skates aren't worth buying. They don't work well and often hurt your feet. They usually make skating more of a challenge than it needs to be.
You need to buy all the safety equipment. This includes all the following: Helmet, Elbow Pads, Knee Pads and Wrist Guards. Yes, you need it all. If you already have a bike helmet you can use it. Get the right size equipment for you. Cost with helmet aprox. $50-75.
Comfort is very important. Skates should be snug, but they should not hurt your feet. Try on as many different skates as possible. Wear them around the store. You shouldn't have a lot of extra room in the front. Toes should almost touch the end of the boot.
GOOD ANKLE SUPPORT
You should not be wobbly when you stand in your skates. It is also very important that you be able to stand with your wheels straight up and down (on the Center Edge). If your ankles turn in or out you are not getting enough ankle support or the skates are not a good fit for your anatomy. On some models of skates, the frame can be adjusted to correct problems. The right inserts can also make a big difference. Try adding an over the counter insert or custom orthotic to your skates for fit and comfort.
WHEELS AND BEARINGS
In general, smaller wheels are more maneuverable making turning easier, larger wheels are faster and make distance skating easier, but turning is more difficult. You will see the size indicated by a number with mm after it (i.e. 80mm) A good quality skate will come with good enough wheels and bearings for any beginning skater. As your skills improve, you will be able to upgrade to faster bearings and larger wheels if you need/want to. 80-90 mm wheels are appropriate for Beginner-Intermediate Recreational skaters. 100 and even 110mm wheels are available, but are mainly for Racing. Check the frame to see what size wheels the skate will accomodate.
A better quality skate will have a metal (usually aluminum) frame. In fact, the frame is a good indicator of the skates quality. Metal frames are more rigid and do a better job transfering your energy into the wheels. Plastic frames are usually on entry level skates only. "Composite" is a term you will often see that really means "Plastic" It is well worth the extra $ to get a better quality skate above entry level. You will be happier with their performance, they will be more comfortable and will keep them longer before you want to upgrade. Good quality skates can last for many years with proper maintenance and a little care.
Your new skates should come with a Fixed Heel Brake on the right skate. Occasionally the brake is included in the box and you have to attach it to the right skate. Using this type of brake requires (among other things) that you lift the front 3 wheels of your right skate to execute a proper brake-stop.
*Rollerblade (the company) has a brake they call the ABT brake (there have been several different versions over the years, but they all essentially work the same way). To use an ABT brake you don't have to lift your wheels off the ground. The heel brake will engage automatically when you perform a scissor (come to one of my classes to find out what that means!). The advantage being that all your wheels are on the ground. Some skaters feel more secure with all their wheels on the ground. However, this type of brake has been known to engage when performing other maneuvers (such as right side parrallel turns). This can be annoying, but you can work around it. You can either decide not to perform the skills that don't work correctly or you can raise up the ABT brake and use it as if it were a fixed heel brake (which works just fine).
As of the 2009 skating season Rollerblade has discontinued making skates with the ABT brake. You may still find skates on the market from previous years, often at deep discount.
SOFT BOOT VS. HARD BOOT
In recent years Soft Boot Skates have been very popular. These tend to be more fitting to the foot, cooler and give more flexibility for the ankle than the older hard boot skates, Be sure the skate will give you good ankle support side to side. Forward flexibility can be beneficial as your skating skills improve. But the skate shoule be supportive enough to allow you to stand comfortably without your ankles bending in or out. Some models will offer a soft boot with a rigid "exoskeleton" that gives you the best of both worlds, comfort for your foot and support for your ankle.
LACES AND BUCKLES
Skates come with various combinations of buckles, laces and/or velcro closure. The closure system enables you to tighten the skates to get a good fit.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Get yourself a good quality pair of skates, with a comfortable boot. Then, come out, take a lesson to learn what to do with them and you'll be skating in no time!
SKATE MANUFACTURERS WEBSITES
Look for free shipping and/or returns
InlineSkates.net This is a GREAT website for learning about and purchasing skates.