'Tis the season to squeeze the last out of the beautiful sunny weather that we can. There are two types of skaters that I see flocking to the great outdoors right now: those who have just bought a new pair of rec skates because they realized summer is almost over, and the roller derby recruits who are just crazy excited to be starting their learn to skate programs. If you fall into either of those groups, or if you just want to get more confident skating outdoors, then read on eager skater, read on.
Here are FIVE things to consider when skating outdoors:
1. Wear the gear
I'm not your mom (which is a good thing because I've been pretty terrible at doing things, like acknowledging your birthday or ensuring your survival) so I can't make you do anything. I do, however, have ample life experience that tells me how unexpected falls can be and how little control you have over them. When skating outside, wearing the proper protection can be the difference between you getting to go out a second time...or spending an afternoon in emergency. At the very least I recommend wrist guards and knee pads and then of course, a helmet. Until you get your balance and muscles to keep your centre of gravity down, you're at risk of falling backwards, which makes contact between your noggin' and the ground a real possibility.
When you wear protective gear, you're also more likely to skate in a relaxed way, which is a much better environment to learn new skills in and to ensure that you don't fall because you're all tense. The other reason you should wear the proper gear is so that you can follow my next recommendation.
2. Practice falling and stopping when you don't have to
The first things you learn in roller derby are stops and falls. Why? So that when you need them unexpectedly, they're there for you to handle the surprises in a controlled manner. Skating outside is no different; in fact, there are more factors to contend with, like branches, slopes, overprotective momma geese... It's also more difficult than stopping and falling indoors because the surface isn't smooth.
Great options for beginner stopping are:
- plow stop;
- T-stop; and
- the grassy bail. You think I'm kidding but there are some times where stepping onto or falling safely into the grass is a lot quicker and safer for stopping than gaining more speed than you can handle.
The best option for falling is a double knee fall where you stagger the contact with your knees on the ground so that you don't end up jarring your back by hitting with both at once. Also keep in mind that if you fall outside you're not likely to slide on the knee caps, so you have to sit further back on your feet so you don't pitch forward and end up doing a superman. Bellies and asphalt don't mix.
Just remember to try this before you need it and if you're worried people will see you do it, don't be. You look awesome, in fact you're more attractive because of your preparedness and forethought. Work your way up from a flat surface to a slight slope to traffic lights and you'll gain confidence along the way.
3. Get low
So low. And if you think you're low enough, get lower. Roller skates have a beautifully wide base that will make you feel laterally stable. However, they have a short front to back wheelbase, which means you're more likely to feel imbalanced front to back than say on a pair of inlines. That's why inline skaters tend to stand tall. The quick fix to that for roller skaters is to bend your knees and to get your center of gravity closer to the ground. That way, if you pitch forwards or backwards, your knees and hips will compensate, rather than your ankles.
4. Check your wheels
If you've just bought derby skates or rec skates, you may not have the optimal wheels for outdoors. Derby skates tend to come with wider, harder wheels for indoor surfaces. They'll stand up to the cruelty of outdoors but it will feel like you're skating on a washboard with no shock absorption and a ton of surface contact. Rec skates can come with a type of hybrid wheel for indoor/outdoor that is thinner for reduced friction, but not as soft as an outdoor-only wheel so you'll feel the bumps as well. If you're looking for your easiest skating experience outside, soft and thin is the way to go.
5. Don't get discouraged
Skating outside can be super rewarding and great exercise, but it can also be discouraging the first few times because of the uneven surface. If you're rocking it in your learn to skate class but sucking when you try it on your driveway, that's normal. Roller skate wheels are wider than inline wheels, which means more surface is in contact with the ground and you feel many more bumps. Stick with it, your balance will get better and you'll be a rock star. If you can skate outdoors then your indoor skating will improve exponentially.