So, your skates definitely need some sprucing up because they're sluggish, but you can't afford a whole new setup. What can you do? LOTS!
That's right. Lots. You can swap cushions, replace wheels, get new bearings, lace your boots differently, invest in some insoles, or see a cobbler.
Also known as bushings, cushions are the things on your kingpins that impact the angles you can get on your skates. Swapping your cushions is probably the cheapest and easiest way to get some immediate results.
Like wheels, cushions come in different durometres. Softer cushions help you get a more severe angle on your skates; you'll be able to change directions more quickly and with increased ease. Harder cushions require more force to change your skating angle, but they hold a turn better and provide a bit more “snap” coming out of a turn when they straighten out.
Whether you prefer your trucks loose, medium, or tight, the important thing is that your cushions are compressed. Too much compression on soft cushions can cause them to flatten and make for a stiffer feel than they are designed for. Too little compression can result in a sloppy feel and can cause your truck to rattle, which puts pressure and force on the king pin, pivot pin and pivot cup that will increase wear and tear and potentially break your king pin and/or cause the pivot to punch through your plate.
To adjust your cushions, loosen or tighten the king pin nut. Most people refer to having “loose” or “tight” trucks, when actually it is compression on the kingpin, loose or tight, that determines the amount of play in your trucks.
Sometimes, replacing your wheels is all you need to do to get that extra spring in your step. Like everything, wheels wear out and can even harden over time. Some even chunk, which means large pieces come off your wheels. Getting a new set can help your skating feel nice and crisp again.
If you still have your stock wheels, as in the ones that came with your skates, chances are the wheel hardness isn't best suited for the floor you're skating on. Generally speaking, slippery floors can be beaten on stickier wheels, while sticky floors are defeated by slick wheels. Talk to your league mates and see what they're using. Ask to borrow some wheels. Investing in the RIGHT set of wheels might just be all your need to breathe some life into your skates.
Bearings break, they get gummed up, noisy, and can get kinda bumpy. New bearings make for a smooth ride and can make tired skates feel new again.
Skaters typically replace their bearings annually. If you use your bearings outside and they get sandy or wet, you may have to replace them more frequently. If you leave them in with your sweaty gear, they will rust. Sand kills bearings so try and skate on clear pathways when outside. (I know that's kind of like saying, "try not to get wet" when you're out in the rain...)
Believe it or not, the way you lace your skates can change how your feet feel. If your feet are sliding around in some well-loved skates, or the ankles/heels have blown out a bit, changing your lacing technique can make your skates fit better and give them a renewed feel. The image below addresses some common problems and is courtesy of WellLife Personalized Fitness blog.
If your laces tend to get loose and you find yourself constantly adjusting them, invest in wax laces. They stick to each other (not like super glue style) and stay in place better. There's a reason hockey players use waxed laces: the pace of the game doesn't allow for constant adjusting. Last time I checked, derby moves pretty fast and bending over to fiddle with your laces is not a thing.
You may not even notice that your insoles look like old, restaurant towels. Pull 'em out and take a look. Uneven wear can do a number on your feet. As they flatten out, the fit of your skates also changes. Insoles are possibly the most overlooked skate "part."
There are so many insole options. Instead of covering each one, here are a few suggestions.
1. Make sure your replacement insoles don't make your skates too tight. It's easy to fall into the fancy trap and get insoles that rub your back at night but are simply too much for your boots.
2. If you don't need more arch support, or heel cushioning, don't invest in an insole that suddenly offers these things: it might make everything about your skating get weird.
3. Getting an insole you can cut/shape is great because skates are unique in shape and being able to customize your insole is key to making it fit properly.
Taking your insoles out after practice will increase their longevity. And a weird observation: Blundstone insoles fit perfectly in D/B Reidell skates. Like...no cutting, folding or bending. Handy?
A final thought on improving existing skates is having a chat with a cobbler. This will only work with leather skates, but a consultation is usually free. Pieces can be added, straps can be made, things can be cut out...for way less than a new pair of skates. This is also a great option for anyone who shelled out lots on custom skates many years ago and isn't ready to do it all over again. Breaking in new skates isn't always like getting your hair brushed by a unicorn. You can put off the process a bit by fixing your boots up a bit with a trained pro.
Holy Balls, WHAT?
We're always here to answer your questions. If any of the above has piqued your interest but you're not quite sure where to go, send us an email! You can include pictures of your skates/gear and we can help you figure out what to do to get you feeling your best.