Trying out a new activity can be daunting. It doesn’t matter your sex, gender, age, or appearance, when we set out to learn something new, we naturally experience anxiety and it is completely normal. Roller skating is a recreational sport that evokes anxiety, due to the need for balance and the fluidity of movement. As such, many newcomers in the roller skating rink are nervous and unsure of how to learn to roller skate.
Learning to roller skate is about understanding the basics of the sport. This doesn’t just encompass the moves, but the equipment, your form, etc as well. If you educate yourself, you will gain confidence and be able to improve your performance at the same time.
Of course, to understand the basics of roller skating, you need to strip the activity back to its foundations before participating in a roller derby. Put simply, you need to understand how roller skates work; they’re shoes on wheels which use balance and coordination to create movement. It’s a simple piece of knowledge, yet it will help you better comprehend the need for the right equipment, for maintaining good posture, for the need to practice regularly, and so on.
Learning the Basics
Roller skating is one of those sports that needs specialised equipment; in the same way that runners need proper running trainers, skaters need a pair of roller skates in order to take part. Without these, you cannot start roller skating.
Not only that, but they also need to determine what type of skates, as there’s both inline and quad skates, in addition to choosing a hard or soft boot, which each have their own set of pros and cons. Consequently, choosing the proper size roller skates before starting out is of huge importance, both in terms of longevity and comfort.
In terms of which you should opt for, inline or quad, you need to first understand the differences between them.
Inline skates, sometimes referred to as rollerblades or speed skates, have a line of wheels down the centre of the sole. This is best for those that want to increase their speed and keep that momentum, however, they can prove more challenging to get used to for first timers. Quad skates are the most commonly seen skates, and have two pairs of wheels on the soles. Arguably, for those new to the sport, it allows a greater sense of control and balance when compared with inline skates.
In regards to hard-boot or soft-boot skates, this choice is down to what type of activities you’ll be using your skates for: recreational or focused workouts.
Soft-boots are best for those dancing and performing in their skates, as they’re more flexible and lighter in weight. Hard-boots, on the other hand, are ideal for those who need support for longer rides out due to them skating predominantly for fitness. As you’d expect, hard-boots tend to be less supple and thus slightly heavier.
As well as boots, you’ll also need to invest in some protective gear such as elbow pads and knee pads, a helmet, and wrist guards. These might not sound glamorous, but they will ensure you don’t suffer too serious an injury. Other types of protective equipment you may not have considered is a mouthguard and skating socks.
Funnily enough, the socks are the more crucial of the two, simply because skating in bare feet can cause all sorts of sores and pain due to your skin coming into contact with the inwards of your skates. Furthermore, socks will help soak up your sweat so that your boots don’t smell.
Once you have the right boots, you need to not only feel comfortable while standing in your skates, but also maintaining your composure. This is where correct posture comes into play. In order to engage your core tight and set yourself up to move, the T pose is the first step.
So named because of the shape your feet make, skaters need to stand with the heel of one skate resting against the instep (where your foot arch begins), thus creating a T shape. In doing this, you will be able to remain standing upright without a loss of balance.
Another important posture setup is squatting while keeping your feet shoulder-width. Roller skating is all about remaining with your body low to the ground, and so keeping your knees bent is a large part of the experience. To ensure you don’t strain yourself, keep squat whether you’re standing or moving; this ensures you have better balance while wearing your skates.
Assuming you feel confident on your feet standing still, now is the time to start moving in your skates. The most common way of doing this for newbies is by duck walking.
As the name suggests, you will position your feet much like a duck does when it walks — with your heels together and your toe stoppers pointing outwards. Then you will start to walk, taking one step at a time, if you need a visual aid, imagine seeing a duck waddle about, as that should help immensely.
The idea is to then build up the momentum and start duck running, which as you might have guessed, is much faster pace and range of movement. The principle is still the same in where your feet are sat, it’s just about the way you push back in order to gain speed.
By duck walking, you can learn to glide on your skates, which often doesn’t come naturally for a lot of first timers. When you move one foot forward, you kick off with it in order to propel yourself forward, be that slowly or at speed. Most people argue that duck walking is the best way to do this.
Following on from duck walking, gliding on your skates is a gentle way of forward skating. In order for you to glide, you need to move one foot forward as you raise up the other skate. Then, when you lose momentum, you will alternate your feet to create a gliding movement — again, picture a duck walking or when you see ice skaters. After that, you can try keeping your feet parallel and gliding.
The main staple to nailing that glide is to move your feet separately as opposed together: one step forward triggers you lifting your other foot, which moves you forward for you to then settle the raised foot down.
It sounds difficult, but it’s actually really simple once you’re in your skates and on your feet. Nonetheless, anticipate the odd bump and/or scrap if you should lose your balance. Never try to go into a more forceful stride at greater speeds until gliding comes naturally to you. Otherwise, you could end up travelling too fast and braking too harshly.
Due to the fact you’re using wheels to propel your movement, needing to stop is a basic that you need to learn early on. This is because braking during skating isn’t the same as stopping mid-run; you can’t just break off into a walk once you’ve gathered speed.
There are two main ways to stop: the Plow Stop and the T Stop.
The Plow Stop is likely a move you’ve seen in roller skating film/TV scenes, in which the skater spreads their legs as they roll forward with their toes slightly pointed inward. This move works because it allows a transference of your weight from your upper body to the bottom, thus aiding you to stop.
As for the T Stop, this move requires you to put one foot forward, while bending your knee, and transfer most of the body weight on that front foot. Your back leg will be straight as you’re doing this, and then you will slowly bring it back towards you, which will bring you into the T pose we mentioned earlier. Out of the two techniques, this one is harder to master.
Learning Special Moves
Anyone who feels comfortable with the basics will eventually want to try learning some tricks. After all, to keep it fun while also creating a new challenge for yourself, is a great way to remain motivated and invested in improving your performance.
Skating backwards may sound like an easy move, but for newcomers it can be quite challenging. This is why it’s important to take your time with the steps and make sure you’re in the optimum position.
You will need to bend your knees and be in a squat (like we said earlier), with your toes inwards, and make sure to be pushing your behind out. Then, while you’re rolling backwards, take small steps backward, much like the duck walk but in reverse. Also, while doing any of this, make sure to have your thigh muscles engaged and your chest leaning forwards over your knees, as this will prevent you from toppling over.
Everyone who has watched roller skating has seen participants jumping, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that this is one of the main special moves many skaters want to perfect.
Unlike skating backwards however, jumping while skating can prove tricky. This is because of the movement you might feel upon landing. Nonetheless, while taxing to learn initially, it soon becomes a comfortable and easy move to execute.
The main aspect of jumping to remember is to be gliding at a steady pace before attempting a jump. If you’re standing still or moving at speed, you increase the risk of unbalancing yourself and causing an injury.
Furthermore, you need to feel stable before jumping, i.e. you’re not wobbling about before lifting your feet off the ground. Make sure that when you jump, you’re in the squat position , and that you bring your skates together as you land. To make that first jump easier, think of it more as a hop rather than a big jump. Once you feel secure doing these small bunny hops, then you can start adding in a more explosive jump.
If at any time during your jump you feel unbalanced, make use of your arms and extend them out at your sides to help find your equilibrium again.
This is such a subtle move, however it can be another one difficult to get right the first few times. The reason being is because you’re shifting your weight to help you create a smooth turn while gliding, which will help give that effortless look while on your skates.
Arguably, not only is your feet positioning crucial here, but so too is how you lean your body slightly into the turn, much like when you see motorbikes take a corner. Then, as you’re leaning, you want to cross your inside foot behind your outside one, gripping the floor with all of your wheels as you do it. From there, you then need to uncross your skates in order to go back into a straight glide again.
The trick here is to focus on is pushing outward with the foot you’re uncrossing in order to keep momentum and maintain balance, e.g. push with your right foot while your left is coming forwards. Sometimes skaters find performing a foot glide helps. This is when you balance on the one skate while holding the other as far out in the direction you’re travelling.
Another helpful means of improving is to have another skater alongside you as you practice. If you have another skater on your outer arm side, you can hold them as you take a turn, thus allowing you to feel more stable due to the counterweight another person creates.
When it comes to learning to skate, you can’t do anything without having the essential equipment for the job.
Once you have all the necessary gear (skates, elbow and knee pads, wrist pads, helmet, etc.), the next most important element of skating is your balance; in roller skating, balance is everything. This is why it’s important to perfect the T position, as well as simply getting comfortable and feeling stable in an upright position.
When you’re certain you can remain upright without wobbling and avoid falling, then you can begin to introduce movement into your routine. This is why starting out slow and taking your time is preferred. That being said, due to the nature of this activity, falls will happen from time to time, it’s an inevitable part of the sport.
Nevertheless, to keep falls to a minimum, remember to stay in that bent kneed squat position, as it will always help maintain your balance. This way, when you take on new moves or attempt to move with more speed, you’ll be in the prime position to land those moves more easily.
Lastly, if you can roller skate with experienced skaters, it will help you when you begin to introduce more dynamic and challenging moves into your routine. However, this isn’t essential, and works more as a means of reducing anxiety as a first timer skater. We wish you a happy skating!