Not long ago, we wrote about how roller-blading is back — but that’s not the only fun way to pass the time with wheels strapped to your feet. Roller-skating — which first became popular in the ’70s, about two decades earlier than roller-blading — has also glided back into popular culture of late, thanks to shows like Euphoria, in which Zendaya & Co. tie on some pairs of old-fashioned skates and hit their local rink. But even though roller-skating predates roller-blading, there are lots of new roller-skate brands on the market, making new styles of the Technicolor wheeled footwear of your childhood dreams for all experience levels and budgets.
Of course, if you’re thinking about investing in a new pair of skates, there are things to look out for aside from rad colorways. The size and feel of the wheels, the material of the boot, and the type of hardware used will all affect the skates’ durability and maneuverability, according to the professional roller skaters we spoke with. As a general rule of thumb, leather boots will last longer and fit more comfortably than synthetic materials, while metal frames and plates are better than plastic. And when it comes to wheels, the smaller the wheel, the better it is for agility and tricks, while larger wheels are better for traveling longer distances. Softer wheels are ideal for outdoor skating, while harder wheels are the move if you’re rolling around a rink. And if your skates don’t feel quite right fresh out of the box, remember that “you can change the truck, wheels, toe stops, and other parts of the skate to work better for you,” says skater Rebel RousHer, who posts roller-skating tutorials on her YouTube channel, Queer Girl Straight Skates. Keeping all this in mind, we asked RousHer and four other pro roller skaters, skating choreographers, and skating instructors about the best skates for rink skating, street skating, roller derby, and more. Read on for their picks.
Four of the experts we spoke to recommended buying skates from Moxi Skates, which is a newer brand founded by Michelle Steilen (a.k.a. Estro Jen) and manufactured by Riedell, one of the oldest skate producers in the United States. “Handmade in the USA, these leather beauties come in all colors of the rainbow,” says professional roller skater Candice Heiden, co-founder of LA Roller Girls Entertainment. The basic Lolly skates include a PowerDyne nylon plate, Kwik Abec-5 bearings, and soft, gummy outdoor wheels, which are better for “rough terrain, cruising, or slippery surfaces,” she explains. The wheels that come with these skates are designed for heavy-duty street skating and can handle ramps, cracks, and concrete, so Heiden suggests buying an extra set of wheels for indoor skating because, with two sets, these are a “great all-around skate option for beginners all the way through intermediate,” she says. RousHer also likes the Lolly, adding that the skate’s suede boot “feels so comfortable as soon as you put your foot into it.” And if you’re having a hard time choosing a color, roller-dance choreographer Morgan Weske, who also works at the Moxi Skate Shop, loves her pineapple pair.
When it comes to fit, Weske says that generally “you want the skate to fit very snug and move with your foot.” Most skates come in men’s sizes, so if you’re a woman, you should order about a size and a half down from your everyday shoe. And once you buy your skates, Heiden and Weske stress that it’s important to check the tightness of the wheels and the truck, which are usually not loose enough fresh out of the box.
For beginners, two of our experts suggested going for the less expensive pair of Beach Bunny skates from our best overall brand. Even though they don’t cost as much, Moxi’s Beach Bunnies have all the durability and support of many higher-priced skates, according to RousHer. “You can be sure that they will last through the many adventures, falls, and excitement that comes with being a new skater,” she says. Roller-skating blogger Kaci Bell adds that they give a really “smooth roll on a wood floor,” making them great for jam — or dance — skating at the rink. RousHer adds that the Beach Bunny, which can be used for basic skating indoors and out without changing the wheels, is a skate beginners can wear even after they’re more comfortable standing on eight wheels. “It has the ability to develop with you as a skater; it is good for if you want to branch out into many types of skating, such as ramps, once you have learned the basics of roller-skating,” she says.
Four of our experts suggested also going for Impala roller skates as an entry-level choice. Like Beach Bunny skates, Impalas come in a variety of stylish colors and patterns (lime green and leopard make for a particularly wild one) and can be used at the rink or outside without changing wheels. But unlike the Beach Bunny, these come at an even more accessible price point. They are designed with an aluminum metal plate, hybrid wheels, and a fixed toe stop, making them ideal “for cruising, learning how to skate, and basic dance moves,” according to Heiden. Marawa Wamp, who holds several world-record titles for high-heeled skating and designed a pair of Impala skates in rose gold, agrees that they are good for beginners because they’re both “comfortable and adjustable.” And although the boot is made of synthetic materials, the skates are a PETA-approved vegan product. Heiden has a pro tip to make these skates even better: “Upgrading the bearings is worth spending the extra money.”
Sure-Grip’s Fame skates feature wheels designed for spinning, turning, and gliding, which is why Bell and Heiden think they’re ideal for maneuvering on a slippery rink floor. Bell says the “classic style and lightweight hardware” is great if “dancing and gliding is your thing.” And Heiden agrees, saying that even though these are “limited in colors, they are a great skate.” In fact, the Fame wheels are the ones she uses most for roller-dancing and were the ones she used in the Chet Faker “Gold” music video. Heiden also notes that you can upgrade the cushions (like the bushings on a car), which will “allow for more maneuverability as your skill level increases.”
Even though the Fames are suitable for spinning and turning, if you’re really looking to bust a move, RousHer suggests Sure-Grip’s funkier Stardust skates, which feature a glitter boot (also available in black, gold, blue, or pink) with a groovy ’70s roller-disco vibe to match your dance routine. RousHer adds, “The boots are vegan, and the skate comes with adjustable toe stops.” The Stardust also comes with harder, smaller wheels that make executing dance moves (such as turning and gliding) even easier.
When it comes to street skating, investing in a high-quality, durable boot is a must. Bell recommends the Jack Boot skates from Moxi, which are designed for “taking on concrete, ramps, and rough terrain.” RousHer notes that this skate is “perfect for parks” because it comes with a high-performance, padded boot that is extra firm, offering superior ankle support. She does warn that “this skate takes about 10 hours of break-in time, but just like a good pair of Doc Martens, after that break-in time, the skates feel like heaven and are well built to handle any aggressive skating you are doing.” Bell also likes the Jack Boots for street skating but suggests slightly upgrading the standard out-of-the-box pair if you’ll be using them a lot. For the perfect street-skate setup, Heiden suggests mounting the Moxi Jack Boot on a metal plate with an adjustable toe stop from either Roll-Line or Komplex and finishing it off with wheels from Rollerbones Team Wheels or CIB Park Wheels.
At a much more palatable price point, these Chaya Melrose skates came recommended by Heiden, who says they make good street skates because they have a bit of a heel, which will automatically shift your weight onto the ball of your foot for increased agility. She says that “right out of the box, it won’t be hard to cruise around town and maneuver obstacles” in these. To get even more bang for your buck, she suggests upgrading these with “a long-stemmed toe stop,” which you can buy at your local skate shop.
Roller-derby skates are designed with agility in mind and typically have a lower-cut boot design and more padding than rink or street skates. And when it comes to roller derby, both Heiden and RousHer like the Antik AR2 skates for their comfort, durability, customization options, and the relatively higher boot cut compared with other derby skates. “When I first tried them on, they felt like an extension of my foot. The boot is heat-moldable, so as you skate in them, they will mold to you,” says RousHer.
If you’re not ready to splurge on some Antiks, Heiden suggests the Riedell R2 Roller Derby Skates, which she says are the “most popular entry-level skate for a reason,” or reasons: the durable vinyl boot, lightweight PowerDyne nylon plate, and solid wheels. She also recommends paying close attention to the sizing specifications, as these have a super-specific cut.
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