A common theme I see at the roller rink is ill-fitting rental skates. The typical scenario involves older adults who were avid skaters 20-40 years ago and show up for a grandchild’s birthday party. “I used to be a rink rat, and was at the rink every weekend,” is the usual comment, as they receive a pair of “brownies,” the nickname for rental skates.
It’s not the skate’s fault
Once those former rink rats lace up those rental skates, their ego is quickly crushed. The fear is obvious, and they can’t seem to get along on them. A rigid body, combined with years of not skating, on a pair of rental skates is troublesome. And no, the skates alone are not to blame for the lack of skill. They are the ones who chose to forego skating for all those years.
That being said, ill-fitting rental skates don’t help the situation. About 5 years ago, on a trip to Orlando, I didn’t bring my own skates, and decided to try the brownies (aka peanut butters). After two trips around the floor, I realized what a difference they were between my Snyder Advantage with a Riedell 297 boot and a plastic plate with a lower quality boot. I removed the skates and decided it was best that I be a casual observer. I was too far from home to risk an injury.
They’re not sized for women
The main issue with rental skates is that they only come in Unisex, or traditional men’s sizes. They are wider, have a lower cut boot, and made of synthetic materials. Forty years ago, rental skates were separately sized for men and women, so anyone could walk up to the counter ask for their size and then skate just fine. The attendee could easily determine the difference between a male and female in those days.
Today, the majority of rinks have teens behind the rental counter who are unaware that the skates they are doling out are sized for men. Therefore, when a petite woman requests an 8, she should be quizzed. “Is 8 your normal shoe size? If that’s the case, let’s start with a 7.” Men’s shoes are sized differently, and women don’t know to ask if the skates are sized for Ladies or Men’s. That’s why I see people struggling in a pair of rentals that don’t fit properly. They are literally swimming in them and trying to stay upright.
Your body remembers
Furthermore, rental skates are mass produced, and have been worn by hundreds of others. They take a lot of abuse and your body memory isn’t accustomed to them.
Body memory matters. Whenever I buy a new pair of skates, no matter how much money I fork over for them, I HATE them. But that changes after a few times skating in them. They require a break-in period, plus my body needs to set a memory as to where the axles and wheels sit under my feet, the cut of the boot, and the stiffness of the leather (or synthetic materials). Once broken in, I can’t imagine skating in anything else.
Why they’re sized that way
I understand why rental skates are the way they are. Imagine purchasing 400 pairs of skates at once. That runs at least $50K or more depending on shipping and the brand. And storing men’s and women’s sizes is close to impossible due to the amount of space relegated for a skate room.
Also, we all have different sized feet. A former college room-mate had a left foot that was 1.5 sizes smaller than her right. That required her to always purchase 2 pairs of shoes, and donate the 2 mismatches to a specialty store that sold one shoe at a time to those with only one leg or someone like her whose sizes matched up opposite hers. The internet wasn’t around back then to make this a little easier.
Is there a solution?
If it’s been 30+ years since you’ve been on skates, and still have your old pair, get them tuned up and try them first. Do some balance exercises before getting on skates to ensure you can still safely skate (check out our video here.) Once you’ve achieved a comfort level, start out slowly, like on carpeting to get used to the skates (we have a video for that too). NEVER put on skates and just go right out on the floor.
Know your limits
If you don’t have your own skates and balance is an issue, please do not proceed. I know that seems a little harsh, but in the grand scheme of things, remember that you’re at the rink to celebrate a party, not show off to your grandkids. And there’s nothing worse than ruining the event with an ambulance visit. Those are not the memories you’re looking to create.
For rink operators, how about keeping a pair of “premium” rentals (charging a higher price) in each adult size? Rental car companies have a lot of Kias and subcompact Fords and Chevys in their fleet because they cost less to rent, and a lot of people are fine with that offering. However, you’ll also notice they rent out Mustangs and high-end sports cars. That’s because people want a choice and the opportunity to experience these vehicles before buying one. A long road trip tells more about a car than driving it for 15 minutes with a salesperson in the passenger’s seat. For rink operators, it’s an opportunity for their skaters to try them out in order to appreciate comfort and stability. Plus, skills will quickly improve when skates fit better.
And to make sure the skates don’t mysteriously disappear at the end of a session, copy the formula of ski resorts when renting out pricey equipment: Have them sign a rental agreement, hold onto their license, and take a credit card or cash deposit of the skates value, returning it to them when the skates come back. Unrealistic? You won’t know until you try. And it’s not necessary to purchase the premium skates brand new. There are plenty out there for sale that can be rehabilitated. Just be sure to find a way to mark them as RENTALS, so they don’t end up stolen.