By Kathy McSparran
The Cyber Skate Mall
These days you often don't have the luxury of trying on skates before you buy them.
Because few stores still carry inline skates and those that do often stock only a few models or cheaply made (and basically worthless) knockoffs.
As a result, most of us have to buy our skates online these days, basing our choices on little more than photos and product descriptions.
This is not optimal. Buying skates online is like sending away for a mail-order bride. You never know exactly what will show up at your door.
But if you follow this 10-step guide — and accept as a given that you may have to return one or more pairs of skates in the process — buying online can be as successful — if not as fun — as buying from a well-stocked skate shop.
1.) Find an online shop with a liberal exchange policy — one that promises to take back or exchange skates that don't fit.
Check the fine print. Who pays for returning shipping? (Usually, it's you!) Factor that into the total cost of your skates because you may have to send back one or more pairs. Check for any hidden "restocking fees." Call the store's 800-number and ask them personally about their exchange policy. If you don't like the way they treat you, hang up and call somebody else. If you have doubts about a particular online store, ask about it on a skate discussion board, like the one on the Skater Network.
2.) Place your order.
(Yes, this means paying for your skates up front. But if you've followed the advice in Step 1, you should be covered.) If you like two models, order both with the expectation that you will send one back. (Just remember that you will be responsible for shipping back the reject.)
3.) Try on the skates in a carpeted room.
No online merchant will take back skates that show any signs of wear, even slight wear to the wheels. (You may also want to wear clean socks!)
4.) Once the skates are on, bend your knees and assume a skating position.
Press your shins forward into the tongue of the skates. Are you comfortable? Does the tongue feel adequately padded? If the buckle feels like it's cutting into your shin, the tongue may not be providing enough padding. On the other hand, you may have over-tightened the buckle. If you skate in a low tuck, like a speed skater, try this position.
5.) Skate in place.
Shift your weight from foot to foot, as you would skating. Notice whether your feet slide from side to side or up and down inside the skates. If so, the skates are probably too big and likely to cause blisters.
6.) Check your ankles.
Are they caving in (pronating) or bowing out (supinating). If so, try tightening your skates. Making them more snug may correct the problem. Just make sure they are not too tight. You may also want to check to see if the frames can be adjusted from side to side. Adjusting the frames can help correct pronation and supination.
7.) Hang with your skates for a while ... let's say, five or ten minutes.
Stand, sit, crouch. Do anything that won't in any way scuff up your skates or wheels.
8.) Take off the skates and socks and inspect your feet.
Look for red spots. They form at pressure points and are often the first sign of trouble.
9.) Listen to your feet.
What are they telling you? Are they content or ready for a quickie divorce? Listen to what they are saying. If you don't, you may find yourself in a bad marriage with your feet playing the role of screaming partner.
10.) Play the field.
Before you decide what to buy, repeat the entire process with one or more pairs of skates. (The more the merrier!) Don't settle for the first skate that is "nice" to you. Find the one you love.
Kathy McSparran is director of the Phoenix Inline skate school and author of the Inline Planet's Skate Coach column. She and her husband, Peter, live west of Phoenix, AZ. Aside from teaching skate lessons, Kathy serves as a guide for Zephyr Adventures. In that role, she helped guide a tour last fall through the Himalayas in Tibet.