I've been using these Moxi Beach Bunny Skates for a year.
If you’re wondering how to roller skate, there’s never been a better time to learn. During the pandemic, roller skating has become a fun and nostalgic way to get exercise, work off some quarantine-weight gain, and be social while still respecting social distancing rules.
You might be tempted to say that roller skating is “back,” but the truth is it never went away. Black skate culture has been around for decades — roller skating rinks even played a role in the Civil Rights movement, and one of the first sit-ins in the country was at a roller skating rink. (This and more is explored in the documentary “United Skates,” which has a rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and is streaming on HBO.)
Still, a Google trend search for “roller skates” in May of 2020 shows a spike that stayed high, and by July of 2020 there was a worldwide shortage of the wheeled shoes. By the time I wanted to jump onto the trend in March of 2021, there was still a waitlist and 6-week back order for skates, so I really had my work cut out for me.
You need skates, obviously. But figuring out exactly which skates to buy begs some questions: What kind of skater do you want to be, and what kind of skating do you want to do? Oh brother, that just leads to more questions:
There are a ton of places you can skate
Do you want to adventure skate? That is, travel long distances and explore neighborhoods? Or maybe jam skating appeals to you because you want to try the cool footwork you’ve seen on TikTok. Or perhaps you’re a psychotic daredevil, keen to hit the skate parks and do insane tricks, or even let out your inner aggression by slamming into others at a roller derby?
When it came to buying my first set of roller skates, I just wanted a decent enough, reliable, no-fuss set of wheels that would work on most surfaces, wasn’t a total piece of crap, and would get me from point A to point B. And I hoped they’d be a cute color.
There are four main components that should be taken into consideration when buying a roller skate:
The boot (the foot-shaped part you stick your foot into) of the skate and the material it is made from will affect how it fits you, its durability, and price. A high-cut boot will offer more ankle support, whereas a low-cut boot allows for ankle flexibility. A boot made of synthetic materials like vinyl is more affordable and easy to clean, but will not last as long as the more expensive leather or suede.
The plate of your skate is like the chassis of a car: It’s the metal frame that the wheels are attached to. Generally speaking, plates come in two materials: metal or nylon. Nylon is lighter and more flexible, metal is heavier and more durable.
It turns out there is a whole science to what kind of wheels you put on your skates. Wheels fall on a durometer rating from around 70A to 100A — the higher the number is, the harder the wheel. A “softer” wheel is better for the outdoors, as it is more likely to absorb shocks if you roll over cracks in the pavement, or debris like twigs and pebbles (random chips of mulch are my personal nemesis). A harder wheel, on the other hand (foot?) is better for skating on a polished indoor rink.
Wheels also come in all shapes and sizes and they do make a difference: A smaller wheel will give you more agility (think dance-skating), but a larger wheel will travel better over distances.
Toe stops are the chunky rubber blocks you see affixed to the front of quad skates, and are primarily used for braking. Toe stops may be “Fixed” or “Adjustable” — Fixed toe-stops stay at one permanent height, and Adjustable toe-stops can be, well adjusted, obviously — that is, set to different heights to match your level of experience. As a complete newbie I needed my toe-stops nice and low, close to the ground so that I could stop without needing to displace my weight very much. More experienced skaters may find that toe stops “get in the way” and will adjust them to be higher. Serious jam skaters tend to remove their toe-stops entirely so that they can execute their full range of motion without accidentally hitting the brakes while dancing.
I knew I wanted a pair of skates that were decent quality, but wouldn’t break the bank. I’m a restless millennial with commitment issues, so I wasn’t looking to invest a lot of money in anything that required much work — I didn’t want to have to switch out my wheels regularly based on the surface I was skating on.
Reading through reviews, I settled on a pair of the Blue Sky Moxi Beach Bunnies. I picked this skate not just because of how pretty they are (though they are remarkably pretty) but also because of their all around versatility.
The Moxi Beach Bunny has a vinyl boot, which offers good ankle support — something I definitely personally need. The wheels they come with are a good level of hardness for beginners: 78A. It also has an aluminum plate, making them a bit sturdier and less likely to break than a skate with a nylon plate.
But the Beach Bunny is just my personal preference: There are plenty of skates recommended for beginners on the market. For example, the Sure-Grip Boardwalk Skates are a little bit more expensive, but are made from a softer material. They still offer that nice, high-topped ankle support, but the suede is less likely to cut into your ankles. Suede also doesn’t show scuff marks as easily as vinyl — but then again vinyl is easier to clean, so potato, po-skate-oh.
If you want to save money until you’re certain that you’re ready to make a real investment in skates, then Impala skates may be the brand for you. You can find a cute pair for under $100, and they’re quality enough to make for a gateway skate.
You will fall down. You will absolutely eat it, over and over again. Get used to it now, accept it, YOU WILL FALL.
I watch children under the age of 12 at my local skating rink in absolute horror and envy, as they crash into each other with the violence of a bowling ball, seemingly impervious to pain, bouncing up again after a spill that would surely land me in the hospital. Children are magical and resilient. Odds are, you are not. Invest in safety gear. And then wear it.
I suggest a handy set like this one, which includes elbow pads, knee pads, and wrist guards. It also comes in black, if you want a more chic look to “go with everything”
I’ve been skating for over a year now, and I’ll be honest: Sometimes I ditch the knee pads. Occasionally I’ll skip putting on the elbow pads. But I’ll tell you right now, the absolute non-negotiable for me is wrist guards. The number of times I’ve gotten my feet tangled and absolutely eaten it in a way that surely would have shattered my wrist, is, well, it’s a lot of times, okay? Buy wrist guards, and wear them.
It’s ok, falling down part of the process. It’s part of why I love roller skating: the cliche of falling and getting back up is very literal and real. It’s how we learn and improve. If you’re afraid of hurting yourself (and at my age falling down really does HURT), maybe get some protective padded shorts to mitigate the pain. You can even make it adorable fashion with a cute turtle hugging your butt.
If you’re planning on eventually trying out park skating, then investing in a helmet is a very good idea too. You only get one brain, protect it! Oh, and you’ll probably need a slide block, if you intend to grind on curbs or rails (but maybe practice going forwards and backwards before jumping on a rail).
So you have the skates, you have the safety gear, now what?
Practice practice practice. There are thousands of YouTube and TikTok tutorials out there to inspire you, but you can watch a million hours worth of videos and it won’t do a damn thing to make you a better skater unless you are actually putting the skates on and trying it for yourself.
You don’t HAVE to go to a roller rink! An empty tennis or basketball court can be an excellent place to practice — but you might want to bring a broom and sweep it clear of debris, since the tiniest rock or most invisible crack can take down even the most experienced rollers. My advice though: If you do have access to a roller rink, use it. An hour on a rink where I don’t have to worry about traffic or or incline/slope is where I’ve seen myself make the most improvement.
You don’t need a ton of space to practice footwork. In fact, I first learned to spin in my kitchen! A flat surface a couple feet in diameter is all you need. It also means that poor weather (or quarantine) is no excuse not to practice. As I said before: no amount of tutorial-watching will substitute actual time wearing your skates. Skate School Queen Dirty Deborah Harry says she’d prefer you skate for just 10 minutes every day than spending four hours in one session once a week.
Now that we’ve covered the important stuff like quality and safety and learning to actually skate… now we can finally talk about making them cute. Though it may sound silly, personalizing my skates actually helped motivate me to practice more — simply because I wanted to show them off.
For starters, you can switch out your laces for all different colors, but the number one skate-related accessory that literally turns heads and gets compliments from passers by are these luminous wheels. Through the power of magnets and magic, they light up when you roll on them. They say money can’t buy love, but that’s objectively not true: If you know a skater, get them a pair of these and they’ll love you forever.
Toe caps or toe guards are little sleeves/hats that protect the front of your skate from scuffing (and lawd, they will get scuffed). They’re also a great opportunity to show off your personality! Whether you’re a horror fan, a Pokemon master, or love strawberries and icecream — there’s a toe guard out there for you!
Even your brakes can be customized: Make your toe stops into sweet flowers, or cat paws. Graduated from needing toe stops, and want glow-in-the-dark jam plugs? Maybe you prefer a cow. There are a multitude of charms and wings that you can weave into your laces to add a bit of flair. And how will you carry your skates, on a roller leash? Cute, but it won’t hold your wrist guards, or your skate tool, so maybe it’s worth it to invest in a special bag.
Practice falling. Have fun. Let the good times roll (sorry).