Photo: Dominique Pariso
Like every teenager on TikTok, I decided that this spring — and the lack of things to do presented — was the best time to strap on a pair of roller skates for some good old-fashioned fun. Until then, I had only tried skating twice. Once in my driveway when I was 8 (with a pair of white skates with pink wheels I got for my birthday), and again in college on a United Skates of America roller rink. Neither foray went particularly well, but neither did they go badly enough for me to give up trying to master the hobby.
Unfortunately, my renewed interest has come at a time when there is a shortage of roller skates, with every major retailer experiencing a surge in demand. Fortunately, after stalking social media for weeks, I managed to nab a pair of black glitter Impala skates – the style that won the title of best affordable roller skates in a story I wrote last year – during a short-lived restock. My mom bought them for me for my birthday, about 16 years after she gave me that first pair of pink and white skates. But, unlike these, I’m happy to say I’ve worn these wheels more than once. After hours of watching YouTube tutorials (thank you both Dirty Deborah Harry and Rebel RousHer for teaching beginner skaters like me online for free) and practicing in my parents’ living room, I finally understood skating. But in doing so, I’ve learned that the roller skates themselves are just one piece of equipment you really need to perfect your technique – without a handful of other key items, it can be a whole lot harder. (and dangerous). Below is everything I used on my journey to becoming a true (beginner) roller skater, from the multi-tool to the knee pads to the breathable helmet.
The Y3 tool is a must. It allows you to loosen (or tighten) the nuts of your wheels, as well as your stopper and the truck of your skate. Every time you lace up, you need to make sure all of these things are secure in order to skate safely. Fresh out of the box, your wheels may be too tight to spin freely, which will make learning to skate much, much harder. Luckily, my Y3 tool arrived before my skates, so I was able to hit the ground running or, well, rolling. After practicing almost daily for several weeks, I noticed that my wheels had become too loose, but a few twists of the Y3 tightened them. Essentially, you want your wheels to spin without wobbling up and down or side to side. And you want to tighten your stopper to make sure it won’t move when you try to stop or get up. If I ever wanted to upgrade my skates by swapping out their wheels for a new pair, this tool will help me do that seamlessly as well.
I fell. Many. It’s a kind of pre-requisite for rollerblading. Luckily none of my spills have caused any serious damage (yet) – and I have those Smiths Scabs pads to thank for that. The set comes with wrist guards, knee pads, and elbow pads, all of which have protected me from fractured wrists and scraped knees. The pads aren’t that bulky, but they can still absorb a lot of impact. And I love that Smith Scabs makes their pads in fun colors (red, blue, purple) and patterns (leopard, holographic silver, rainbow, and checkerboard). One thing to note: I have thick thighs and calves—my legs are 20 inches above the knee and 16 inches below the knee—and the extra-large Smith pads barely fit me. If your legs are thicker, I suggest you check out the Moxi thick padswhich have a similar streamlined design but with much stretchier bands.
I admit that when I was concentrating on the journey from my couch to my fridge, I wasn’t wearing a helmet. But now that I’m trying to learn more complicated moves, I use this Triple Eight helmet. It meets safety standards set by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Society for Testing and Materials, and will protect heads against both low and high force impacts. I’m an extremely sweaty person so I also appreciate how its vent holes and sweat-wicking interior the fabric helps keep me cool. While I opted for a gloss black helmet (to match my gloss black pads), they have a range of colors in both gloss and matte finishes, including a sorbet color shaded numberone wearing a glittering rainbowand a Moxi collaboration, which has both a Lisa Frank–esque blue and pink leopard pattern and a Striped option inspired by Evel Knievel which I also considered. A helmet is only as good as the fit, which is another reason why I like Triple Eight: the brand has a very useful animation video to guide you to the right size, which includes tips on how to fit your helmet for maximum safety.
Since the skates go up quite high on the ankle, many skaters opt for calf- or knee-high socks, to prevent the skates from rubbing against your skin. Because my gear is all black, I went a little crazy with my sock purchases to add color. In addition to two pairs of skater socks and a pair of Girlfriend Collective Crew Socks, I also bought this affordable knee-high multipack from Amazon. This all helps keep the tops of the skates from aggravating my skin when I move.
If you tend to sweat like me, you might also want to keep some sort of cloth handy to wipe your face, so the sweat doesn’t get into your eyes. I use these bandanas, which I will tie around my wrist or around my neck.
When skating outside your parent’s living room, you may need to keep some essentials with you: a cloth to absorb sweat, your phone, wallet, and keys. Still, you want to pack light and try to keep your hands free when skating, and I’ve found a fanny pack to be much more practical than a backpack for keeping all the necessary items on me. My Eastpak fanny pack (which is also a favorite of strategist writer Liza Corsillo) is spacious enough to carry all my essentials: phone, keys, debit card, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, sunglasses, AirPods and even a spare bandana.
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