The answer to the titled question, like brands of blades and boots, is not one-size-fits-all.
Most rink rental skates have broken down boots and dull blades. It’s practically impossible to really experience and advance in any ice skating sport without a supportive, properly-fitted boot and sufficiently sharp blade. It’s practically impossible to perform well and grab the opportunity of winning without such supportive fitted accessories.
But at what point in your training should you consider buying your own skates is a million dollar question? Should you buy used or new equipment is another question to ask yourself? Do you need top-of-the-line boots and blades while you’re still a novice is the next that seeks a proper answer?
Here are some of the conventional rules of thumb for buying your first pair of figure skates or speed skates and hopefully the explanations would be helpful to get questions answered:
1. The first, seek out a professional at your home rink who can consider your personal needs and goals and help you make educated, personalized, purchasing decisions.
2. If you’re trying a sport for the first time while being a novice player, consider borrowing a pair of gently-used boots. This will be like a welcome bonus to you. Recreational rental skates will not give potential speed skaters an authentic feel for the sport, so they, especially, should buddy up to other club members whose boys bust out of their boots half-way through each season.
Rinks and skating clubs will often have boards where members can post equipment for sale. If you find a size and type of skate that might work for you, ask to keep the skates for a couple sessions to see if they work for you. (A written agreement is advisable to prevent miscommunication and note trial timeline, equipment condition, and potential price.)
3. Rentals may be your only option when you or your young skater and is trying out the sport for the first time as a novice player. In that case, ask the rink attendant to give you a pair of rentals that are newer and sharpened. (It doesn’t hurt to bring a pair of dull blades back to the counter with a sharpening request. Since it’s their equipment, sharpening will be free, although many busy rinks won’t offer this accommodation.)
If you can get a hold of a good pair of rentals, try them – and skating – for at least a month before you make your first purchase. This will give you time to identify personal needs and preferences. In the unlikely event that your burn for skating fizzles during that time, you’ll save yourself a lot of money. Many novice players start this way and spend very less compared to buying the accessories.
Parents Note: Your little ones might get excited about figure skating or speed skating after watching some of the clips on YouTube or other video platforms lately. It is suggested to first test their enthusiasm for the sport before you outfit them from scrunchy to toe pick.
4. You may be able to find a pair of gently-used skates at a second-hand sports shop. Usually, people try online for such shops or outlets. Look for discipline-specific skates; if you’re interested in short track racing, for example, buy short track skates.
If you’re not sure what kind of skating you want to do, watch basic skills lessons or club sessions on YouTube or other video platform. If the sessions are “closed” to the public, call the club or talk to a coach ahead of time. They’re usually happy to accommodate potential members.
Watch races and competitions on television or YouTube to learn more about the sport you’re interested in before you buy the equipment.
Beginners often don’t realize that short track boots and blades are different than long track, that figure skating blades are different than ice dancing blades – and all have several variations that support individual skater’s needs. They make serious mistakes without figuring out the differences. Speed skaters are also going to need helmets and special gloves before clubs will let them join in their racing practices.
5. If you do buy a gently-used pair of skates, be wary of reduced ankle support in the uppers, indicated by a deep diagonal crease that runs visibly across the ankle on the outside of the boot.
Sharpen the blades, and spray antifungal/antibacterial sanitizer in and on all equipment before using it. You’ll probably need to replace screws and laces, and ask a pro if you need to have the heels/soles re-glued.
6. Buying new skates right out of the starting gate is usually not wise. If you’re still determined to buy top-of-the-line skates to start training in, you might as well go for custom-made boots that are professionally fitted or actually built around a mold or tracing of your foot. (Make sure you put your weight on the foot that’s being imprinted, otherwise the boots will be too tight.) They’re “only” a couple hundred dollars more than production-line competition skates.
Production-line or custom boots and blades should last a serious beginner at least a season or two.
If your young skater is in the middle of a growth spurt, some coaches advise doubling their socks while measuring their feet for skate boots. This usually leads to buying half a size bigger for growing room. Other coaches say this practice makes it tough for developing athletes to “feel” the ice or properly use their blade, thereby compromising their advancement in the sport.
Find a pro on-site who can help you by suggesting boots and blade lengths based on your body type, ability, goals, and learning curve. Even if you have to pay a coach for an hour of his or her time, it will be worth it. After all, a new pair of skates can easily cost from $400 to $1500.
This is an era of spending less and maximizing the output. Hence, the above mentioned suggestions are important for first time skaters who wish to be well equipped yet pay less than others.