Fancy Italian Footwear, Part VIII

Alright, I thought I was done playing around with stuff, but after thinking about things (sometimes I think too much) I decided I wanted to try some more experimentation with cushion combos.  Since there have been some seminars (thus no lessons what with absent coaches) I thought this weekend would be a good time to play.  I want to try and get my skates settled before the competitive season starts (in a few weeks!), so I can spend the rest of the season focusing on improving myself and not experimenting with my skates.

Firstly, I am absolutely loving my figure skates.  I adore them.  The boots are still feeling a smidgen too tight, but they no longer feel as though they are compressing my foot.  Since before I was doing figures and loops in the same skate, I was spending a lot of time in those boots and they did break in much faster.  It is taking a bit longer than I would have liked to break the boot in, but I really love the entire set up.  The Giotto plate is fabulous, almost too good.  It feels like it minimizes my tracing errors and is super responsive during turns.  I haven’t felt a need to adjust it since the initial set up, and once the boots are fully broken in I think I will really love skating in them, even more than I do now.

Nextly, my dance skates.  I have really enjoyed skating on them, but I have been called out for not getting deep enough inside edges of late.  It was suggested I try the green urethane (extra flexible) cushions on the lower portion of the skate.  I tried them and while I can get some CRAZY deep edges without trying, I think they are just too soft for me.  It felt like the skate did not offer enough support and it felt like I was pushing through mud.  I think the extra flexibility in the cushions sucks up a lot of the force being transmitted to the floor and kills a lot of my push.  Since a lot of my competition dances this year are what I consider “power dances” where I will be needing to get as much push as possible, it doesn’t make sense to handicap myself with the softer cushions.  In addition, the skate seemed to flop over when doing turns, and it was difficult to do some of the flats that occur in the higher level dances (I know – crazy right?  When you learn to skate it is all about curves and edges, and just when you thought you understood what was going on, they throw you a bunch of dances with steps that are supposed to be skated on flats!).  In any case, I am going to go back to the all grey combo, but perhaps loosen the action a click or two from where I had it previously.  This should provide the stability I was enjoying and also help me press some deeper inside edges.  I am happy I tested this combo though – now I have tested the grey/green (too soft), grey/grey (just right), and blue/grey (too hard) combos, I have a good sense of how drastic the differences between the cushion levels are, and I am sure I have the right combo for me.  I am also quite happy with the urethane on the dance skates, and I won’t be trying the rubber.  I have been using rubber for figures and loops, and I am quite convinced that they available options would be either too hard or too soft for my dance skates.  So overall I am quite pleased with my dance skates and I am sure that they are almost set up exactly right.

Lastly, but not leastly, my loops skates.  Actually, these are what started my whole cushion swapping mess this weekend.  I have been thinking about my loop skates a lot.  Loops used to be my favorite thing to practice, but after getting the new plates they just feel more like a chore that must be done.  Sometimes I would hit a good edge, and get a great loop, but I just haven’t been able to get back to my old consistency.  I think if I had not been able to do them before, I would not have noticed a difference, but I really felt like it was taking me too long to adjust to these new skates.  I have been having difficulty with my outside edge loops, and time and effort was not helping.  While I know part of my issues have been dealing with new floors and hills and skates, by this point I honestly feel like I am good enough that I should not still be having the problems I am having with loops I have been skating consistently for the past few years.  I wasn’t expecting miracles from the new plates, but I also wasn’t planning on taking a step backwards.

In my loop skates I have been using the hard yellow rubbers, with one failed experiment with the medium rubber top and yellow rubber bottom.  Originally, when I was planning on using one set of skated for both loops and figures, I was more concerned with finding cushions that would be appropriate for the large figures, and then figuring how to do the loops on them.  At the time, the yellow rubber was the best solution for the figures and the loops, and in Part V of my odyssey, I compared my feelings on rubber vs. urethane.  While this still holds true, I had been pondering if perhaps using softer urethane might change my feelings about its application to the loop figures.  So I figured this weekend I would have 3 practice opportunities to play with different adjustments.

Experiment #1: Soft grey urethane upper, medium blue urethane lower.  Since the harder lower, softer upper is recommended for loops by Roll Line, I thought I would give it another shot in the urethane.  This combo was much much much too hard.  I could do forward loops with much difficulty and didn’t even attempt the backwards loops.  The skates couldn’t even form a deep enough curve to get around the top of the loop.  I switched to dance practice instead of trying to force the loops from happening.

Experiment #2: Soft grey urethane upper, extra soft green urethane lower.  I actually mostly liked this combination.  It was still a little too hard for outside edge loops (I had the action all the way loose), but my inside edges felt pretty fabulous.  I also felt that the circle (non-loop) section of the loop was much more solid than it had been with the hard rubbers.  I think using the all green urethane cushions could be a viable option for loop skating, but since I did not have a green urethane top cushion, I wouldn’t be able to test this out unless I ordered some.  Testing this option gave me the idea to test it in my dance skates, which I am glad I did, but I still think this combo is too soft for me for dance.

Experiment #3: Hard yellow rubber upper, medium brown rubber lower.  After trying the hard/soft combos with the urethane, I though trying the hard upper/soft lower combo with the rubber might be a good experiment.  Ah.  I had to tighten the action a bit more than I thought I would, but I am so glad I tried this combo.  It is excellent.  I finally feel like I can skate loops again.  My circle edging is not as solid as it was with the urethane, but it wasn’t as wild as it was with the completely hard yellows on a totally loose setting.  Of course, when doing loops the important bit is the actual loop.  And that bit was much better.  A lot of bad habits that had been creeping in due to the skates not curving the way I had wanted suddenly went away.  I felt like my old self again, and I think with a few more hours to let the new lower cushions settle into place, this could be my happy place.  I plan on practicing with the combo later this week and seeing how my lesson goes next weekend.  As a side note, the floor was excessively slick on the day I tried this combination, so if it was stable enough on a slick floor, it will probably feel pretty good on a tighter floor day.

Overall I am quite pleased with my experiments.  Yes, my hands are a bit sore from changing so many cushions this weekend, but I feel a bit more confident about moving forward with the rest of the season in my new skates.  Overall a few observations:

(1) It is important to try out different cushions.  You can’t know what will feel “right” to you unless you try things out yourself.  Sometimes there will be an instant wrong, and sometimes you need to give it a little bit of time.  And, yes, it can get a bit expensive, but see if you can borrow cushions from other skaters for testing purposes.  While the recommendation of others is good, nothing beats testing it out for yourself.

(2) While I have heard some debates over whether the top or bottom cushion is responsible for creating the edge, I can confirm that the large upper cushion supports the skater’s weight and gives a solidity of an edge, and the smaller lower cushion is responsible for the depth and how tight the curve will be.  By having the stiffer cushion on the bottom, the skate cannot create as much of an arc, and it will slide a bit more.  Since I am skating on some very slick floors, this not not good for me.  Perhaps on a tighter floor this could help slide the loops around the deepest part of the curve, but on a slick floor the skater and the top part of the skate are curving, but the wheel base is not, so it skids and slides out from under the foot of the skater.  Not fun and not safe.  Having the stiffer cushion on top and softer cushion on bottom allows the skater to get a better edge and roll around the top of the loop.  On a slick floor this is a much better way to go, because as long as the skater is using proper technique, they will be firmly over the skate and can perform the loop.

(3) Sometimes it can take a long while to find the perfect combination.  Sometimes it is difficult to know if the problems come from the fault of the skater/technique (more often the case) or the fault of the equipment (more fun to blame).  Sad to say, but I skated for almost a decade before I found skating boots that I really loved to wear, and several more years before I tried the Giotto plate, which I am really loving to skate on.  While I wouldn’t say that my previous equipment hindered me, I will say that having skated on it I can really appreciate the quality of the new stuff.  I wouldn’t recommend this equipment for a beginner – it is far too much of an investment and will probably be too reactive and wild for them to handle.  Even for a newer competitive skater this might be too much of an investment.  However, for a high level competitor finding the right equipment can really help with the progress of the skater.

So, all in all, things seem to be going well.  I had hoped to be done with the tweaking by this point, but I suppose as long as I feel confident with everything by the time regionals rolls around, that is what is most important.  Now to focus on actually fixing my skating and learning new dances…

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