Skating without Toe Stops? Why not try it?

by Marta
Skating without toe stops

Roller skating with or without toe stops has been a bit of a controversial topic. Most skaters either love them or hate them. Others can switch easily between set ups. Our columnist Cameron Lloyd is proposing to ditch them for a while. Yes, you might fall a lot at first. But you might be surprised how your technique improves. 

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Put down those pitchforks, extinguish those torches, and allow me to explain quickly. I’m not saying you should not skate with toe stops, but you should spend some time skating without them.

Any skilled skater – especially a park skater – should be able to skate with or without toe stops, and the only way to know what is right for you in what situations is to have experience with both

There are advantages and disadvantages to toe stops. They are a fairly unique feature to quad skates and open up many cool tricks. However, they can often get in the way, preventing other tricks, increasing the hazard of slamming, and they can allow and reinforce bad habits in skaters that will get in the way of learning good technique that will be the foundation for more advanced tricks. 

There are situations where you absolutely want toe stops, others where you definitely don’t, and many applications where their value is mixed and requires a personal call. Even if you are an adamant no-toe-stops aggressive skater, you would certainly want to slap on some big stops if you were to play roller derby. You can love the options and tricks toe stops provide, but if you wanted to do some serious jam skating, you’d swap them for plugs in a heartbeat.

So when should I try skating without toe stops? What do I put in their place? How long do I need to try this for?

I think the best time to try without them is as a novice park skater once you are fairly comfortable with your pumping and are able to stall fairly consistently on 4-foot (1.3 meter) ramps. Toe stops are useful for total beginners to help climb out of bowls. But once that is not a concern, they really aren’t necessary.

At this level of being a novice skater, you should be focusing really hard on being completely comfortable with and mastering your pumping and stalling technique. This is when you will be most tempted to use toe stops as a crutch.

roller skating without toe stops
Cameron with a wall ride. He prefers to skate without toe stops, at least some times

It’s time to set the training wheels aside. Force yourself to rely on pumping to build momentum and get into stalls. Expose the weaknesses in your technique. Train your body to move as a unit. Get used to pumping and landing with both feet in unison. This will help you unlock those slides and airs that you’ll soon be doing.

You don’t have to worry about damaging your plates or the park. Jam plugs – incredibly popular for rink and jam skating – are cheap and readily available online or at most any roller rink.

It will probably take you about 20 hours of park skating to get fully comfortable and proficient skating park features without toe stops. If you skate two-hour sessions twice a week, you’ll have it down in about a month. That’s hardly any time at all in the grand scheme of your skating career. But the earlier you skate without them, the less time it will take, and the longer you wait, the more work it will be to unlearn bad habits.

But toe stops save me from falls! I’m going to fall if I remove them!

Yes. You will. This is a good thing. Falling is a normal part of skating. Being able to fall properly is perhaps the single most important skill you can develop. You shouldn’t be trying to avoid falling, you should be embracing falls and using them as a learning experience.
Toe stops will only help you avoid slow, small falls. The ones where you are least likely to injure yourself and probably have the most time to think about and roll into a controlled fall. These are precisely the falls you want to have as a novice skater to train your reflexes to survive the big falls that will come later.

Toe stops are not going to do anything to save you from the big falls, especially hard slams. In fact, toe stops can exacerbate falls or cause you to fall when you would not otherwise. If you are skating tall ramps – especially vert – and you stumble and drop a toe, your toe stop is liable to catch on the ramp and send you sprawling forward, foot held back behind you so you splat flat instead of being able to tuck your knees up to slide or roll out controlled. I’ve seen very experienced skaters land a trick, only to catch a toe stop and turn what would have been a controlled roll into a fall.

I’m a good skater though. I know how to pump. I don’t need to ditch my toe stops.

But don’t you want to get better? One of the wonderful things about our sport is that there are always chances to push and challenge yourself to try new things that make you scared or uncomfortable. The more the thought of removing your toe stops makes you scared or nervous – the more it pushes you out of your comfort zone – the more opportunities for improvement the experience offers.

It is entirely possible that your skills are on point and you have trained yourself to pump and fall well and that you don’t use toe stops as a crutch. The only way to know for certain is to challenge yourself and test it out. If you try it and you don’t find faults in your technique, you can be proud of your practice. But maybe you will find that there are certain skating modes – like big bowls or vert – where you prefer not to have toe stops. Or you come up with some creative ways to unlock new tricks – sliding on toes or managing wall rides across features that you would have been caught up by toe stops.

But if you’ve only ever skated ramps with toe stops, better than even odds that you’ve used them as a crutch and learned bad habits. When I got rid of my toe stops, I was shocked to discover how much I relied on them without realizing it.

I did it! I’ve gotten used to skating without them! …Now what?

Great work! What’s next is up to you. You may find that, like me, you prefer skating without them most of the time, but occasionally put them on because they open up some fun street tricks. You may prefer going back to toe stops, but screw them waaaay in because you feel comfortable not relying on them and want less chance of slamming on steep ramps.

Maybe we’ll start a movement and manufacturers will start making special park toe sliders that we can use to plant, stall, or slide on – but that won’t bite if you drop a toe on vert. (Someone? Please?)

How you build your setups for the styles of skating you will go on to do is up to you. Now that you have experienced skating parks with and without toe stops, you have the experience and the knowledge to mix things up for yourself.

Words by Cameron Lloyd

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