by Mel @troubleon8wheels
To wear or not to wear, that is the question.
Why would you take your toe stops out of perfectly good roller skates, when stopping is already so challenging?
Well, it depends on where you are skating, and the type of roller skating you are doing. Some would say it is not for beginners to take their toe stops out, but actually, if you have never had them, you probably won't know the difference. Once you have gotten used to skating with toe stops though, removing them does become trickier.
Removing your toe stops allows the wearer to gain more height by lifting the heel further from the floor and continue to roll. This in turn makes balance on toes easier for long periods, as the body weight is stacked over the ball of the foot and through the heel, rather than being placed further back. Swapping toe stops for jam plugs makes skating forwards on toe-only wheels safer, as there is no danger of the toe stop catching on the floor and the skater suddenly falling.
In this blog post, I will explain what a toe plug is, some of the different styles of roller dance and some links you may want to follow and then a process to follow to help you feel confident to skate using toe plugs.
There are different kinds of toe stop, as mentioned in an earlier blog post, here. The main differences are in the thread type. 5/16" are sometimes called bolt-on style. Adjustable toe stops have a thicker stem, which can be screwed in or out to adjust the height of the toe stop from the ground. These are available in 5/8" thread (also called imperial - most plates) and metric thread types.
What is a toe plug?
Toe plug - fits in the end of the roller skate plate to protect the plate and the floor from damage.
Sometimes called a jam plug or dance plug too, these refer to the same thing.
Roller dance covers a number of different disciplines, and in the last couple of years, I have come to understand some important differences between the styles. I now try to be specific when I'm talking about roller dance at skate class and I always try to give the source of my learning. It seems respectful to give the acknowledgement to the people who first created the style, or tried something new. Even when I think I may have created something new, I will undoubtedly be influenced by something I have seen.
Jam skating refers to a specific type of roller dance. This type of skating usually includes a number of spins and freezes, and is most like breakdancing on roller skates. Jam skaters usually wear low cut roller skates, with wide wheels for balance.
Examples of a VNLA skate, favoured by jam skaters, a 172 Riedell boot favoured by rhythm skaters and a 120 Riedell boot, supportive and great for lots of disciplines.
Rhythm skating is more like line dancing on roller skates. Dancers learn a series of movements, which are then repeated. Richard Humphrey is one of the OG roller skaters of this style. The Es Quint Foundation in the Netherlands also teach this style, focussing on body position, weight transfer and balance.
Choreographed roller dance can take many forms, and may combine many different elements of dance from short TikTok dance styles to much more challenging styles, where no movement is repeated.
There are also a number of American rink styles. The history and some of the founders of these styles have had their stories collected by Amirah Palmer in her book The Evolution of Skating.
I'd also recommend watching United Skates, a documentary about American rink styles of roller skating.
Roller Dreams is about the development of roller dance in Venice Beach, California.
A great Instagram account to follow is @dance.skate, which showcases many different styles.
Artistic roller skating is an entirely different discipline, requiring specific training, although there will be many similarities in movement. My understanding of artistic roller skating is that a high level of discipline is required, as the characteristics of this style include jumps and spins (or a combination), so the risk of injury is higher. For this reason alone, I would seek a FARS (Federation of Artistic Roller Skaters) qualified coach.
All types of roller dance are immersive for the dancers, it is like meditation in motion. Whatever you choose, make sure it is fun!
Damage to toe stops and the plate
If you have an adjustable toe stop, you can decide how high or low you choose to position it, depending on the place you are roller skating in. This is really down to personal preference of where you like to set your toe stop, however, if you are setting it very low to the ground, please make sure there is enough of the thread inside the toe stop housing, so that when you stop and put pressure on it, you won't cause damage.
It is *very* easy to damage the threads on both the toe stop and toe stop housing, and we highly recommend a little grease to make sure those threads can move freely past each other. Vaseline or similar is fine to use on your toe stop threads and you only need a bit. The damage happens more easily when the toe stop is used incorrectly, for example by being dragged by the user, causing the threads to be continually banged against one another.
Eventually repeated incorrect of toe stop use will result in the threads on one side of the toe stop housing becoming damaged, but it will be invisible on the outside. You will only know when you come to change the toe stop, and it is jammed in place. In this instance, try a lighter oil lubricant, such as bearing oil. You may need to leave the toe stop for a few hours as the oil works through the threads. If your toe stop is really damaged, and the bearing oil can't penetrate, try WD40 (never ever use this on bearings!) as it is may be able to loosen the toe stop. In this case though, you may also need a wrench or extra tools to work the toe stop free, and the toe stop housing in the plate may still be damaged.
It is possible to re-tap the threads in your toe stop housing, and we do have the equipment at the Roller Girl Gang shop to carry out this service. If you want to try it yourself, Rollergirl.ca wrote a great blog post about the re-tapping process. You can read it here.
Anyway, I've sidetracked slightly.
How to transition from toe stops to toe plugs.
The following is a suggestion, as you need to get used to the different feeling that skating without toe stops allows. We always recommend that you have something to protect both your plate and the floor from damage, and some rinks will not allow you to skate unless you have either a toe stop or toe plug in the toe stop housing. I have not put any time suggestion, as it will greatly vary from skater to skater, and your journey is your own.
You are ready to use toe plugs at any time, however, if you are trying to execute movements requiring toe balance, and your toe stop is brushing on the floor, causing you to lose your flow, it's time.
Check your toe stop is as short as it will go. If you have regular length toe stop stems, try a shorter toe stop.
Examples of different toe stop lengths. Grindstone toe stops with long stems, short stems and the Heartstopper lil's which are short stem and are smaller over all.
3.Consider the type of skating you are used to and try to be aware of how often you actually use your toe stops without thinking. Do you regularly use your toe stop as a speed boost? Do you rely on them as a method for stopping?
4.If the answer is yes, then we suggest you take out the non-dominant toe stop first and try skating for a short amount of time, 30 minutes maximum, working on a specific toe balance skill that requires you to have the extra angle. Then put your toe stops back in, so both your body and brain can relax. By really focussing the time into short concentrated sessions, you are likely to remain really aware of your no-toe-stops skates!
5. You can also try the above and swap both toe stops for toe plugs. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend without toe stops as you become more confident.
6.Remember that bending your knees is your friend!
7.We suggest that you wear your protective gear, particularly wrist guards and knee pads if you are removing your toe stops for the first time, and you are used to using your toe stops. While knee pads may restrict crossing movements, they will help you feel more confident and allow your body to relax.
8.Try different types of toe plug, depending on how confident you are to skate on your toes.
9.To build muscle in the ankles and lower legs and practise toe-toe skating, you can practise this with toe stops in (set higher) as long as you are skating backwards. Try staggering your feet and see if you can roll on toes only by lifting first one heel, then the other. Once you feel confident with this, build up to moving yourself or even building speed by wiggling your toes (like little backwards lemons) . If you have your toe stops in and you're travelling backwards, you will simply stop (safely) if your toe stops touch the floor. Eventually you can build to skating backwards with toe plugs, once you have followed the other steps.
I'd suggest that you are confident to stop using a method that does not require toe stops, for example a plough stop or T-stop if you plan to try toe plugs at your local skate space. If you are not fully confident, then keep your speed slower.
Types of Toe Plug
Discoplugz are hard like toe plugs so they will slide, but they take up the space of a toe stop. Some people find these really useful when they are making the change from toe stop to toe plug. They are available for plates that take adjustable toe stops in both metric and imperial thread types.
Fo-mac dance plugs are a plastic material. Fo-mac jam plugs come in a huge variety of colours and can be larger or smaller. They are designed to protect the floor and your plate, so will scrape if you are skating outdoors. These are mostly available in imperial (5/8") thread types, however we are working on stocking the fo-mac dance plug for 5/16" (bolt-on) toe stops too. If you have a metric thread type, you will likely be able to fit a fo-mac toe plug in as the material is soft enough not to be damage the toe stop housing. Finding a metric specific toe plug is always better though.
Jammerz toe plugs are made from a hard acrylic and are really tiny. They use the minimum amount of material required to effectively plug the toe stop housing and provide plate protection. Jammerz are hand crafted and available in a number of designs and colours, they have even found a way to install an LED light!
Roller Girl Gang toe plugs are available in imperial, metric and bolt-on toe stop types, and glow in the dark. We have used materials that are compostable and biodegradable in all aspects of sourcing the material and packaging (yes the cellophane bags are compostable) .
Finally, remember you need to gradually build ankle strength and wear supportive skates if you're planning to skate on your toes a lot. If you're skating without ankle support, as you need all the flexibility, then please make sure you warm up the ankle joints and muscles properly.
There are many ways of learning to skate with toe plugs rather than toe stops and it mostly depends on your confidence. It may take you a few months to feel confident.
Have you tried skating without toe stops?