There are way too many styles of skates out there and everybody will find comfort in different shapes. Here are the things that I look at when I try on new boots.
- Have you played any other sports? What sort of shoes did you wear for that? My best analogy is to find skates that fit like soccer cleats. You want the leather to hug your feet so that all of your power is transferred directly into them and into the floor. If your foot moves around inside, you can risk rolling your ankle, stubbing your toes, and getting blisters and abrasions.
- Different socks will give you a different relationship with your skate. A lot of skaters with more experience (and expensive skates) will skate barefoot. If you have more delicate feet or if your skates aren't nice leather, you might want to go for a thin athletic sock. I used to skate barefoot but I don't remember why I started wearing socks again, and now it is just habit. I prefer scratchy cotton socks because they keep me from sliding around. Other people like dirty socks for the same reason. While some other people will prefer hose or thicker hiking socks, but I do not know their reasoning for their choice. Think about this when sizing your skates.
- Boot height. If you are afraid of rolling your ankles, hightop boots are not going to protect you. Constant skating (and off skates workouts) will make your ankles stronger and less prone to sprains. In the meantime, you can wear an ankle brace for support if you must. What hightop boots _do_ help with is protecting your ankles when you get kicked. What other options are there to hightops? Most skates hit exactly at the ankle bone, while some brands offer ultra low cut boots that end below that. I love the Riedell 195 ultra low cut boot because anything I tried before restricted my range of motion and cut into the vein I have running directly over the inside ankle bone on my right foot.
- Material. While there are vegan skates (and they will proudly announce it), synthetic toppers have a tendency to wear out faster than leather. If you are a smaller skater, you can sometimes get away with this because you are exerting less force on them and demanding less support. Even then, some people do manage to get several years out of R3s and swear by them. For everybody else, most skates will be full grain leather, with some higher end styles offering "kangatan". Unfortunately, this does not mean that they are supple kangaroo leather. They are, however, cowhide that has been treated to behave as such. Some skates will also make a huge deal about being heat moldable. All leather and most vegan skates are heat moldable because they all have plastic counters (the stiffer pieces in the boots around the heel and side of the toes) and interfacing. For this same reason, they will stretch and deform the longer you skate in them, and even worse if you leave them in your hot car.
If you need more things to consider, look at what shoes you like to wear for different activities and try to imagine how that would translate into skating. Do they get in your way? Is there a part of them that is uncomfortable?
A beginner pair of skates can cost $100-250, depending on whether they are a color other than black, or if they have upgraded the wheels and toestops. Again, many people love these and can skate a few years on them! If you do plan on skating for a longer while and have some money to spend, an intermediate pair (or bottom level good skate) can cost ~$350. Once you start looking at "competition" level skates, they can start at $200-600 just for the boot, plus $50-350 just for the plates, plus $60-120 for the wheels, plus $15-30 toestops, plus $8-200 bearings... So yeah.
You also don't need to buy a super duper awesome pair of skates all at once! Most of us will tinker and switch out parts one at a time. Wheels and toestops are normally the first to go, since you will eventually want different sets of wheels depending on what surface you are going to skate on. At the very least, you should have a set for your home rink and a set for skating outside (in parades!). If your skates come with shitty wheels by default *cough*R3*cough*, you can use those outside and get real wheels for practice.
A lot of websites will also have huge sales the week prior to Thanksgiving and every other major holiday. Five On Five will normally put out a list of all the stores and what sales they are having. Skating rinks will often offer 20% on MSRP. derbywarehouse.com and bruisedboutique.com are two of the more popular/well stocked online stores.
The reason I started this post. Each manufacturer will make skates however the hell they want to. Most of them will follow standard mens sizes, and going with "two sizes smaller than your regular shoes" is a relatively innocent place to start your search. Mind you, I can wear shoes anywhere between a 9.5-11.5, and have been known to wear smaller if the shoes are cute enough, but skate in a 7.5. This also doesn't account for the shape of your foot. Since heel slippage is one of the biggest complaints skaters have, a lot of newer skates have started making much narrower heelcups (this can be ameliorated with heat molding and/or inserts). The best thing you can do is go to the manufacturer's website and print out their sizing guide.
- Make sure you are printing true to size.
- Stand on a piece of paper and have someone else trace your feet, and cut them out. Do both in case there is a noticeable discrepancy between their sizes.
- Place your foot tracings on the sizing guides and see which one would give you the truest fit.
- Some brands will use different lasts (foot shapes) for different models. In some cases, you can even mix and match the front and back halves if your feet have a very distinct shape. Some brands will even allow you to buy two different sizes if your feet have a noticeable difference.
Antik doesn't have anything on their site: http://www.derbywarehouse.com/skatesizing.html
Sure Grip's isn't helpful, either: http://ctmfx.jzxnz.servertrust.com/v/vspfiles/images/BOOT.pdf
So yeah, there are a lot of options and a lot of things to take into account. Whenever possible, try someone else's skates on, or go to a "local" retailer.
- olympicskatingcenter.com Mac at the Harrisburg (Enola) rink is very knowledgeable, but often errs on the side of cheap. He hates to make people pay for expensive skates when they might drop out in a year. He will give you the derby discount.
- funtastikonline.net Funtastic is in Mechanicsburg. They are primarily a skateboard shop, but the guys are very nice and have been breaking into derby for the past four years.
- squareup.com/market/bentleys-skate-shop Bentleys in Pottstown is owned by one of their refs.
- apexskateshop.com Apex is a shop towards Philly owned by Kick Ash and V-Diva. Kick Ash is VERY knowledgeable about gear and will help you find a perfect fit! She is also ridiculously distracted, so make sure you keep her on topic and you have a lot of time to spare.
- If you are on the Pittsburgh side, Doc Sk8 is a very sweet yet crochety old man that has been building skates for eons. His garage in Butler County is overflowing with skates that he builds and fixes for SCRD, and he will go out of his way to make sure you are ultimately equipped.
These are the sellers that I have personally dealt with, but there are definitely a few more in PA that I can't remember. And, of course, a few more in larger cities, like Bonny Thunder's Five Stride in NYC.
Also, I am 99.9% sure that the moment you ask someone else, they will have a completely different approach to skates. Because everybody in derby has opinions, and they are most often different than mine. And I didn't even get into plates -_-; Happy hunting!
ETA link with good explanation on bushings/cushions.
ETA link with good explanation on bushings/cushions.