Most information on skate maintenance is about the hardwear – cushions, bearings, wheels; not to surprise people, I’m interested in the footwear aspect. Skates are expensive. They are a significant investment and the critical pin to participation in Derby/ etc. Why the fuck then, would people neglect them? Skate boots are not going to magically look after themselves, and it’s not hard to care for them. Invest your time and efforts into maintaining your skates as a whole.
To be all museum nerdy*, there are 3 causes of damage to skate boots –
Chemical damage occurs when your feet sweat and the boots don’t have an opportunity to dry out – they become moist havens for bacterial growth. Bacteria feast on the proteins of your leather boots and your delicious sweat, creating stink as a waste product. Your boots smell because stuff is _growing_in_them_. How feral. Bacterial activity and your natural sweat acids deteriorate the materials of your boots, leather or not. Weakened materials = shorter boot lifespan = more money shelled out to replace them.
You can prevent this though – keep your skates dry, not stuffed in your gear bag. A skate leash/ noose/ strap is perfect for this; also, store your skates in an airy place at home. Wear quality socks of natural fibres (bamboo is pretty rad _and_ antibacterial). These socks will aid your feet to disperse sweat naturally as your tootsies are not encased in synthetic socks of doom. Finally, all leather boots are best, but if you need to purchase synthetic boots (for reasons of dollars or ethics), do as you will.
Environmental damage = our lovely climate. Leather is skin, after all, and dries out quickly. During the leather tanning process natural oils are stripped out of the leather and re-injected at a later stage (“fat liquoring” – I _love_ that term), but these oils won’t last forever.
All leather needs to be conditioned/ moisturised to maintain the oil content. Zorbel Leather Conditioner is a great Australian product and is available through Damned Soles/ most shoe repair kiosks. To apply the conditioner – remove all taping and make sure your boots are dry and clean (baby wipes are great for this, and sticky goo from taping can be removed with a gentle wipe of Orange Power Goo Dissolver or nail polish remover). Daub a little conditioner on to the boot with a soft cloth (old clean tea towel) and gently wipe over a section of the boot; repeat until all sections are re-conditioned. When the conditioner has dried, gently wipe off with a different soft cloth. Dubbin can be used in this process in place of Zorbel, but it’s a little heavy handed for the task – Dubbin has awesome oils and waxes, but it’s mostly used for waterproofing.
Note: polish does not re-condition leather. Polish re-colours scuff-marks, offers some surface protection against mechanical damage, and makes your boots look amazing. Waproo, Kiwi, Angelus… there are many good brands of polish available (again, through Damned Soles or shoe repair kiosks). Daub a little polish on with a polish brush/ soft cloth. Take a different polish brush and shine the fuck out of those boots – fast, side-to-side hand movements all over the boot. If there are sections with different colours, masking-tape over them and attend to them separately – this will stop black polish from migrating to white stripes. Shiny? Wipe off excess polish with a soft cloth and stand back to admire your work.
Derby is a contact sport – thrill and spills, grazing your boots and gouging holes in them. Unlike an object in a museum, mechanical damage to skate boots cannot really be prevented. What can be done, though, is to lessen the impact – tape your boots to protect vital areas, wear toe-guards, and, for the love of all that is holy fix minor problems before they become major issues. This could be loose stitching or the boot itself breaking away from the sole. Most damages can be repaired, and you have a better chance of keeping your beautiful skate boots on your feet by –
- Checking them for damage regularly (especially pre-season training);
- Attending to problems as they arise;
- Talking to me about how damages can be repaired. I’m only an email away.
Be excellent to each other, and to your skate boots.
When we meet up to discuss skate boot repairs, you’ll know who to look for – the intense, short person, probably wearing a dashing house coat.
* my first professional training was in museum collections**
** I’ve also claimed to be a professional grave and tombstone climber