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Techniques - Stopping, backwards skating, etc.

Table of Contents:

The In-line Stopping Techniques File

(originally written February 1992)

Copyright © 1992-2005 Anthony D. Chen, All Rights Reserved

NOTE: This list is arranged in order of increasing difficulty as per my experience. Your experiences WILL undoubtedly vary from mine. This list does not purport to be the definitive list of stopping techniques, but it does strive to be as complete and descriptive as possible.

It is not expected that everyone will learn, or even want to learn, all the methods discussed in this file. It is simply a catalog of techniques to choose from. Some techniques require more flexibility, some require more finesse, and some require more guts 8-)

Good luck, and skate smart.

-Tony Chen (

List of stops:

Beginner level

Intermediate level

Advanced level

Combination stops

Related topics:

The basic repretoire of stopping techniques includes the brake-pad, the T-stop, spinouts, and the power slide. This file should help you learn those basics and more. The basics should always be learned first, but once you progress beyond them, you'll likely want to learn different and/or more advanced techniques. This compilation should help guide you through this progression.


Most beginner skaters should be able to handle the following set of stopping methods. These techniques keep both feet on the ground throughout the stop, and don't require fully independent leg action.

If the path you're skating on has grass or packed dirt you can just skate off the path onto the grass/dirt. This will reduce your speed somewhat but watch out for the sudden change in speed! (hop-hop-hop-hop-hop). If you are truly out of control, at least you'll tumble in the grass and not on the road.

To do this stop, simply skate towards a wall (or any reasonably stationary object, really) and use your arms to absorb the impact. At low speeds, this should be quite safe (make sure you turn your head to the side so as not to smash your face).

You may or may not bang your skates, depending on your speed and how you hit. The key is to use your arms as cushioning springs (like doing a standing push-up.) One way to practice this is to stand a few feet from a wall (with your skates on). Now fall forward on your hands against the wall. You should be able to bounce slightly, while still avoiding banging your head. The faster your approach, the less bounce you can expect.

A variation on the wall stop is the billiard ball stop. Instead of stopping against an object, use a fellow skater to push off and transfer your momentum to them. To be safe, warn the receiving person about your approach. It works well on flat surfaces and at low to moderate speeds. It's not recommended at high speeds and especially on people you don't know 8-)

See the collision section for more extreme cases.

The brake-pad is subject to much debate amongst skaters. Many people with ice skating and rollerskating backgrounds find the brake in the way, in the wrong place, or simply ineffective. However, for those of you who actually take the time to learn it properly, the brake-pad becomes a very versatile piece of equipment. Here are some of the benefits:
  1. you can use it to stop, even at very high speeds
  2. it allows you to keep both skates on the ground while stopping (good for keeping your balance)
  3. you can maintain a narrow profile (good for high traffic areas where cars or bicycles might be passing you)
  4. you can still steer
  5. the sound of braking can often alert others to your presence
  6. the brake-pad is the most cost-effective technique there is so far for in-lines

To learn how to use the brake-pad, first coast with both skates shoulder-width apart. As you coast, scissor your feet back and forth a few times to get used to the weight shift. To apply the brake, scissor your skate so that your braking skate is out in front. Lift the toe of your brake skate and press with the heel too. Your body weight is centered and even slightly on your back skate when you're just learning it. The key is a straight back and bent knees.

If you have trouble balancing or find your braking ankle a little weak, you can try the following trick: form a triangle with your legs (from the knee down to your skates) and the ground. This means putting your back knee either right behind or next to, the brake-foot knee to form that triangle.

Eventually you'll want to be able to stop at high speeds. Basically, the more pressure you use on the brake pad the faster you stop. Maximum stopping power is achieved by putting your entire body weight onto the brake by lifting your back foot, and leaning onto the brake. Note that you will still need to have one wheel on the ground (the rear wheel of your brake skate). When you lean back on the brake, you'll need that single wheel to be your pivot.

This takes some practice but is very effective. It is possible to stop within 15-20 ft even when going over 20 mph. You may still want to keep the other skate on the ground for balance, however.

Note that the amount of leverage (the amount of stopping power you have), is partially dependent on how worn your brake is. A half-worn brake will provide better leverage than either a new brake or a worn-out brake. Some people saw off part of the bottom of new brakes to avoid the annoying breaking-in period.

One important point to keep in mind when using the brake-pad: You can still steer while braking. Just keep the brake-pad on the ground and pivot on your heel wheel slightly to go the direction you want. This is very useful while going down a very narrow and curvy path or while trying to avoid curbs, pedestrians, parked cars, trees, and the like.

A brake-pad generally runs from $3 to $6 depending on what type you buy. Compare this with wheels which are $5.50 or more each and the freebie stops: runouts, wind-braking, billiard ball stop (freebies since you're not wearing anything down). Wheels are expensive, and the freebie stops are infrequently available, if at all, for the large majority of skating situations. The brake should be your standard stop, provided that you learn it well. (see "Wile E. Coyote" stops for a rather interesting variation)

For a low-speed rolling stop, point your heels inward (for backwards) or your toes together (for forwards) and let your skates bang into each other. This might throw you in the direction you're going (depending on your speed), so take care to be prepared to lean forward or backwards to compensate.

You can do a more exaggerated snowplow by spreading your legs out past shoulder-width and pointing your skates inward or outwards as before (and you won't bang your skates together.) Here, use leg strength to press your inner edges against the ground, and you'll slow down appreciably. This can work even at very high speeds.


Skating off pavement onto grass. You can weave from pavement to grass and back to pavement to control your speed, especially when going downhill. To stop completely just stay on the grass.

As you hit the grass, knees are kept bent, and one foot is ahead of the other. Nearly all weight is distributed on the foot that will hit the grass first, and you keep that leg real stiff, as if plowing a path for the trailing leg to follow. Very little weight is on the trailing leg. Muscles in the trailing leg are relaxed. The only function of the trailing leg is stability and balance. The leading leg does most of the work.

Beginners are often intimidated by this procedure, but it is really a very simple physical feat. The hard part, if any, is simply understanding mentally what it is you are trying to do, as I explained.

This is a lot of fun, too. I like to hit the grass full speed, and then skate as far down a slope as possible before the grass stops me.

One important requirement is that the ground should be dry. Wet dirt or grass will clog your wheels and your skates will also sink into mud (yuck).

This is where you skate into a spin to transfer your linear momentum into angular momentum. To do this, you sort of stop-n-hold one skate at an angle to act as the pivot foot and the other traces a circle around it (and you). It may help to think of having each skate trace concentric circles, with the pivot skate tracing the much smaller inner one. The pivot skate will be turning on its outside edge, while the outer skate will be on its inside edge.

A spinout with your skates in a bent spread eagle position (i.e., heels pointed towards each other, skates at slightly less than 180 degrees). There is no pivot foot here, instead both your skates trace the arc.

There are inside and outside spread eagles, where you skate on both inside or both outside edges. The above paragraph describes the inside spread eagle.

A sustained outside spread eagle is more of an artistic skating move than a practical stop, although I use it occasionally to stop on flat surfaces.

NOTE that all types of spinouts require a fair amount of room. Your forward motion is quite suddenly changed to angular motion so I'd recommend this mainly for low traffic areas where you won't have people running into you from behind when you do the spinout.

This stop works both forwards and backwards at higher speeds. I call this the crossover stop because your feet are held in the position of a spread-out crossover. In this stop, you're going to be arcing to one side. The harder and sharper you turn, the faster you stop. If you tend to trip on your skates, spread your skates farther apart (forwards-backwards).

The braking pressure comes from the turn. The harder you press with the outer edge of your back skate, the faster you stop. So if you're turning left, your right skate is in front, the left skate is almost right behind it (so that all your wheels are in line). Press on the outer edge of your left skate (your back skate) and on the inner edge of your right skate.

There is also the inverted crossover stop where your feet positions are reversed: so you turn left with your left foot forward and right foot back (and vice versa for right turns). Watch ice hockey players just after play has stopped. More often than not, the circle around in the inverted crossover position.

Both crossover stops are good for high speed stops but make sure you have plenty of open space.

For skiers, this maps over very nicely. This is more of a speed control technique rather than a stop, but it's very useful to know. Explaining slalom turns can take an entire book in itself, so I will merely suggest that you find a skier or a ski book to show you how.

One way to practice this is to find a nice gentle slope with plenty of space at the bottom, set up cones in a line, and weave through the cones.

Wind-braking is more for speed-control than outright stopping (although on windy days, wind-braking can stop you). Just stand up, spread your arms out and catch the air like a sail. You'll probably need to lean forwards slightly, to counter the force of the wind.


This next set of stops require good independent leg control. These advanced stops will require you to be skating only one foot for some portion of the technique.
This stop uses your wheels as a source of friction. To do the T-stop, place one skate behind you, nearly perpendicular to your direction of travel. Bend a little in both knees to drag your wheels. You should think more of dragging the heel than the toe. Apply the braking pressure to your heel. If you drag the toe too much, you will end up spinning around. Keep your weight mainly on your skating (front) foot. As you learn to stop at higher speeds you will apply more downward pressure to the back skate (but your weight is still on the front skate).

If you have a World Wide Web (WWW) browser, Check out Scott's picture tutorial on T-stops.

NOTE: One particular phenomenon to avoid in the T-stop, or any wheel-dragging stop (such as the toe drag) is the "flats". If you T- stop or toe drag such that the wheels do not roll as your drag, you will end up with a flattened wheel which will not roll smoothly at all. In effect, ruining your wheel(s).

Similar to the T-stop except you drag only the toe wheel instead of all four or five wheels. Unlike the T-stop it's not critical to keep the skate perpendicular to your line of travel. In fact, you're free to drag the wheel anywhere in a 180+ degree arc behind you. Also, your toe can be pointed into the ground at pretty much any angle. (If you have old wheels, the toe position is a good place to put them if you want to avoid shredding your good wheels.)

The toe drag is better than the T-stop in that you wear down only one wheel, and more importantly, you are also allowed much better control over steering, since you can still stop effectively even if the drag wheel rolls too much. The toe drag can stop you even when at cruising speeds, although at significantly longer breaking distance than the brake-pad or the T-stop since you are dragging only one wheel.

This is a T-stop when you're rolling backwards. There are two ways to perform this stop. The first way is to stop by dragging the outside edge of your skate (i.e., toe pointed outward). The harder way is to point your toe inward, much like a reverse New York stop (see New York stop).


These three stepping stops are essentially advanced low-speed stops ("advanced" since they require good independent control over each skate). They could also be called "pushing" stops, since most of the braking action is done by pushing a skate against your motion. Many advanced skaters will do this intuitively, but I will detail them here for completeness.

This is like when someone pushes you from the front while you are wearing shoes. One foot automatically steps back to keep you from falling backwards. On skates then, while rolling backwards, you simply put one skate behind you, 90 degrees to the other skate, and hold it there so that your body doesn't roll any further. This is basically a very low- speed power stop/power slide, but without the sliding and scraping action of the wheels (see the Power Stop).

The faster you are moving, the closer you are to doing a true power stop. This may be a good method to learn the power stop, gradually building up speed.

A low-speed stop very similar to the backwards stepping stop except you're rolling forwards. This time you plant your skate 90 degrees out in front of, or right next to the rolling skate. Your front heel will be pointing inwards (it's probably easier for most people to keep the toe pointed outward here). This is especially useful at curbs, like just before you accidentally roll into an intersection, in crowded indoor places, or if you just want to get a little closer to people you're talking with.

This stop should halt you immediately. Once you plant your foot, your body should stop moving forward. You may find it easier if you bend slightly at the waist and knee to give your skate a better angle to grab.

You can also use this stop in a sort of shuffling fashion: stop, roll a little, stop, roll a little, etc., until you get to precisely where you want to be.

While rolling, point and lift one skate inward, and set it back down. Roll on it and push off slightly at the heel. Now lift the other skate, and do the same.

Essentially you are skating backwards even though moving forwards. Keep doing it and you will eventually start skating backwards. This can be done even at high speeds.

This is for rolling backwards. Similar to the toe drag except you drag your heel wheel. If you find your drag skate rolling sideways, apply more pressure to your heel wheel.

Now that you can do toe-drags, heel-drags and spinouts...

This is a one-footed spinout with an accompanying toe-drag on the other foot. The toe drag will be in the inside of the spinout. So for a right-foot toe-drag spinout, you will be carving a right turn. It takes a bit more balance and strength and will shred your toe wheel a lot. The more pressure on the toe, and the sharper/harder you carve your turn, the faster you stop.

At maximum effectiveness, it can stop you very quickly. The skating foot will be nearly doing a power slide (see Power Stop) and the dragging foot will be doing a very hard toe-drag. Done correctly at low to medium speeds, it takes up at most a sidewalk's width. At downhill speeds, expect to take up most of a car lane.

NOTE that hitting a crack or rock during this stop really bites since you've got most of your weight on one skating foot. Look for any debris or holes ahead of you and be prepared.

For this spinout, just plant one of your heel wheels on the ground out in front of you and spin around it. The only tricky part is that the pivot heel wheel may roll a little, so keep some downward pressure on it. It probably helps to keep your pivot leg straight and slightly locked to help stabilize the pivot.

A variation on heel-drag spinouts is to use your brake-pad as the pivot.

This stop looks pretty neat when going backwards, although you should be careful to protect your knees if you have to abort. To perform this backwards, start a heel-drag stop (you're skating backwards), carve the skating foot behind and to the inside, and you should spin around the heel wheel/brake.

You approach the curb at around 90 degrees (i.e., straight on) and lift your toes enough to clear the curb. This should jam your wheels and runners into the curb. You should be prepared to compensate for the sudden change in your motion.

An alternative curb ramming stop is to do a spinout near the curb and ram the back of your skate into the curb.

Both these techniques cause quite a bit of shock to your skates (especially at high speeds) so if you really love your skates you may not want to do this stop too often 8-)

This is one of the most effective stops, and also one of the hardest. To do this stop, you should be able to skate forwards and backwards well, and also be able to flip front-to-back quickly.

There appear different approaches to learning the power stop. The end result should be the same, or nearly so, but both are detailed below. It is left to the reader to decide which one is easier to follow.

One way:

You can piece the power stop together by combining two things:

  1. flip front to backward.
  2. place one foot behind you and push the entire row of wheels at a very sharp angle into the ground.

You can practice this by skating backwards, gliding, and then with nearly all your weight on one foot, bring the other foot behind you, perpendicular to your direction of travel (see the Backward Stepping stop).

You should start out doing this while traveling slowly. Your wheels should scrape a little. If they catch, you need to hold your braking skate at a sharper angle. Once you get this down, you can practice flipping front-to-back, coast a little, and then stop. Eventually, the combination becomes one smooth move: just get the braking leg extended as soon as you flip.

You can use any flip (mohawk, 3-turn, toe-pivot, etc.) for this stop. This stop is good for hockey, and a good stop when going backwards (especially at higher speeds). A power-stop using a jump turn is called a chop stop (see following section).

The other way:

The second method involves one continuous motion instead of two: Skate forward on an outside edge, while extending the free leg to the side. All weight is on the skating leg. The free leg is dragged along the ground. Now sharpen the turn on the outside edge of the skating leg (with its knee greatly bent), and swing the free leg in front. This continuous transition causes the skating leg to turn, so it's now skating in reverse.

The key is to have all the weight on the skating leg. If you place any weight on the free leg, you will go into a spin and lose control.

Some prefer this method because you do not need to go into a complete power slide to stop. At any point in the continuous motion, you can abort if something is going wrong. Only at higher speeds is it necessary to completely turn the skating foot. There is less risk of catching the free leg on an uneven surface because it is already extended and dragging before you swing around.

If you have a WWW browser, check out Scott's power-sliding picture tutorial.

For skating forward or backward at low to moderate speeds. This is much like the hockey stops done on ice except, since you can't shave asphalt, you need to jump and turn both skates and hips perpendicular to the direction of travel. Land with the skates at an angle (like in the power stop) and push your wheels against the ground. To maintain balance you can keep one skate mainly beneath you, while the other goes out forward to stop you.

Most of the shredding will be done on the lead skate, where the inside of your lead leg should make a sharp angle against the ground.

Basically what this is, is a power stop using a jump turn.

The jump isn't so much for air time as for lifting your skates off the ground so you can reposition them sideways. The lower the jump you can get away with, the less off balance you should be when you land. However, if you don't jump high enough you may not be able to place your lead skate at a sufficient angle. Caution should be used even more so in this stop than in others.

The particulars of the jump aren't crucial. You can lead with one foot followed by the other, and land in that order; or jump and land with both feet at once. Pick whatever style you're most comfortable with.

Harder than even the power stop, the New York stop is mainly a power stop but you don't turn your gliding foot! It doesn't appear that just anyone can perform this stop, since it seems to require quite a bit of knee flexibility. L = the track left by the left skate, R = ditto by the right skate
  ------ direction of travel --- >

  L----------------------   |  <-   slide with skate, scraping edges of
                            /   |---all the wheels like the power-slide
  R---                     /   <-
       \                 /
         \             /          (A NY stop with the right foot)
           \         /
This stop requires your knee to be twisted inward (not a natural position, by far), so if you can't do it, I wouldn't say it's a big loss since it seems to have above average potential to cause injury if done wrong.

This stop requires brakes on both skates and is very reminiscent of cartoon charaters, Wile E. Coyote in particular 8-), when they stop on their heels after going very, very, VERY fast (meep meep! 8-).

Once you've got some stops perfected, the next thing you might want to try is a sequence or combination of several stops. These are definitely more fun and a bit more showy. These are some of the random combination stops that I do. You can easily make up your own. (Sequences are denoted with "->" and combos with "+")

Crossover stop -> turn opposite direction -> toe-drag spinout. So for example, you can crossover stop to the left, ride your left skate and do a toe drag (right toe pivot) while turning to the right to complete the S-pattern.

Double crossover stop
crossover stop -> inverted crossover stop (or vice versa). This also traces out an S-pattern.

Braking T-stop
T-stop with non-brake foot + brake with brake-pad

Braking toe-drag
Brake with brake-pad + toe-drag on other skate. The braking toe-drag and the braking T-stop are the two of the most effective ways to stop that I know of when cruising.

Braking spread-eagle
Spread-eagle (follow w/ spinout optional) with braking skate in front + braking with brake-pad

Braking glide stop
glide -> reverse feet positions -> brake-pad. The effect is that of shuffling your feet quickly and stopping. (Glide: a heel-toe glide, one skate out, and one skate back; use only the back toe and front heel wheels. The back skate should be the one with the brake since the assembly gets in the way on the front skate)

Related Topics


Falling should be one of your last resort techniques, but everyone falls some time, so it's a good and safe thing to know. Falling can be practiced at low speeds to get used to the idea that indeed, you can plop on your guards and pads, and come away safe as houses.

  1. One of the less graceful and more painful ways to stop is to wipeout into a face plant or another nasty, bloody occurrence. I daresay no one does this "stop" voluntarily. These stops work vicariously: If you see someone else do're likely to stop or slow down too 8-)

  2. At low speeds, a better (and less painful) falling-stop is to collapse your body in a way so that the primary scraping areas are the knee pads and your wrist guards/gloves. Bend your knees, fall on your knee pads and follow by falling on your wrist guards. Keep your wrists loose since there is still some risk of injury. See the collision section below.

If you tend to fall backwards, your rear-end will probably be your biggest cushion (just how big, depends on you 8-). You should try to spread out the shock to your arms and over as much body area as possible (in general)...the less directly on your wrists and elbows, probably the better. NOTE however, that your tailbone is, after all, located in your duff and a hard fall at too sharp an angle will either bruise or fracture/break the tailbone.

At high speeds, when you desperately need to stop, an outright collapse on your protection gear may not be enough. High speed falls are best when you take the brunt of the force with the entire body, save for the head (besides, you're wearing your helmet, right?)

Rolling with the fall is a key to reducing the force of impact. So if you happen to be careening down a hill, if possible, turn sideways to your direction of travel and fall uphill (to keep you from tumbling further down the hill). When you hit, keep your body loose, with hands up near your face or over your head. With luck, and no other dangers eminent (such as approaching 18-wheelers or rolling off a cliff), you should be able to stand up, thank your favorite deity, wipe yourself off, and go take a lesson in skating safety and control.

COLLISIONS WITH STATIONARY OBJECTS: Hopefully you will never ever have to use a collision as a means to stop, but if you ever do, keep your limbs bent and your body relaxed. Act like a big shock-absorber and cushion your contact with bending of the arms and legs. Locked limbs will only increase the shock going into your joints causing likely ligament/tendon tears or other damage.

Bottom line

Practically speaking, all the stops that require dragging the wheels will put a bigger dent in your wallet since wheels cost a bundle. If you don't use your brake-pad, harder wheels may slow down the wear on your wheels.

Copyright © 1992-2005 Anthony D. Chen, All Rights Reserved

Skating Backwards

From: (Bungle)
Date: 9 Sep 1994 00:12:35 +0100

The easiest way to start, is _slowly_. Build up in stages.

Moving in this ----------------> direction

Stage one:

A simple roll backwards on flat ground, letting skates go apart, then back to the middle. Don't try and lift feet off the ground at any time.

	       ___..___                ___..___
Right foot      ---''''        ````---..---''''        ````---..

Left foot       ---....___  ___....---'`---....___  ___....---'`
		  `'                      `'
Stage two:

Keep one foot steady (if you are better at right-handed cross-overs, this should probably be your left foot) and do more exaggerated shorter movements with the other foot. Push the foot out quite hard (with toe pointing inwards slightly) while putting most weight on the other foot. I find it easier to use the front wheels on my pushing foot. When pulling the foot back in, do not try to lift it, just pull it in slowly. Don't try to create motion from the inward pull. Motion should be from the out-push only.

	 ,--...         ,--...          ,--...
Right foot     ,'     ```--...,'      ```--...,'      ```--...

left foot      -----------------------------------------------

Stage three:

Swap feet over.

Stage four:

Push with alternate feet.

	 ,--...                      ,--...
Right foot     ,'      ```--...............,'      ```--.............

Left foot      ''''''````````.      ___--'''''''''```````.      ___--
		      `--'''                      `--'''

Stage five:

Move feet at the same time

                 ,--...          ,--...          ,--...
Right foot     ,'      ```--...,'      ```--...,'      ```--...,

Left foot       ___--''`.      ___--''`.      ___--''`.      ___
               '         `--'''         `--'''         `--'''

Stage six:

This is where you start trying hills, corners, crossovers, stairs, or whatever else takes you fancy.

From: (George Robbins)
There are several different ideas on the best way to get started with backwards skating, which means you tend to get a lot of responses, but no agreement.

1) Start by pushing off a wall or fence, or turning from forward to backward while rolling. Just coast until you feel secure with the general idea. A helmet isn't a bad idea, by the way!

2) Get your posture/balance right - your body should be upright, with your knees bent - if you lean forward while skating, this will seem like leaning backwards. If you lean forward you'll find yourself dancing on your toe wheels and then your nose.

3) Get your feet at a normal track width - not neccessarily clicking heels, but less than shoulder width. Many folk spread out when the feel insecure, but you can't "stroke" from that position.

4) At this point you can fool around a little - you can turn by leaning or keep yourself moving with a "sculling" motion - moving both feet out-in-out-in as if tracing coke-bottle curves.

5) Next, you need to get comfortable with rolling on one foot, so that you can be pushing with the other. Just pick up one foot - half an inch is fine - and roll on the other. This will require that you get the rolling foot centered under your weight! (see 2 above). Practice some one-foot gliding and turns.

6) Finally, you are ready to stroke - just push one leg out and to the side while you roll on the other, then at the end of the stroke, pick up that skate and set it back alongside the other. Alternate feet, and as you get the hang of it, you'll find that you can maintain and build speed.

7) Expect it to take a while for you to get comfortable, just try a little backwards action each time you go out to skate. You also want to get in the habit of looking over your shoulder to see where you're going, looking only at where you've been leads to surprises.

8) There an alternate method of learning to stroke, which goes from sculling with both feet to sculling with one at a time and then getting a more powerful push with that foot. This may lead more naturally to the Hockey wide-track "C-cut" backward stride, where you roll/slide the foot back instead of picking it up, but that's more for quick maneuvering, not speed/distance skating.

Skating Downhills
(and surviving!)

by Tony Chen

For whatever reason that you're tackling downhill skating (you want to cross-train for skiing, you like the speed, there's no other way around, etc.), you should never take it for granted that you can just "pick it up". Otherwise, the paramedics might be the ones doing the picking up (of the pieces of your shredded body).

Note that skating downhill can easily exceed 30-35mph. Skaters have been clocked at over 75mph, so downhill skating should NEVER be treated lightly. Even if you're a seasoned skater you have to keep your mind and body on the hill. It only takes a small pebble or crack to toss you into a tree or car.

Time for an anecdote, to make my point:

Back in 1992, while I was still at Princeton, some of my skating buddies and I rented skates for a whole group of our other friends who didn't have skates. We went over to a short campus road that was nice and flat so that everyone could practice their skating. After maybe 15 minutes of zooming back and forth on that stretch of asphalt, we decided to take the whole group down to the wide-open backlot behind the gym.

One thing we forgot about: the only way to the gym was downhill on the main campus road. As the group turned onto the main road (some on the sidewalk grass, others hanging on to the better skaters) one skater started rolling down, ever so slowly. By the time she was pointed fully downhill, she was already going fast enough to be beyond her control level.

She continued accelerating for 20 or 30 yards, calling out for help. The road went by a dorm, so there was no grassy areas nearby. Nothing was nearby for grabbing. I saw what was happening and sprinted to the main road and then down the hill after her. I had to get her to grab my arm, and then I stomped on the brake. After a few seconds of brake screeching, we finally stopped.

Okay, happy ending, no one hurt, and all that. The point is, it doesn't take much to get out of control when you're going downhill. My friend was probably only going 10 mph, but when you feel out of control it SEEMS like 50mph.

Downhill skating should be attempted only after you've learned some of the basic skating skills: turns, braking, and balance. Braking means not only the heel brake, but alternative speed control methods like the T-stop, slaloming, toe-drag, and others. If you don't know how to control your speed, the ground hitting your face at 30mph will do it for you, so take your pick 8-)

There are 6 main components for downhill skating:

  1. Safety and your gear
  2. Safety and the road
  3. Safety in your mind
  4. Braking ability and power
  5. Speed control
  6. Relax!
1. Safety and your gear
Although you should be wearing your helmet even for non-hill skating, it goes double and triple for downhills. Wiping out at even 15-20mph can cause major road rash and brain damage, so wear those pads!

2. Safety and the road
All the skating equipment in the world may not help if the hill you're skating on is pothole-ridden, debris-covered, or just downright bumpy. Make sure you scout a hill on foot so that you know what to expect. If you're in a car, get out and walk. Your car will make the road seem deceptively smooth. Your skate wheels will feel every bump and crack, so take the time to know what you're getting into.

3. Safety and your mind
Even if you've got great equipment and scouted the hill, it won't make a difference if you go out and skate like a reckless maniac. If you know that there is occasional car traffic, you have to keep your eyes and ears open. If a car is about to pass you, get narrow, near the curb, and let them know you see them. Know where there are stop lights, intersections, and pedestrian crossings so that you'll be prepared.

It helps if you've got other skaters watching out for traffic, both downstream and upstream. Not that I'm advocating that you have hordes of skaters on a hill, but if you're going to be skating downhill with others, watch out for each other.

4. Braking ability and braking power:
First, I would suggest a lot of practice learning to stop quickly using only your brake skate. But before you try any of this, you must be comfortable using the heel brake! If you're not, practice using the heel brake first, even if it takes a few days or a week or even a month. Trust me -- braking won't be any easier to learn while you're zooming down a hill dodging cars. It has got to be so ingrained that you can brake automatically.

Part I: flats

  • Find a good open area like a parking lot (no traffic, etc.)
  • Start at one side, skate as fast as you can towards the other side
  • When you're halfway across, try to brake as fast as possible
  • Repeat until you can stop with all your weight on the brake. You'll have to lift your back skate and press into your braking heel.

Part II: hills

  • Find a reasonable hill that has little or no traffic
  • Start at the bottom and skate up to the point where you feel comfortable skating all the way down.
  • Coast down, braking as needed.
  • Repeat until you're comfortable with that height. Then do it again, but from a bit higher up the hill.

The main thing to keep in mind is the leverage, with the pivot at your braking heel. You want to apply all the pressure into the brake. Also, make sure to lean back slightly, to counter your forward motion.

5. Speed control
You won't always want to stop completely as you coast downhill. Most of the time you only want to keep your speed at a certain level. To do this, you want to apply your brakes every 5-10 yards, or even more frequently if you need to. You can also apply the brake continuously, but at only half-pressure. If you've practiced your braking in step 1, then this should be no problem. The idea is that if your speed stays within your comfort zone, you'll be in much better control.

6. Relax
When you attain braking proficiency and speed control, then being relaxed while you skate downhill should come fairly easy. Being relaxed isn't just some Zen thing or a way to look cool. Keeping relaxed is critical for unanticipated bumps or debris on the road that could make you trip and wipe out. When you're relaxed your body reflexes can respond better than when you're all tense from fear of wiping out.
Hopefully, when all is said and done, you'll be a much more adept skater when you've mastered downhill skating. Not only will you be a better skater overall, since many of the skills will transfer to other skating methods, but you'll be a much more confident skater.

Good luck, and skate smart!


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