How I taught myself to skate

by Ilan Vardi

This file relates the extra effort I required to learn some basic techniques, all the books and websites that I found being insufficient. Perhaps this will help others attain these skills.

In general, it seems to me that a basic principle in mastering skating technique is to go from skating on your inside edges to your middle edges and, to learn the more advanced techniques, to the outside edges. Thus, much of my effort has been to concentrate on the ability to skate on my outside edges.

A. Parallel turns

Despite much effort (about 2 hours a week for 10 weeks), I was still unable to do parallel turns. No matter how much I tried to follow the instructions of books or websites, all that would ever happen is that my inside foot would leave the ground, and I would end up doing a one footed turn. In some sense, the key to learning came by changing practice areas (Invalides -> Palais Royal in Paris, France) which got me out of my rut, but also, the latter practice area had more downhill, allowing me to coast longer and more easily. Basically, I figured out that I needed to learn how to carve a turn with my inside skate. Once I did, I could do a parallel turn within a few minutes. This is how I did it: All instructions apply to doing a RIGHT TURN (you should practice both sides).

  1. Going at a fairly slow speed, scissor the right foot forward so that the rear wheel of the forward foot is about even with the front wheel of the rear foot, and they are fairly close together. (So far, just like in all the books.)
    Note: For the first month, doing this would invariably lead to me drifiting off towards the left. After a month, I was able to do this and keep a straight line. I don't know why I was doing this, or why I stopped doing it.

  2. In position 1. and coasting slowly, squeeze your legs together. In order to do this, apply some downwards force on the forward leg (you should feel the back cuff of your boot digging into the back of my leg). This should make you turn very slowly towards the right.

  3. To help you turn, pivot your torso towards the right as you squeeze your legs together.

  4. Do this faster, and lean to the right, as well as doing 2. and 3.

  5. Apply more weight to the left leg as you turn.

  6. You are doing a parallel turn!

Actually, you may be doing a wrong footed parallel turn (more pressure on the inside skate than on the outside skate), but once you can do this, the rest is easy, as explained in books and websites.


Three months later, I can now do parallel turns as well as slalom fairly well, though left turns are still more difficult form me than right turns. An analysis of why my right turns are better reveals that I initiate the turn better. I do this by turning my inside ankle in slightly in order to initiate the turn. It is almost as if I am trying to scrape the ground inwards with the front of my inner skate.

B. Crossovers

All the references I found had the following instructions for learning how to to crossovers: Do a parallel turn, then cross one leg over the other. That's it. However, I found out that I had a big problem. My feet simply refused to cross over: I would be doing a parallel turn, start crossing over, and my foot would simply freeze as it was about to cross over the other leg! This wasn't fear, it was just my body saying "no!" Anyway, after I finally did my first crossovers, I figured out the problem: First, you have to go fairly quickly to do a parallel turn, and I wasn't ready to learn this skill at such speeds. Second, I was much more comfortable with right parallel turns than left, and, combined with the fact that my brake was on my right skate, I was first attempting to crossover on the right (in a right turn), but upon actually doing it, I discovered that crossovers were easier for me on the left. Anyway, this what I did.

  1. Practice crossovers without skates by moving laterally and crossing over. Concentrate on keeping your feet flat and parallel to the ground.

  2. Practice crossovers with skates on a non-rolling surface like grass or a carpet. Also move laterally as you cross over. Concentrate on landing with all the wheels on the ground straight up and down.
    If you're like me, you will find that your feet already know how to avoid each other, even if you don't look down (try not to look down).

  3. Find a railing that you can skate next to, and which you can hang on to comfortably and which extends for at least for 10ft.

  4. With your skates on, face the railing, grab both hands to the railing, and cross over as you hold on to the railing. Go back and forth to practice both sides.

  5. As you get more comfortable, start letting go of the railing. Do this until you no longer use the railing.

  6. Now slowly coast parallel to the railing. While holding on to the railing and coasting, do a crossover, crossing over towards the left when the railing is on the left, and towards the right when the railing is on the left. Do this in both directions.

  7. Let go of the railing and cross over, catching on to railing if you lose your balance.

  8. Do this until you no longer need to use the railing.

  9. You are now doing crossovers!
By the way, it took me twenty times crossing over without using the railing but next to the railing, before I could cross over without being next to the railing. I really had a bick mental block!

To improve your crossovers, see Eddy Matzger's article How to be a better crossover artist.


In hindsight (three months later) I have come to realize that the problem in learning crossovers, that is freezing completely when trying to engage a crossover, was not simply fear of the unknown. In fact, this still happens to me sometimes, even though I can now do crossovers comfortably. This is my analysis of why this happens: you cannot do a real crossover unless you transfer your weight over your inside skate, that is your body weight must be committed slightly over and on the inside of your inside skate.
This remark shows that learning crossovers is somewhat of a vicious cycle: You can't do a crossover properly unless you commit to transfering your weight over the inside skate, but you can't do this comfortably unless you already know how to do a crossover!

I have also realized that crossover turns are the most important step to becoming a better skater because they teach you how to skate on your outside edge. I now begin all my technique practice sessions with 20 minutes of crossover practice (on both sides, of course).

C. Gliding on one foot

By this I mean the ability to coast in a straight line for abritrarily long periods. This is the key to correct skating form, see Eddy Matzger's Inline Skate Primer, and learning how to do it became a major obsession after I learned how to turn. I already knew from my cycling expreience that the point was not to achieve perfect balance, since this is physically impossible. The key to doing this, as in any other balance problem, is the ability to restore the balance point when you start losing your balance (in cycling the difficulty is learning how to steer, or, more precisely, how to countersteer).

In terms of losing balance, the main issue is losing it towards the outside edge, because your fall cannot be broken by your other foot. For a long time, I tried to address this issue by sticking my free foot in front of me, so that I could recover by crossing over, but this didn't help. I also did numerous crossover practices to get more used to the outside edge and to develop an underpush, but that didn't help either.

The breakthrough was completely unexpected: One day, I skated one footed off a very small curb (a couple of inches) and when the rear of my skate hit the ground, all the weight went firmly to the back, and I felt like I was steering from the back. This is somewhat comparable to learning to ride a bicycle no hands by firmly setting your weight over the rear wheel.

It took me a few more weeks of effort to succeed, with much skating off one footed to initiate correct form. The final breakthrough happened when I replaced my worn out wheels (their profile was almost flat) with new racing wheels (this also improved my turns) and when I started to crouch down more in order to center my body completely above my skate (as opposed to having just left-right balance). I was able to coast indefinitely on one foot (the left foot being better than the right) at first returning to the balance point by frantically waving my arms, and after some further thought, by making slight foot movements with the skate on which I was coasting.

I finally learned how to skate on one foot exactly six month after first taking up skating. In those six months, I skated about 6 to 8 hours a week and I'm fairly sure that, unlike parallel turns and crossovers, this technique actually requires adaptation of support muscles. So, unlike parallel turns and crossovers, it would seem that you must spend a lot of time skating before you can master it.

I can now emend slightly my original observation about the progression of skating technique: It is a progression from the inside edge to the outside edge, and from the front of the skate to the back of the skate.

D. T-stop

I found this technique extremely hard to learn. It took me over 7 months to finally start doing some correct T-stops, and over a month after I could glide indefinitely on one skate. Once again, I found that the key breakthrough technique was not mentioned in any book or website that I examined.

The first and most important bit of advice that I can offer is the following: Do not attempt to learn the T-stop too early! In fact, I believe that much of the difficulty I encountered stemmed form the fact that I started attempting the T-stop very early, about 2 weeks after learning to skate. This lead to some bad habits that took forever to correct. I would suggest trying the T-stop only after being able to glide on one skate.

The basic problem with the T-stop is that I always turned right (when dragging the right skate). This would happen no matter what I did, including trying the suggestions that I found in books and websites, i.e., holding my left shoulder with my right hand, looking straight forward, etc.

The breakthrough finally came when I started doing some serious practicing dragging my left foot. Since I hadn't done as much premature practicing on that side, I had fewer bad habits.
The basic idea is that as you slow down, the tendency to turn increases, and this can be effectively neutralized by pressing down on the outside of the leading foot. This puts pressure on the outside edge of the front skate and would ordinarily cause a turn in the outside direction, cancelling the turning offect of the rear skate.

The T-stop technique (right foot drag) from a relatively high speed, on flat smooth pavement is therefore:

  1. Drag the right foot with wheels on their inside edge to the side at a 30-75 degree angle. At moderately high speed, you can counter the turning direction by leaning left slightly or by facing straight forward. When dragging the foot, think of pressing your leg towards the inside. Leaning forward and bending the front knee will help.

    You can also drag your skate directly behind you at a 90 degree angle, but I believe that this position is less stable since dragging your foot to the side gives a wider lateral weight distribution. Dragging your foot directly behind you also requires a shift in body position and balance, so is not as flexible as dragging the foot to the side.

  2. As you slow down, you will start to turn right. Counter this by pressing down on the front left of your left skate. You will need to modulate this pressure depending on your speed and how hard you drag your rear skate (more pressure as you slow down).

    You will also need to increase the angle of the rear skate so that it will be at a 90 degree angle when you finally stop. You will also have to move your rear skate from the side to directly behind the front skate to form a perfect T when you come to a stop. Finally, it will help to move your body weight back as you slow down, i.e., straighten up as you slow down.

  3. Usual advice applies: It helps to drag all the wheels at the same time, and, since the tendency is to lift the rear, you should concentrate on pressing down the rear wheel.

Note that this process is fairly complicated: It requires being comfortable leaning on your outside edge, in fact, you effectively need to be able to steer with one foot. Also, it requires being comfortable stopping in the perfect T-position, which is somewhat unstable, especially with the front skate leaning left.

It now becomes clear why trying this technique too early is doomed to failure. As a beginner, you tend to use your inside edges, so you will not be able to correctly counter the tendency to turn by putting the front skate on its outside edge.

There is yet another difficulty that has to be overcome, namely how to do the T-stop when it's wet. Since the outside edges won't grip when it's wet, you have to drag the rear skate on its center edges. Also, the lack of grip means that the traction is low even at low speeds, so the high speed technique described in Point 1 above should be adopted even at slow speeds when it's wet. This means that you should always drag your rear skate at an angle and to the side.

By the way, here in Paris, removing the heel brake appears to be a badge of honor (red badge of courage?) with every experienced skater removing his, and it is not uncommon to see inelegant skaters with the canonical beginner pronation going brakeless. You therefore get to observe some really poor T-stopping technique.

Actually, it goes much deeper than that. For example, the canonical French skate instruction book is "Vivre en Roller", by Serge Rodriguez and Marion Thuriot, Chiron, Paris, 1997, which at the end of the paragraph devoted to the heel brake states: "In time and as your skating technique improves, you will want to remove your brake to have greater freedom in your skating. In order to do this you will need to make sure that you can do without this brake. Certain braking techniques will be effective substitutes for this bothersome plastic appendage." Moreover, they further state: "The T-stop is the most widely used technique and the quickest to learn." That last part seems totally ludicrous to me, given the complications involved, e.g., being able to steer with one foot.

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