Making Custom RollerSkates in the Philippines
I talk far too much! You don't have to read it all, you can skip ahead if you want...
"Look Ma'! My Wheels Fell Off!"
15th of December 2020. A handful of people were there when it happened. I was accelerating as hard as I could and then, without warning, I was upside down. I was looking down at the concrete just inches from my nose. Time slowed. I was calm. My left arm reached over my head and touched the floor, elbow first. The ground bit into my skin. I skidded on my arm, momentum carrying me onwards. My right arm followed over my head, preparing to enter a roll. Still in slow motion, I worried that I would lose an extraordinary amount of skin. It would take a long time to heal. I said, "Oh no, not agai...." and then time sped up, back to normal. I tumbled down the road, rolled over a few times and lay in a crumpled heap. I checked my arm. I had a tiny cut about the size of a small coin. That's it. Some blood, sure, but nothing much. "Phew!"
Then I wanted to know what happened. I looked back down the road to see what I had tripped over. Nothing. So what on Earth? Then I saw my two front wheels still attached to the axles parked up against the curb. Ah. Ok, so that'll be it then. My wheels fell off. But how? The Kingpin that holds the axle onto the skate had snapped clean in half - the other half remained in my skate!
It took me a while to get that half-bolt removed. In the end I found a welder who managed to get it out. And then I had to find a replacement bolt and went all over Manila (and Angeles) but nobody could identify and replace the bolt, people were giving me different answers. Some thought it was 10mm. Others gave an Imperial measurement. I even went to a bolt factory and walked in the front door but they would only make bolts in runs of several hundreds of thousands and anyway couldn't manage to identify the bolt between them. It was confusing, and frustrating.
It turns out that the company who made this pair of skates, SureGrip, fit a non-standard bolt. They mix UK and US measurements for the bolt and thread and they say that this is to prevent people from replacing the bolt with weaker steel replacements and hurting themselves.
So I took two courses of action.
Firstly, I found a local company with a lathe to make a weaker steel replacement :)
Secondly, I ordered a new bolt online from US. In fact I ordered four of them. A skating group, Everywhere We Skate, were regularly doing consortium ordering from overseas to keep postage costs down, so that really helped.
However, that got me thinking, since my skates were falling to pieces anyway, it might be time to look into getting an upgrade.
Sandy's History of Broken Skates
I used hire skates when I first started skating back in 1998. I had no idea just how bad hire skates were until a few months later when my parents bought me an actual pair of skates as an 18th birthday gift. There was a lot of talk of "are you sure you want this?" because it was a lot of money for us. Well, that was 24 years ago so I guess it was a good investment! Now, I didn't know it at the time but those were 'artistic' skates, slim leather boots, used primarily for competition and certainly used for skating on smooth, wooden floors, not for the rough concrete and rigours of outdoors skating. I didn't realise how different it was because I had never skated outside.
Anyway, I only skated indoors but those skates didn't last long. A few weeks later I had a high speed crash, flipped upside down and ripped the heel clean off the boot. I was unmarked, not even a scratch. But the skates were a write-off.
Somehow or other (probably with parents help), I found another new pair of skates and was good to go.
And then a friend loaned me some skates, outdoor skates, Roces, with thick, solid plastic walls. He urged me to try them - thank you Paul!. And then we went outside and I tried them. "Whoa. You're kidding me, rightt? They're so heavy and the ground, how the hell do you skate on that? Are you insane? It's impossible." Paul opened the door for me to the world of outdoors skating and I was awful.
Well, if that was opening the door, then a few weeks later, another friend, John, shot me threw a wormhole. He took me skating around London. And that was that. Hooked on outdoors skating! John's to blame!
By 2015 I had been through three pairs of outdoor skates: all Roces and all destroyed beyond repair. The last pair ended up in a garbage bin in Nice. I dumped them there on the last day of a trip knowing I wouldn't be skating again for a while as i was going back to Philippines where there isn't really anywhere to skate - or so I thought at the time. It doesn't matter so much aesthetically that skates are damaged, that's not the problem. The problem is that when you are hacking along at speed and try to turn because an old lady is directly in front of you the skates simply do not turn. You can try, it doesn't work. I know. I tried. My foot turned sideways and came out the side of the skate and I continued past the old lady barely missing her. That was that. No more. They are too dangerous and I don't want to hurt someone else. End of skates.
So I had nothing to use until another trip back to UK when I remembered that I still had my old pair from 1999 rotting away in a cupboard somewhere so I went and got them and tried them outdoors. That is when I discovered that the thin leather boots are really not designed for outdoors! I felt like an absolute beginner again. No support at all for your foot. I thought I'd break my ankle. Well I didn't break my ankle. I did cut my arm a few times though, before I got used to them, but it didn't take long, just a couple of days and even though I felt very unsupported and nervous on them I could skate again and was improving quickly enough.
And then I tried skating in Manila ;). That brings its own set of stories - skating from Kapitolyo pub to Mandaluyong Circle quite drunk, experiencing Edsa on skates for the first time, being around for the EWS skate meets, and others! But I skated in those leather skates right up to the point where I had torn through the leather and was skating in the rain in IloIlo and experienced the same things as before... I couldn't turn or accelerate. I patched them up with a leather hand bag and that did the trick for another year or two, but I finally decided to look at replacing my roller skates.
What Is Important In The Ideal Rollerskate?
By far the most important thing to me is the fit. Ok, the chassis is important, sure, but the fit of the skate is number one! I want to feel everything beneath my feet. When I do something I want it to affect the wheels immediately. Immediately! Not a split second later after my foot moves around loosely and finally touches the side of the boot. No. It has to happen now. I don't want my feet moving around freely. No. My feet can move around freely as much as they want when they are not in shoes or boots. But for now they must be imprisoned in a tight leather boot. That's how it has to be. No compromise. This is even more important with thin, leather, artistic skates. There is no support for the ankles, there is no plastic shell acting as part of the chassis by way of being rigid. No. It's your foot and the wheels and the ground beneath. No air inside my boots please.
It follows then that I need a boot that is very, very similar to my existing boots, which happen to fit perfectly. They probably stunted the growth of my feet, I think that's why they feel almost molded onto my feet.
Logistical Problems Buying Skates in Philippines
The biggest problem is that are very few shops in Philippines selling skates and you cannot trial-fit clothes or shoes when you're buying them online. We have already established that having a good fit is my number one priority so buying new skates online is out. It's a no-go, even before you consider the cost of shipping into Philippines. The cost is too high and therefore the risk of having a bad buy is far too much of a gamble.
To be fair, there are an increasing number of places selling skates in the Philippines, especially in the Philippines and especially if you're fairly new to skating or want to try skating without investing a lot of money. I absolutely recommend Chasers, for example, for people just getting into skating or people less fussy than me. They're really good skates and not too expensive. A lot of people getting into skating do also buy from Shoppee and get perfectly reasonable skates that fit just fine for them.
Where Can You Buy Rollerskates or RollerBlades in Philippines?
Chaser Action Sports, Shoppee, Decathlon, some branches of Tobys Sports, Megamall have a shop now in the basement for skaters too.
I'll Just Make My Own Custom Build Roller Skates Then!
Fine. If I can't find what I want I'll have it made! But if I want a boot made I'll need to import the chassis (aka "plates") from overseas. Now we come back to the bolt-buying episode :). I decided to add a new chassis to my order, but it should be something better than I already have but not too expensive and the wheel base should be identical to what I am currently using. My existing plates are SureGrip Classic, the heaviest, most robust chassis that SureGrip have to offer. Secondly, since I would be spending a reasonable amount on shipping I wanted something that would be a noticeable improvement. What can I realistically improve on a plate? For sure I want it to be equally robust, but maybe something lighter and not too expensive? I went with SureGrip Avanti Aluminium. They're about 30% lighter, just as strong and have a similar setup to Classic. And then I bought a bunch of bushings (cushions) and some spare parts. i had never played around with bushings before so I thought I'd have a go. Can't hurt, right?
And wow!! What a difference!
It is fairly common to advise skaters to adjust the trucks on their skates to get them as loose as they can whilst still maintaining total control even at high speeds. Normally people will say to start with them super tight and loosen them until you can no longer skate at full speed without wobbling. The reason is that maximum looseness gives you more agility and tightness gives you control but sacrifices the agility. By adjusting them to the loosest you can handle at full speed you will find a level that gives you the most agility without sacrificing control.
It turns out that this isn't really the best advice. I now believe that the best advice, if you have progressed and want to invest in your skates, is to change the cushions. I skated for 20 years without knowing just how bad my stock cushions were. I had no idea!
These tiny little plastic things could make the biggest difference to your skating, more than anything else by a mile. When I was skating in Roces I used to keep my trucks so tight that super skater boy George told me "your skates are like bricks man, how do you skate on those?" They were so tight that whenever I bought new wheels they were so close to the boot that I'd wear grooves into the plastic when I turned. Fast forward to 2020s and with the artistic skates I wore the trucks so loose that nobody would touch my skates, it looked like the trucks were held on with a rubber band.
And now, finally I have changed the cushions. My goodness. The cushions go between the trucks and the skate and act like a suspension. They affect anything to do with your interaction with the ground, especially turning. You can buy them in different shapes and different hardnesses.
Essentially fitting different cushions means that you don't have to loosen/tighten the trucks to get the turniness or springiness or feel that you want in your skates. WIth proper cushions you can do your trucks up to the 'correct' tightness and the cushions themselves affect the movement. No more super tight or super loose trucks for me! I urge you to buy 2-3 sets of different hardnesses, do it today, and play around with them until you get a setup you like. You will not believe the difference.
I tried to get my skates made at Marikina but none of the shoe makers there replied to me. Oh, that's not true. One replied and asked for a photo of my current skates and then quoted me P20k to replicate them. I couldn't get any sense out of anyone else and then time happened and so I just carried on skating on my leather hand-bag-patched-up skates right up until January 2023 just a few weeks ago.
Happily I still have the chassis I bought way back in January 2021 and all the spare trucks and bushings/cushions, all I needed was the boot!
Then one day... walking through Angeles, I saw this...
I asked Jimmy to take on my project and he agreed.
I was anxious to find someone who can really understand what I am saying and advise me if my ideas suck, who can communicate well about the design and then obviously who is skilled and who can give me an affordable price. Jimmy does motorcross himself so he knows about sports and how important it is to be happy with your boots and his prices are fantastic.
My Criteria for the design of the Boot
I asked Jimmy to replicate my old boot, including the heel, the size, shape, everything, but with a modification that allows me to strap my foot downwards into the boot so that there is no vertical movement at all, and to separately be able to tie/strap the back of the boot to me so I don't slide around horizontally. We decided to use laces and valcro straps and to cut a slit into the leather to prevent this skate getting in half like my last pair. Jimmy measured my feet and measured the skates and said: "Sandy, your skates are too small for you, don't you get blisters?!" We had a discussion about measurements and tightness and so on and Jimmy set to work.
Five days later Jimmy produced this:
The total cost was less than P5,000. NOTE: I provided the Chassis, wheels, bearings, stoppers, and the screws and all hardware needed for the chassis. Jimmy made the boot, the straps, the heel and did all the work involved in putting everything together.
Unfortunately I had been unable to test the skates until last week - four weeks after having them made! I am also using new plates, much lighter than I am used to with a different type of stopper and new bushings. I found them very, very skittish for the first hour and kept tightening the trucks forgetting that I am using super soft bushings. I skated for about two hours and by the end I was starting to push them a bit and see what they can do, how much I can lean on them around corners and things like that.
I took some videos from the first 20 minutes or so so you can see I'm a bit wobbly. I forgot that with the new cushions I need to do the trucks up more tightly than before! That should make the difference But I'm looking forward to taking them out again and I am very happy with the results.