In-Line Skates: What You Need to Know

Read tips on what to look for in in-line skates, and how to keep young skaters safe.
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In-Line Skates: What You Need to Know

Its popularity with kids is one reason in-line skating is among the fastest-growing sports in America.

Once kids discovered how much faster they could go on in-line skates, traditional roller skates became passé. Cruising speeds on these skates average 10 to 17 miles per hour. Kids don't like being confined to indoor rinks, either, which has been the traditional venue for roller skating. And in-line skating is versatile. It has spawned a whole new sport: roller hockey, which is similar to ice hockey but without the ice.

Safety Savvy

If you don't skate yourself, consider asking an experienced parent or teenager to give your child some pointers. Many communities have formal classes for both in-line skating and roller hockey. To find out if there are certified instructors in your area, call the International In-line Skating Association (IISA) at 910-762-7004 or visit the Web site

How Young Can They Start?

Most experts agree that when kids reach 7 or 8 years old, they have the muscle coordination and mental maturity to learn to skate safely.

While your child is learning, take her to an empty parking lot or other paved area where surfaces are smooth and there is no traffic. Or you may have access to a rink with space set aside for beginners. The skills she needs to master include steering, controlling her speed, and—most important—braking.

Buying Skates

The rule on skates for kids is not to buy a “too large” pair that they can grow into. If the skates are too big—or too small—your child can develop blisters. Some models come with removable liners in two sizes so the skates can be used longer. Another option is to shop at consignment stores where you may find a pair in your child's size that are in good condition because some other child outgrew them.

Necessary Safety Gear

Practiced properly and with the right gear, in-line skating is a relatively safe sport. Safety gear is designed to work together, so it's important to wear all of it, which includes:

  • A helmet labeled ANSI, ASTM, or Snell approved. A bike helmet is acceptable. (See Bike Helmets: Buying Them, Using Them) If your child engages in aggressive maneuvers, however, consider buying a multi-sport helmet sold specifically for use with in-line skates and skateboards. It covers more of the back of the head for protection during backward falls. Multi-sport helmets are not designed for biking, however, and shouldn't be used as a substitute for a bike helmet.
  • Knee pads securely fastened so they won't come off during a slide.
  • Elbow pads for protection during a sideways fall.
  • Wrist protectors with hard plastic linings that allow a skater to slide on the pavement during a fall.

When your child outgrows his skates, check his protective gear in case he's outgrown that, too.

Children who play in organized roller hockey leagues need additional protective equipment because of the risk of getting hit with a stick or the puck. This means helmets with face shields, shin guards, and mouthpieces. Protective cups are required for boys.

Safety Savvy

If your child wants to play roller hockey, she can find out about the rules, local instructors, and leagues from USA Hockey at 800-566-3288 or

Watch Out!

Don't buy a child's argument that he no longer needs to wear as much protective gear because he's become an experienced skater. He actually may need it more, because confidence breeds the inclination to go faster or try more daring stunts.

Rules of the Road

Along with requiring your child to wear safety gear, establish these safety rules:

  • Don't ride in the street. Most in-line skating fatalities have involved collisions with motor vehicles.
  • Don't ride after dark.
  • Don't ride on wet or rough pavement, gravel, or dirt.
  • Don't wear headphones or anything else that obstructs hearing or vision.

Skater Etiquette

To avoid streets, many skaters are taking to bike paths and areas set aside in public parks. They may be sharing the road with cyclists, joggers, and even parents pushing strollers. For that reason, your child should be taught to stay alert and to be courteous to others. He should keep to the right on sidewalks or paths and pass others on the left. In situations where their paths cross, skaters should yield to pedestrians.

The National Skate Patrol

Members of the National Skate Patrol are trained volunteers who patrol public skating areas and provide assistance to skaters, including on-the-spot instruction, advice, and maps. They carry two-way radios to summon help for injured skaters. Kids can get safety tips from patrol members, who are identified by their NSP T-shirts.