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Slalom Skating
 

General Information

 

Cones / Cups

Ikea Cups One of the traditionally popular choice of slalom "cones" are cups available from Ikea (in the kiddies section along with other plastic dinnerware in the store I went to in London). At a price of 6 cups for 1, these meet the required criteria of cheap, fairly small at 8cm dia, 9cm high (to make easier to stack in a bag and avoid on your skates!) and a reasonable weight to require a reasonably strong wind before they blow away. The downside is that if you land on one, being hard plastic they can leave you with a painful bruise (personal experience).

Starway Cones A second option (pictured) is the Starway cone, which at least years ago was used in several of the official slalom competitions. These have the added advantage of being made of rubber and collapsible so are less problematic to land on than the IKEA cups. However they also have the occasional habit of jamming under your skate if you hit them in the wrong way, causing an unbalancing/potentially fall where other cups would just be kicked away. These are also not cheap @ ~15 Euros (10) for a box of 10 plus shipping.

The most currently popular option seems to be the Seba slalom cones, which seem to be featured in most slalom competitions and are commonly used in Hyde Park. These are available in a range of colours and from skate stores and shops online.

Other options are numerous, depending on slalom style and your creativity. In Japan/USA taller "roadwork" style cones seem to be popular, though their style of slalom is more about skating between rather than over the cones. I've seen videos where people have tried plastic bottles, wine glasses, metal tubes, half tennis balls, candles, electronically lit cones...
 

Slalom Spacing

For slalom competitions, the standard is to have three lines of cones placed at 50cm, 80cm and 1m20 apart. Skaters are required in freestyle competitions to perform tricks on all three lines - clearly some tricks are more easily performed on the different spacings than others.

For beginners it is most common to start at a 1m20 or even 1m distance (which was how I first learnt), then graduating to the most commonly used 80cm spacing which works well for learning or performing most tricks.

Actually marking the spacings can be useful - if you can get away with it of course (we don't want to be banned from everywhere!). Chalk works well as a temporary option, but obviously you have to keep remeasuring and marking most days. More permanent markings if you have that option are often done with either spray paint or a permanent marker pen. The latter works particularly well as a fairly subtle option that may evade objections by park officials etc.

A tape measure or marked length of string obviously helps in getting the right spacing - when learning it can be hard to adjust to cups not on line or different distances apart as no rhythym can be established. As you progress you will want to be looking at the cups less for style points (or even unable to see them in some of the unsighted moves) so it is far more reassuring to be able to guess where the next cup should be!

In the USA (and Japan by the looks of many videos), a 6 foot spacing is the most common. The main focus in the USA is apparently speed slalom, and the only videos I have seen from there involve just a few tricks (backwards one foot, criss-cross or independent) quickly through the cones. Apparently sometimes there is the odd change to 4 or 3 feet spacing - which would certainly be a challenge given the size of the cones they use!
 

Skates

Slalom skating is an awful lot easier on the right skates. It obviously requires considerable precision and sharp turns, as well as a nice smooth run on your wheels - and a light boot also helps! For obvious reasons then you will not see any serious slalom skaters on aggressive skates. Likewise, even recreational skates while fine for beginning on are not favoured by serious slalom skaters.

As of this update to the web page (2009), the most popular slalom skates seem to be those in the Seba range, such as the Seba High or Seba Carbon (if you can afford it). Clearly other skate options are perfectly fine as well - such as from Twister or Powerslide

I currently still skate in my Mission D1 hockey skates. Hockey skates were a more popular option years ago when the hard boot choices were far less. The lack of a cuff means there is little ankle support, which requires more ankle strength to perform certain tricks in particular. However they have a short wheel base and are designed for aggressive fast turns (particularly with a Hi-Lo setup such as on my Missions). Deck I also recently purchased a pair of Seba Carbon skates - beautiful to skate on, but proving to be horrific to break in for me personally due to the pinching above the ankles of the carbon boot/cuff. Allegedly this does ease over time (several months) so hopefully perhaps by next year they shall be my regular choice.

Whichever skate you choose - if it has a heel brake, take it off for slalom!
 

Wheels / Rockering

Slalom (and slides of course) is probably the most demanding skating as far as wheel wear is concerned. It is also by it's nature performed on smooth surfaces, so softer wheels are not as necessary for comfort as they are on London streets. Hence 84A or harder wheels are ideal. If you skate indoors, then you will likely want a much more "sticky" wheel, such as 74A to give some better traction.

Rockering is defined as using different size wheels (or wheel axel positions if your frame supports it) to alter the profile of your skate on the ground. Most skates when you purchase them are 'flat' (OOOO) ie. all wheels touch the ground at once for maximum stability at speed. The most common setup for slalom is the banana (oOOo), to give you greater turn response both backwards and forwards (as only two wheels touch the ground at once). For instance on my Seba carbon skates, I rockered them with 76-80-80-76mm size wheels on each skate. As your toe wheel and heel wheel wear faster than the middle two, the rockering becomes even more pronounced - great for sharp turns, not so good for street skating in the wet!

You can of course also rocker skates that have a hi-lo setup - for instance my Mission skates which come with a 72-72-80-80 Hi-Lo I configure as 68-72-80-76. You don't need to buy a 68mm wheel of course - just use a worn older wheel.

If you are not used to it, rockered skates can feel a little odd to begin with. Once you do get used to it however then when rotating your wheels if you end up with a flat profile your skates will feel absolutely disgusting. It is possible to slalom without a rocker of course, though it will severely test your technique and leg strength.

Depending on your skating style (whether you do slides which I don't etc.) then I find the toe wheel wears faster than the heel, particularly if you do a lot of backwards skating. If you do not have a Hi-Lo skate frame then I swap those two wheels frequently. Once the toe/heel wheels are worn down, I move the middle two wheels to be the new toe/heel wheels, and put new 80mm wheels in the middle.

If you do have a Hi-Lo setup, then your rotation options with rockering are a bit different - it becomes a case of swapping wheels around based on their size to maintain a rocker profile.
 

Other Equipment...

Most slalomers use no skating protection - occasionally I will wear wristguards if attempting to learn something dodgy. The slower speeds and lots of practise will quickly get you to a point where you will fall less often, and react more quickly to reduce the chance of serious injury other than a bruised ego.

A recent disovery I absolutely swear by are the eZeefit sports booties, which are a neoprene anti-blister protection for around the ankle and heel. Having traditionally piled on multiple plasters (which apart from the expense tend to slip or be in just the wrong place) or worn multiple pairs of socks (hot and not great for precision skating) these are brilliant. No sign of any rubbing since!

What else do I have in my skating bag? Well apart from the obvious like water and snacks I always carry an mp3 player, tape measure, chalk, and a wheel/bearing removal tool. Sometimes I also carry a spare set of wheels with bearings - for instance if planning to slalom as well as street skate or indoors.

At home, I have bearing cleaning equipment (yes I do clean them). I use Bones Swiss ceramic bearings - very expensive but having maintained them they spin as well now as the day I bought them and are highly recommended.
 

Slalom Locations

The perfect slalom location is a nirvana that seems to be very difficult to come by in London. An ideal location would be:
  • Perfectly smooth clean surface, but still some grip.
  • Covered for during winter/wet days.
  • Well lit during the evenings.
  • Clear of pedestrians, and safe to put your bag down nearby.
  • Able to be permanently marked with spots for the cones.
  • Long enough to put at least a dozen cups down, with room before/after for acceleration/braking.
  • Wide enough to allow several skaters to pass without danger.
  • Flat! Although a very gentle slope can help practise certain moves (due to momentum being maintained).
  • Not too inconvenient to get to.
Here are some of the places I slalom in London...

Royal Victoria Docks - Near my flat is an outdoor concrete carpark, with fabulous views and no pedestrians. It's not perfect, having a deteriorating surface over the years, is uncovered and not overly well lit at night. Some cracks between the concrete slabs are wide enough to be annoying but don't disrupt a 17 cone line I have marked out. Still, it is 2 mins from my flat so for convenience it can't be beat... and I have it all to myself so no security issues or idiots getting in the way...

Trafalgar Square - I used to occasionally slalom here years ago, and was occasionally a popular haunt of the quad dancers as well. Having seen recent videos on YouTube of some of the Hyde Park regulars there it clearly is still a popular spot. You have to be comfortable with lots of onlookers though...

Hyde Park - The most popular and well known area to slalom. Serpentine Road up the end near the lake is marked with several rows of spots at various points along the road and is frequented by some of the best slalomers in London (and sometimes visiting skaters from France etc. too!). Unfortunately it is way too crowded for my taste - pedestrians, kids on scooters and people without a clue standing in the way. The road is cambered and an abrasive surface - skateable in the wet but will wear your wheels.

Greenwich Park - My most recent place to hang out when not near my flat. At the top of Greenwich Hill (near the observatory) are three roads which skaters are allowed to use. This area is far less crowded than Hyde Park, has a wider better surface and is a great place to skate. While there appears not as many high quality slalomers as you would find at Hyde Park, if you live this side of London it is hard to beat. Very friendly skaters there, it even has it's own website at www.skate-greenwich.co.uk

. Come along and say hi! Carpark Buildings - A good option especially during winter if you can wangle it. Unfortunately security are usually not too keen - you may convince the guard on duty but his supervisor can get grumpy as we found out. Worthy of asking around and begging to be let in if the surface suits...

Town/Sports Halls - An expensive last resort option - get a group together and hire out a hall, once you have convinced them about insurance issues and the lack of marks on the floor from heel brakes.
 

Tips...

I will be the first to admit I know very little being so new to the sport, but there is still plenty of helpful things I have picked up from others or found useful to date...
  • Take your heel brake off if you have one! It makes Criss-Cross and Crazy much safer... lol
  • Your skate should be firmly laced, but still with some flexibility in the ankle. In particular your heel most be held in the back of the boot as much as possible.
  • Most of the advanced tricks are just elements of basic tricks combined. Get your basics down smooth and the harder tricks will come much easier...
  • Learn every move on both sides, especially the basic ones. We all have a 'natural' and a 'bad' side - if you want to get really good you have to train out your weak side! Many of the advanced moves require elements of your 'good' and 'bad' sides (eg. Crazy Sun) - you will lack fluidity and precision until you can do the basic move well on your 'weak' side too.
  • Your 'weak' side will feel really awful to begin with - and you may wonder if you can ever get it right. From even my limited experience - practise fixes all, do it enough times and it will eventually feel and look right!
  • Try to minimise upper body movement to maximise your style - windmilling is so uncool! Your arms should be loose so they can swing around, but not flaying around above the level of your shoulders or tensed next to your sides.
  • Banana rocker your wheels as described above - it makes moves like Crazy so much easier...
  • Don't be too quick to try a new move with cups - it can limit your fluidity as tension in the body takes over and your brain overloads thinking both about the new move and those plastic things in the way. By all means practise it parallel with the cups until you are comfortable with the footwork.
  • Don't be afraid to use a larger spacing to begin with for a new move. If you are sharing cups with others, you can try to do the move every 2-3 cones rather than every one. Then reduce the spacing/cups missed until you are at your 'normal' distance.
  • Once you learn trick transitions slalom is even more fun - for instance simply combining snake and criss-cross allows you to practise four skills (snake, criss-cross, transition from snake, transition from criss-cross) all in one slalom run. A nice way to take the drudgery out of practising your weak side too!
  • I use AviDemux to watch slalom videos in slow motion. This lets me step frame by frame to examine the footwork, body position, relative position to the cones etc. Also a great way to identify new moves or transitions you haven't seen before in a freestyle video!
  • Get a video of yourself doing various moves - it allows self analysis and comparisons with the great skaters to identify areas for improvement...
  • To learn to sidesurf (heels together, toes pointing 180 degrees away from each other) you will likely need to increase your flexibility. Do plenty of stretching (while warm!) to open your hips - sit with the knees bent and soles of your feet touching each other, and gently allow your knees to sink towards the floor. Do this every day for a few weeks, and I am told that should help get you there...
  • I often like to run though virtually all the tricks I know during a skate session (on both sides of course!) to remind the body muscle memory what each should feel like. If one variant doesn't feel quite right, do it again until it does.
  • Keep it fun! We all have bad days, where the legs feel like lead and the cups have magnets in them. Try working on something new or some other moves not involving the cups. Or take a break for a while and be prepared to come back the next day when the body may feel more refreshed...
  • Believe in yourself! If I can do this stuff, anyone can! Moves that at what time had me thinking "I could never do that" have become second nature after practise. Some skaters may learn faster than others, but I am growing to believe that unless you are one of the most uncoordinated people on this earth (who incidentally I did see at Hyde Park one day) then simply hours of practise will allow you to do virtually any move...
  • One exception to the above - you will never ever see me attempt Reverse Eagle (toes pointed together) - that move is for women and small children who don't know any better only...
  • Come to Hyde Park or Greenwich Park and speak to anyone there! Most are friendly people who are happy to show off their skills and pass on knowledge...
  Last Updated Jul 30th, 2009
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